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Life through a lens

Snap’s Jake Thomas explains how marketers can step up their AR game

By Jake Thomas, head of agency, MENA at Snap

The rise in popularity of the smartphone camera has led to a profound shift in communication. Where once communication was predominantly text-based, today more and more people are expressing themselves through images. After all, a picture speaks a thousand words. This change in behaviour is affecting the ad industry, giving rise to a new type of digital marketing, “camera marketing”, which offers brands a unique opportunity to be part of the moments when consumers are playing, creating and sharing with their cameras.

Augmented reality (AR) is one form of camera marketing that is quickly gaining traction. From Apple to Ikea, L’Oreal to Pokemon Go, you don’t have to look far to recognise its popularity and potential. Snapchat invested early in AR, developing both the fundamental technologies and driving consumer adoption. Today it is the leading AR platform: one in three Snapchatters use AR every day, and 250 million video and photo Snaps with AR are shared daily. Adoption is particularly high amongst Gen Z and Millennial users, with Snapchat reaching more than 75 per cent of Saudis aged 18-24, for example.

A recent Boston Consulting Group study to explore the potential of AR advertising found that four in five marketers believe that AR is a differentiated way to engage with consumers. So how can they make the most of this opportunity?

Pick the right platform (or make your own)

For some companies, the best way to start to incorporate AR is to make their own app. Although resource-intensive, the reward can be worth the investment if they are looking to create a bespoke, engaging experience that is unique to the brand, for a highly targeted audience.

For brands where the priority is reach and scale, they may prefer advertising on a third-party platform, such as Snapchat. This is beneficial because the audience is there, the consumer behaviour is already developed, the platform knows exactly how to optimise content, and by working alongside digital and media agencies, brands can still be imaginative with their creation.

We’ve recently launched Lens Studio, which gives developers, creators, and brands the tools to create and distribute their own Snapchat AR experiences. With easy to use templates and guides, as well as a scripting API, this democratisation makes AR accessible to all. Brands can work with agencies – or with one of our official partners – to create an AR experience. This is an easy way for advertisers to dip their toes into the world of AR and experiment. Since launch, we’ve seen more than 30,000 Lenses created by the community.

Of course, all of these options depend on the overall marketing objectives and resources available. Some advertisers may even adopt a more hybrid method – whether having total control over creation and wide distribution on a third-party platform, or relying on a partner to create, but managing distribution themselves.

Don’t disrupt the experience; enhance it

This is where a lot of brands struggle when it comes to incorporating AR into their media plans. They think: ‘How can we stand out? What can we create that can be disruptive?’

When it comes to AR, disruption is not your friend. On Snapchat all our ad products are based on the consumer products our users know and love. We launched AR Lenses in 2015 and focused on getting Snapchatters to seek them out and making them a core part of the user experience. We started with Face Lenses because we wanted to focus on something that everyone finds relevant and engaging: themselves. We then turned the Lens on the world and experimented with characters and objects, creating the dancing hotdog, the world’s first AR superstar, in the process. When we opened Lenses up to brands, we wove AR advertising into an experience that people already want to do, not interrupting their experience of the app but enhancing it.

Today Snapchat is the world’s most engaged and creative AR platform. We have more than 9 million daily active users in Saudi Arabia, and some of our Sponsored Lenses – specifically in MENA – have some of the highest engagement times. Puck, for example ran a Lens that Snapchatters in the region played with for more than 150 seconds – well above the benchmark of 25.

Be disciplined about measurement

As with any platform or format, measurement and proving ROI is the key to building confidence and credibility in the eyes of advertisers. Although AR is a new medium, a significant amount of work has been done across the industry to bring measurement capabilities up to par. You can analyse results, optimise campaigns against objectives, and focus on brand awareness and favourability uplift. You can even focus on driving sales and leads. Establishing and using reporting to the best of your ability will drive solid ROI, leading to well-informed budget allocation between available channels and an overall more successful campaign.

With the physical and digital world becoming ever more entwined, now is the time for brands to get on board. AR presents a unique opportunity for advertisers not only to be incredibly creative, but also to add value to the experience of their audiences and customers.