Engaging The Millennial: Augmented Reality And The Wired Generation
Millennials are defined as those born in the 1980s -- between 42 and 50 million (USA Today stats) who came of age with the new century, now between 18 and 28, and have also come of age truly wired, far more so than Boomers ( now reaching retirement age) or Gen Xers, ages 30-45. Millennials have grown up linked by BlackBerries, Androids, IPhones, computers, IPods, and video games. This is the generation of Wii, Facebook, Twitter, free downloads, access to just about everything. How do luxury brands engage these mindsets?
Thankfully, Augmented Reality, is proving to be a major force in this engagement. It is a process already in existence that combines two diverse dynamics: the perception of personal exclusivity and, a multi-dimensional, sensory experience. Augmented Reality, or AR, is a method for using a live direct or indirect view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input, like sound or graphics. It presents unique opportunities in terms of virtual fashion shows, digital flagship stores, 3D advertising campaigns, augmented reality Iphone applications, iPad magazines, Facebook live-streams and Twitter-based customer service. These are just a few examples of the long list of digital innovations that luxury brands have pioneered in 2010. And the field is growing. According to figures from ABI Research, the market for augmented reality (AR) in the US alone is expected to hit $350m in 2014, up from about $6m in 2008, or, around 50 times more from 2008 to 2014.
Augmented Reality is taking digital marketing strategies to a more sensory, immediate, attuned level -- perfect for Millenials, and others on either side of the generational divide. AR enables consumers to virtually try on jewelry, watches, clothing and handbags. The technology requires object recognition and computerization on the PCs, Macs or mobile devices as well as 3D renderings to superimpose images on the real world. What this process does is allow greater interactivity in the selling/buying process, creating an emotional connection between product needs and consumer desires. As a prime example, Tissot Reality: through its website Tissot lets users print and cut out a paper strip in order to try on virtual watches. Tissot showcased the application with an interactive Selfridges, London window display. This reportedly resulted in increasing in-store sales at Selfridges by 85%, while the YouTube views of the campaign have surpassed 70,000. See below, with the Tissot wrist watch AR video:
As another example, fashion events used to be uni-dimensional, where the only reality involved the models walking the runway, with the audience observing. This year, the fourth round of the international collections opened in Paris, and the fashion buzz was around the live-streaming shows and 3-D technology. Last year, the augmented reality/4D Ralph Lauren Fashion Event took place in both New York and London. It was a first, using these techniques and technologies as a method of engaging the audience. Fashion audiences had not seen anything quite like this before, and it was a sensation. (see below)
In a 2010 New York Times article last year, Robert Polet, President and Chief Executive of The Gucci group referred to a report by the Pew Research Center that explores some of basic differences between Millennials and everybody else. One of the most obvious focal points, in contrast to other generations, is social networking,used by 75 percent of the Millennials, compared with 50 percent of the Generation X's and just 30 percent of Baby Boomers.
"These unique factors make Millennials very savvy consumers", said Mr. Polet. "At Gucci Group, we recognize their transformative power in the way they engage with luxury brands. We are embracing different ways of creating dialogue through social media." And, dialogue is most often created through Twitter feeds and Facebook pages, used by so much of the audience Gucci wishes to reach.
Certainly, engaging the audience must come before dialoguing with them, and now, through AR, brands engage with consumers, both cognitively and through the senses. It seems if the brand message and the brand experience are not sensorially engaging, and do not create brand desire, then Millennials may just move on. And in this digitized age, no brand especially luxury ones, wants Millennials, with their 60 years of future buying power, to move on.
Here is an AR Car calendar from Audi.
Below is just a small list of other brands that are using AR in diverse, scalable ways:
Adidas Originals Augmented Reality Game Pack: Adidas turned Originals sneakers into a game control device by adding an AR code on the shoe's tongue. When held in front of a webcam, the code provides access to a number of different interactive games on Adidas website which the players can navigate with their shoe.
Toyota Scion tC Take On The Machine: Toyota topped off its digital campaign for the 2011 Scion tC with an AR game on scion's site. The user prints an AR marker which is used as a steering wheel to race with the new tC and win a spot in the global top 100 highscore board.
Airwalk Jim Shoe: In November 2010, Airwalk used an augmented reality app to launch invisible pop-up stores which sold a limited edition of the Jim shoe in New York and LA. Airwalk reported that since then its e-commerce site has witnessed the most traffic in the company's history.
Toyota Auris virtual test drive: Toyota enabled car enthusiasts to create a virtual track, by printing off special markers to place around, and take a virtual Toyota Auris for a virtual test track. They also could record their test drives and share the clips on social networking sites, as well as the Auris microsite. Toyota offered a prize for the most innovative track with the winner receiving a super-deluxe home entertainment system to encourage a larger participation. Volvo and BMW Z4 have done variations of this as well.
Virtual mirrors: Special kiosks were placed in stores in North and South America, Europe, and Asia, covering major cosmetics brands, like L'Oreal, Maybelline, Covergirl and Revlon. The shopper can take a picture and virtually try on makeup, while the "mirror" takes into consideration such things as skin tone, facial features, and product colour. The mirror can make recommendations and allow the consumer to share a virtual makeover image with friends online.
H&M: H&M used Goldrun's app to enable shoppers in New York to try on virtually the clothes it features in its shop windows. The shoppers this way gained a discount code and share their looks with their Facebook friends.
Condé Nast Traveler City Guide: Condé Nast Traveler spiced up its iPhone apps by adding an augmented reality feature allowing the user to discover nearby attractions by scanning the area around with the iPhone camera.
These and more are in an excellent NextWeb article, which I found helpful in this column's preparation.
But with all these new applications, questions remain, mainly because ideas for use in the luxury space are still in its infancy. Future applications will probably become more personalized, and one of the latest innovations deals with the sense of smell. Not only can you see the virtual coffee, you can smell it also. The possibilities of adapting this multi sensory product to the luxury lifestyle are still being conceptualized, so it remains to be seen whether AR will become a substantial, scalable methodology for luxury brand messaging, or whether it is just another techo-geek gimmick, here today, gone tomorrow. As my grandmother used to say, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. And the eating will most likely be done by the Millennials and the soon to be the maturing Gen Xers.