Augmented Reality Marketing can boost emotional branding

Emotional Branding In The Age Of Augmented Reality Marketing

The secret of many successful brands lies in building deep emotional connections with their customers. Coca-Cola is a prime example for this emotional branding strategy. If you are like me, just mentioning the name makes you think of Santa Claus and cuddly polar bears. Maybe you even smiled – it’s okay. Emotional branding is a powerful marketing strategy, especially when paired with augmented reality marketing.

Emotional branding has for years relied on standard TV advertising tactics. Show an emotionally charged stimulus, show your brand, and let classical conditioning do its job. This model is great for maximizing reach – or at least it used to be – but it has a major problem: The TV screen acts as something like a barrier between the customer and the emotional trigger.

In short: Consumers see the cuddly polar bear on the screen, but they are very far removed from them in their own daily life.

How can brands create deep emotional connections in times when TV viewership decreases and more and more brands rush into emotional branding? Companies need a new medium that allows them to truly resonate with their customers.

Thanks to augmented reality marketing, brands can reach new depths of emotional engagement.

Coca-Cola breaks the ice with augmented reality marketing

In its 2013 campaign Arctic Home, Coca-Cola partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to demonstrate global warming’s effect on arctic wildlife.

Coca-Cola used augmented reality (AR)​, which merges the physical world with virtual information in real time. Thanks to the magic mirror AR paradigm, visitors at the ​Science Museum in London ​got up close and personal with arctic polar bears. Visitors walked through an icy archway into an arctic-themed room lined with fake snow, polar bear photos and classic Coca-Cola posters. Guests stood on a patch of white carpet and looked at a large, elevated screen to see themselves “interacting” with a polar bear family.

Eventually, the ice starts to break, showing the real threats arctic animals face. See for yourself here:

 

Do you see the difference to the old-fashioned emotional branding commercials? Instead of showing a distant emotional stimulus, Coca-Cola leverages AR to physically surround the user with the polar bear’s plight. The 3-D simulation transports Londoners right into the heart of the Arctic. This augmented reality marketing campaign literally wraps seemingly distant social issues around the consumers.

Augmented reality marketing can create powerful emotional connections

Augmented reality marketing makes realities that are otherwise out of reach, very much tangible. And it is the close connection consumers have with what happens around them – in augmented reality – that powers their empathetic response.

Connect AR to your core brand meanings

One reason why this campaign is so successful is that it leverages well established brand meanings. After all, polar bears have appeared in Coca-Cola advertisements since 1922. While this is helpful, something much more important is at play here. And it is something that all brands can benefit from – whether or not they have a history of showing cute animals or not.

The trick is to use augmented reality to create situations that consumers can empathize with. Something that feels familiar.

What do your customers connect to?

According to my past research​, “augmented reality marketing should be consumer-experience driven rather than technology driven.” Coca-Cola and WWF made sure it was about the consumer and the cause, not just the modern technology. And maybe most importantly, they focused on something that consumers could relate to: family.

By bringing consumers up-close to the digital polar bear family, Coca-Cola and WWF invited visitors – oftentimes parents with their children – to empathize with the virtual animals. When the ice then suddenly broke up and floated away, it not only separated the cub from its mother. It also separated the cub from the visitors, who felt like they were part of the experience.

This is a situation many parents can relate to: Dropping off your child at day care, waving goodbye as she leaves for her first summer camp, or kissing his forehead as you sneak out for an early morning flight. The feeling of a family being separated hits close to our hearts.

Consumers can understand the plight of polar bears through this augmented reality marketing campaign

Coca-Cola presented an emotional situation, and it did so in a powerful way. On top of identifying a familiar situation, Coca-Cola put consumers directly in the center of the story. It turned spectators into participants. It is this active participation that gives augmented reality marketing its deep emotional appeal.

Maximize the reach of augmented reality marketing

Augmented reality marketing can create powerful emotional connections. The next step you have to have in mind, as a marketer, is to channel emotional responses into word of mouth for your brand.

Brands should capitalize on augmented reality's share-ability.

It is therefore important that you align the AR campaign with other aspects of your marketing mix. In the Arctic Home example, Coca-Cola encouraged users to share their photos via Facebook and email to increase awareness. The ​WWF also engaged with their followers on a Facebook post​. It replied to comments and provided a call to action for followers to further support the campaign. And a campaign video allowed people immerse themselves in the experience even if they weren’t able to visit the museum.

Creating a strong emotional response does in itself increase the likelihood that consumers will engage in positive word of mouth. Together with the marketer-generated social media content, Coca-Cola was able to spread awareness and maximize reach.

Another way to maximize reach is to use a different AR paradigm – in addition to the public installation or as a stand-alone campaign. Coca-Cola could, for example, use an AR paradigm I call the “bogus window” to allow consumers to film Santa Claus drinking a coke in their own living rooms. Connecting the emotional stimulus (Coca-Cola’s Santa) with customers’ own familiar settings provides a similar potential for creating strong emotional connections.

Bring emotional branding to a new (deeper) level

Augmented reality marketing can supercharge emotional branding by getting consumers up close to the action. By weaving brand, consumer, and emotional triggers into the Arctic Home campaign, Coca-Cola immersed users into a social issue and created strong emotional responses.

You can build on Coca-Cola’s example for your own emotional branding strategy. Leverage the unique ability of augmented reality marketing to place consumers into a scene. Make them actively engage by creating a situation that is familiar to them. The more consumers can empathize with what is happening around them, the more they will be able to transport into the narrative they have become part of.

What are your thoughts on using AR technology to emotionally connect to a brand? Let us know in the comments below.

The author thanks Jenna Hoffman​ ​and ​Makenzie Miller for their contributions to an earlier version of this article.
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