Could Minecraft Earth be the tipping point for augmented reality?

Zone’s creative strategy director, Matt Weiner, believes that rather than an
eye-catching novelty, AR is about to become an invaluable marketing tool…

If brands want to get the most out of augmented reality in 2019 they should look for inspiration from Minecraft Earth. Just as Pokémon Go kick-started AR in 2016, Minecraft could change the game again: elevating the technology from novelty campaign centrepiece to major marketing tool.

This was just one of the topics discussed at the Econsultancy roundtable last month which saw representatives from brands and agencies get together to discuss the future of AR.

Of course, we already live in a world where AR is mainstream. On Snapchat alone 70 million people are using their lenses, while more than a billion people have interacted with Facebook’s Spark. But to date, the use of the technology by businesses has been limited. The upcoming release could, however, prove to be a tipping point.

Out in August, Microsoft’s world building game will invite you to use your phone as a window into another dimension to create and build new worlds as 3D holograms. But here’s the really cool bit: you will be able to make your creations life-size… and then walk through them. This has the potential to be so much more than child’s play. It’ll not only inspire creativity among kids but in the minds of marketers as they grasp the huge potential of AR. Just take a look for yourself.

Back in 2016, when Pokémon Go brought AR into the hands and minds of 800 million people, brands immediately saw the potential. The likes of Foot Locker and Nike added functionality to their apps to send consumers on scavenger hunts for limited edition drops. But just like Pokémon Go, the gameplay of these campaigns were fundamentally built around geo-caching and the AR part was just a sexy add-on. In fact, many users simply turned the function off to save their phone battery without affecting gameplay.

This is perhaps a fitting metaphor for AR marketing to date. It’s been great fun but equally you could turn it off and no one would care.

Consider the car manufacturer who invited hot leads to experience their latest model in the showroom. On arrival the consumers were promptly handed an iPad and invited to take a virtual test drive rather than get closer to the actual car. Facepalm! The purpose of AR is to augment reality — not to replace it.

Unlike Pokémon Go, the AR in Minecraft Earth is not optional. As the game’s director, Torfi Olafsson, explains somewhat drily: “If you want to play Minecraft Earth without AR, you have to turn it off”.

This is where we need to get to in terms of our use of AR for brands and businesses — delivering genuinely valuable consumer experiences and ROI. Not just short-lived chatter.

A few brands already get this and have used the tech to allow consumers to try out products virtually: adidas has done it with sneakers, Sephora with make-up and Ikea with furniture. This not only helps people to get the right product for them but it has the potential to save businesses a fortune in returns. No small potatoes considering that returns cost UK retailers £60bn a year.

As the potential of AR is unlocked, more brands are going to discover the killer app for their business. That could be restaurant menus that show you what each dish looks like, interactive utility bills that cut down confusion and call centre costs or real-time flat-pack furniture instructions that don’t make you want to smash your new purchase into hundreds of little pieces.

Zone recently explored the potential of AR for our global cosmetics client at an inspiration event themed around The Future of Beauty. We created prototypes that demonstrated how the tech could be used to reach consumers in the beauty arena. Imagine picking up a product in a store and being served an inspirational marketing story that’s most relevant to you. With AR, the use cases are endless — the only limitation is imagination. If you haven’t yet got an AR strategy, you’re probably going to need one soon. So why not get in touch?

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