AR will be the next big battle in tech innovation this year

The adoption of augmented reality will gather pace as major brands and tech companies battle for consumers' eyes.

While the digital marketing industry will probably spend much of 2018 underpinning its shaky basement, the biggest digital platforms will be laying foundations for something more transformational next door. Though we may not immediately see the implications, it seems likely that history will record the next 12 months as transformative ones both in how advertising works and consumers see the world.

Just over 20 years since the first banner ad was born, digital marketing has recently faced many of the tests that you’d expect to face before graduating. Having dazzled with innovations for years, in 2017 digital made the headlines for more serious reasons. Questions of brand safety, ad fraud, viewability and transparency made their way from technical backrooms out into chief marketing officer presentations, and rightly so. 

It’s in the world of AR that the battle for our eyes will truly be fought

Improvements in platforms to track and manage these issues, as well as the rise of technology that creates more of them, means the ad industry still faces serious challenges. 2018 is the year it must tackle them, ensuring these become table stakes going forward.

It’s crucial the industry does this quickly and collaboratively so it can get back to truly understanding how and why channels work, as well as shaping creative and media approaches. We need to be careful not to get lost chasing after a sea of new metrics, most of which don’t relate directly to business results.

For Diageo, this means further embedding Catalyst, our marketing effectiveness tool, which ensures every pound we spend delivers the best outcome for the business, and focusing global efforts on improving the quality of our media supply chain. The latter means starting to only work with media owners, technology and people who can meet our key requirements. By tackling this directly, we enable our brands to focus on powerful and purposeful marketing. And by working in collaboration with media owners, we’ll continue to champion good user experience within that.

While the increased scrutiny this brings to the big players in digital will keep their sales teams busy, their engineers will be lining up for the next big battle – and that’s one with a potentially winner-takes-all outcome. Augmented and virtual reality tech has been a darling of marketing innovation for a couple of years, but consumer adoption has, truthfully, been disappointing to date. VR, for its part, could easily take another five to 10 years to reach mainstream consumer adoption, if indeed it ever proves a universal appeal. 

By the end of 2018, none of us will be wearing AR glasses or walking around scanning everything with our phones

It’s in the world of AR that the battle for our eyes will truly be fought. Unlike VR, which blocks out the world around you, AR layers information on top of it, encouraging you to explore and be social. With powerful processors, cameras and large screens in every modern smartphone, the technology to enable AR is now all around us, while breakthroughs in artificial intelligence and software mean that power is ever easier to unleash.

Hiding in plain sight are the efforts tech companies are making to get the upper hand for the battle ahead. Apple built new ARKit tools into its latest iOS release, which means that once-futuristic apps can be easily coded – Ikea, for instance, has launched a virtual showroom that allows you to see (to accurate scale) exactly how a new piece of furniture would look in your home. Google, building on long-term experimentation through its Project Tango, is rolling out an equivalent ARcore, as well as a Google Lens app that overlays the world around you with relevant information. With hundreds of millions of devices already in the wild, these platforms will potentially be able to flick a switch on mass AR adoption. 

Consumers are used to choosing between different hardware and flicking between apps for tasks, but AR could disrupt this.

Facebook has made it clear it, too, has a vision for this space, and its two billion users span both major mobile ecosystems. Its gimmicky 3D selfie lenses are suspiciously familiar, but they hide a more serious desire to build a universal AR ecosystem. At its last developers’ conference, Facebook laid out a vision for its AR Studio & Camera Effects Platform as just the first step into this new space, not to mention a mock-up of its own augmented glasses.

Consumers are used to choosing between different hardware and flicking between apps for tasks, but AR could disrupt this. Assuming "meaningful use" cases do emerge, then overlaying the world around us will become the norm. The phone is a good device for this, but glasses or even contact lenses would one day present a more seamless interface – whichever platform best establishes itself can theoretically build a monopoly over our vision.

By the end of 2018, none of us will be wearing AR glasses or walking around scanning everything with our phones. But if we’re starting to do it even a little bit, then these best-laid plans will one day be something that transforms marketing. What will that even look like if people don’t need hardware screens and out-of-home ads no longer physically exist?

Jerry Daykin is head of global digital media partnerships at Diageo.

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