Is Your Event Ready for Augmented Reality?

Just last year, Microsoft imagined in a Super Bowl ad how their augmented reality (AR) device could change the NFL, including overlaying stats of players while you watch or transforming your entire wall into a massive screen.

While that commercial was just a “what if,” augmented reality is, well, a reality. In fact, Pepsi is using 2017’s Super Bowl LI to debut their new LIFEWTR brand with an augmented reality mirror at the event. But aside from one-off promotions, augmented reality has quietly become a part of our lives, and one that has the potential to be a great source of data for those who take advantage of the tech at their next game, concert, or festival.

Before you jump right into AR, let’s look at not just what it is, but how you can use the tools you have now to know whether it’s something you’ll need, and how to take full advantage if and when you do. Here’s how augmented reality is starting to change the face of sports and entertainment—literally.

Augmented reality today

First, let’s get the definition out of the way. Augmented reality is not virtual reality (VR), so it doesn’t require a headset like an Oculus Rift to close you off from the real world. It also doesn’t require a clunky pair of expensive glasses. Simply put, it adds a layer onto the real world.

Since the explosion of Pokémon GO last year, what might come to mind when you hear augmented reality is watching PIkachu jump around your living room through your phone. AR has been around long before that, though—sports teams have used it for years to add a first down line or add a sponsor’s logo onto the field during a broadcast or on the jumbotron. It can also be adding information about a location by pointing your phone at a building.

For the purpose of this post, let’s focus on AR as the transformation of your surroundings in a way that can help engage fans. We’ve talked about how local businesses were able to capitalize on the popularity of Pokémon GO to both capture data and engage passers-by, but let’s examine the augmented reality precursor to Pokémon GO: Snapchat.

Sponsoring reality at events and beyond

Snapchat rolled out its lenses feature in 2015, which allowed people to take selfies with advanced filters, from adding a flower band onto someone’s head to giving them digital makeup. Brands quickly caught on. During 2016’s Super Bowl, Gatorade’s lens let users get dunked by their orange drink, earning more impressions than the actual game. The NFL has also gotten in the game, superimposing a helmet onto fans.

Screenshots from Gatorade's Snapchat Filter
Gatorade’s Snapchat Filter

The lenses do a few things. The first is they put the brand out there without blanketing the airwaves with ads and they personalize in a way that most ads can’t: by putting your fan’s face right in them. They also turn fans into evangelists, spreading the ad and brand or event awareness while someone shares their own selfie. The big downside? Snapchat offers very little in the way of data beyond open rates.

The way that some brands are treating this gap (and foregoing the several hundred thousand dollars needed for a single lens) is to incorporate augmented reality into their other campaigns. Fast food restaurant Raising Cane’s, for example, encourages customers to download their app and play a game where they throw lemons into their actual cup using their phone’s camera to earn rewards.

Apps like this can collect user data like location, email and other basic demographics that the user inputs, and combined with social affinities, can paint a very complete picture of fans.

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Fan engagement doesn’t need augmenting…yet

Augmented reality is set to grow 65% over the next five years, but it’s still very much in its infancy, and for many companies too expensive to implement. Augmented reality isn’t the only way to get fans excited about your brand. Things like trivia and sweepstakes can energize fans at your event or at home, and by using something sharable and far less resource-intensive like a meme generator, you can still encourage brand evangelism.

Example of an Umbel meme generator
Example of a Meme Generator

If and when you do go down the road of AR, be data-ready. Better yet, be data-ready now. Yes, that means pulling data from whatever app or game you’re offering fans, but it means combining it with all that other data you’ve got: who’s logging into your Wi-Fi, who’s buying tickets and how often, who’s on your website, and everything in between. If you go down that road too fast, you might end up building a bunch of cool things without learning nearly enough about your fans to build cool stuff that engages them.

That’ll help you run ads on social or search (which will be far more targeted than Snapchat’s shotgun approach). It’ll also help you know your fans more: if you want to sell sponsorship inventory for your AR game you can show what percentage of your fans like that sponsor. (It can also show you how interested your fanbase would even be in augmented reality.) AR has a lot of potential and warrants some serious consideration. Beyond the “cool” factor, it can be a serious boon to engaging fans—just make sure you know who they are first.

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