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Commentary & Analysis

What’s the Top Use for AR/VR for Marketers?

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are changing the way consumers interact with brands. But much of this technology is operating in the background. What is the current status of awareness and adoption of AR/VR and what does it mean for marketers?  A survey from GlobalWebIndex provides some insight.

By Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Published: December 21, 2018

Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are powering the way consumers interact with brands. In fact, many consumers use them every day, even if they don’t realize it. For example, they use VR every time they load a 360-degree video on Facebook or use a SnapChat filter to perfect a selfie. But how does this use impact marketers? Does it mean that consumers are going to whip out their phones and scan a page in a catalog to create an engaging experience or interact with an in-store display?

To determine consumers’ level of awareness and adoption of AR and VR, and provide insight into where they see their adoption being the most useful, GlobalWebIndex conducted a survey of consumers in the United States and United Kingdom. Here are some key findings:

In terms of awareness:

  • 90% of consumers are aware of VR.
  • 65% are aware of AR.
  • AR awareness is highest in the 16–44 age group (70–75%), but drops off among the older demographics.
  • Awareness drops to 56% among 45–54-year-olds and 44% of 55-–64-year-olds.
  • Men are much more aware of AR (71%) than women (59%).

In terms of actual engagement, defined as using a VR headset or having experienced AR in the past month:

  • 23% of consumers have actively engaged with VR.
  • This rises to 30% of men, but drops to 16% of women.
  • 29% of men and 17% of women have actively engaged with AR.

“For both technologies, engagement is mainly clustered around the 16–34 age group,” notes Chris Buckle, technology writer for GlobalWebIndex, “and to a lesser extent the 35–44 age group, with figures tailing off significantly thereafter.”

Overall, the study found that consumers see virtual reality primarily for entertainment and secondarily for education. For marketers, the opportunities are really in augmented reality. Next to gaming, consumers see the top use for AR as being in social media, which includes (primarily online) advertising, as a way of improving improved experiences.

“More than [one-] third of AR users believe that [AR’s] potential lies in the marketing and advertising industry,” writes Buckle. “This is a figure which will likely grow as AR-enabled advertising is tied with other technologies, such as location-based tools, and becomes increasingly accessible on social media platforms.”

Thirty percent also see AR having strong potential in enhancing retail experiences, such as helping them research products. While consumers love to comparison shop online, GlobalWebIndex finds that they are also overwhelmed with too many options. AR helps to bridge the gap, enabling to consumers to see products in use, “try them on” virtually, and enable other product evaluations in a virtual environment.

What does this look like on the ground?  It looks like uses such as...

  • Demonstrations of the products in use
  • Testimonials from real users showing preference for one product over another
  • Apps that allow users to try on, apply, or place products on their bodies or at home to envision how they will look.

In fact, as I am writing this post, I am watching HGTV programming that uses product placement from Overstock.com. During the show, the actor just showed how shoppers could use their phones, using the Overstock.com app, to see how the products it sells, such as furniture or home décor, would actually look in place in their homes. Overstock.com didn’t use the term “augmented reality.” It just showed the actor using this benefit of shopping on its site.

This is very different from the way AR is typically discussed in the printing industry, which has typically been more for entertainment or communicating a marketing message. But the data are pretty clear—when it comes to consumers, it’s product selection, demonstration, and choice that may just win the day.

Maybe we need to rethink how we think about AR. 

Heidi Tolliver-Walker Heidi is an industry analyst specializing in digital, one-to-one, personalized URL, and Web-to-print applications. Her Marketer’s Primer Series, availalbe through Digital Printing Reports, includes “Digital Printing: Transforming Business and Marketing Models,” 1:1 (Personalized) Printing: Boosting Profits Through Relevance,” “Personalized URLs: Beyond the Hype,” and “Web-to-Print: Transforming Document Management and Marketing.”


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