Why AR May Be the Future of Experiential Marketing

Hal Conick
Key Takeaways

What? Snapchat's Lens Studio allows people to design their own augmented reality lenses. 

So what? Augmented reality can be a tool for marketers to create immersive experiences for customers.

Now what? Experts note that AR may not scale immediately because of its technical complexity, but its marketing opportunities are rich.

​When Aaqib Usman saw the results of a Snapchat AR campaign made with Snapchat’s new Lens Studio, he was blown away. Here’s why Lens Studio could be the future of experiential marketing



In December 2017, Aaqib Usman did a full 3-D scan of his body and uploaded it to Lens Studio, a tool by Snap Inc. that allows people to design their own augmented reality lenses for Snapchat. Until then, Snapchat lenses—think face-swapping or a bunny nose on a human face—were designed exclusively by Snap and its paid sponsors. 

The December release of Lens Studio was an exciting moment for Usman, founder of Midwest Immersive. He wanted to play with the new tool immediately. “I have myself dancing to Drake’s ‘Hotline Bling,’” Usman says of the AR lens he created using his avatar. “I made it on Christmas, and I think I’ve seen about 4,000 views on it so far.” 

Aside from the fun of superimposing a digital, shoulder-shimmying version of himself into an AR lens, Usman was eager to test Lens Studio. Usman believes AR—a seemingly simple but utterly complex technology—has immense potential in marketing. 

“When people are using augmented reality, [it feels] like a natural extension of an existing platform,” Usman says. “It feels like it should have been done a long time ago, but people are not realizing the amount of calculation and math and technology that goes into powering that little experience. Your phone has to essentially calculate the depth of every object in your world and be able to space things accordingly. When people are using it, they don’t realize that they’re using AR; that’s kind of a good thing. It’s seamless.”

Other marketers and advertisers are also excited by the novelty of AR, as spending on the technology jumped from $600 million in 2014 to $12.8 billion in 2017, according to Socintel360. The excitement for AR technology skyrocketed after Pokemon Go, AR’s most popular application yet, was downloaded 650 million times and earned $1.2 billion of revenue

Thomas Husson, vice president and principal analyst of marketing and strategy at Forrester Research​, calls AR “a new emotional lexicon of the digital and mobile era.”

“Brands [need] to understand these emotional shortcuts and how the younger generation engages with brands on messaging apps,” Husson says.

Usman wanted to test how Generation Z would react to Snap’s AR lenses by designing a lens for an experiential marketing campaign. He found an ideal subject in Kim Products, a Chicago streetwear brand run by 17-year-old Kimisha Moxley. Midwest Immersive set out in branding Moxley’s winter collection launch party, creating an AR lens to accompany the experience of the party. 


Moxley’s youth and that of her potential customers made her launch party—titled “Saturday Night Heartbreak”—the perfect field test for Snapchat AR marketing, Usman thought. “She’s locally famous in the Chicago teen scene,” Usman says, adding that Moxley’s parties attract a few hundred attendees in the exact age range of Snapchat’s heaviest users. Of Snapchat’s 187 million daily active users, more than 70% are 34 years and younger; 45% are between the ages of 18 and 24

To create the lens, Usman used Snap’s world lens base, which is different from Snapchat’s better-known template masks. Template masks encourage users to take selfies by changing their face: Users aim their phone’s camera at themselves and become a cartoon dog or pixie or open their mouths and vomit a rainbow. The world lens encourages users to point their cameras at the world and discover what pops up in augmented reality. 

“We didn’t want people to just take selfies, we wanted people to actually show other people what they were missing out on,” Usman says. “That brings the event to life.”

Moxley and Midwest Immersive collaborated to design a Snapchat lens in step with the party’s 2000s R&B theme. They placed posters with the lens’ Snapcode (Snapchat’s version of a QR code) around the party for attendees to scan.

As attendees arrived, they scanned the Snapcode and saw pieces of early 2000s nostalgia pop up on their phone’s screen, as if the nostalgia pieces were part of the real world. If they aimed their camera one way, they’d see a spinning compact disc or piece of vinyl floating above a model strutting down the runway. If they aimed their camera another way, they’d see a boombox, flip phone or the event’s logo amid people dancing. If they recorded a video using the lens, they’d hear an instrumental version of Missy Elliott’s 2002 hit “Work It” playing over the video.

“It’s fun for me to see how people who were born in 2001 are representing that entire decade,” Usman says with a laugh. 


 Snapchat Lens | Kim Products | Saturday Night Heartbreak



What’s unusual about Lens Studio is its breadth of data; Snap’s new tool gives creators analytics for their lenses. Usman was excited, as Snapchat analytics have historically been opaque, if nonexistent. The Kim Products campaign was an opportunity to measure an ROI baseline for AR marketing in Snapchat.

Moxley’s party lasted for three hours, with each user getting 24 hours of access to the Snapchat lens. Usman says the lens’ Snapcode was scanned 299 times, the lens was shared 262 times and snaps made in the lens were viewed 24,391 times during the party. Attendees posted snaps from the event to their own stories, so thousands of Snapchat users from Chicago and beyond saw Usman’s AR items floating alongside Moxley’s new collection. 

“How does a 300-person event reach 24,000 people?” Usman says. “It’s experiential marketing, magnified.”

Usman doesn’t know yet how these results will compare with similar campaigns. He’s curious to find out what the metrics will be for other Snapch​at-based AR lens campaigns. One of the hardest things to do is to measure ROI in experiential marketing, he says, but the metrics from Lens Studio could change that.

“If it’s used in the right way, the potential to measure your success is immense,” Usman says. “The potential for creativity is also fantastic because of the amount of stuff you can do.”

Whether the ROI of AR marketing will justify its use remains to be seen. Forrester’s Husson says AR is still a budding technology and will likely reach critical mass through social and gaming before reaching its tipping point. As AR grows, he believes more marketers will use it in campaigns. Until then, marketers should get their AR practice shots in, just as Usman did, because Husson says there will be a learning curve.  

“AR is a disruptive technology,” Husson says. “It may take longer to scale than many believe, but I think it will open a lot of new opportunities for marketers.”

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Hal Conick
Hal Conick is a staff writer for the AMA’s magazines and e-newsletters. He can be reached at hconick@ama.org or on Twitter at @HalConick.