Snickers boosted customer engagement with its augmented reality campaign.

How to boost customer engagement with augmented reality

Boosting customer engagement is an important strategy for marketers to increase the ROI of their marketing budget. This is especially true as traditional advertising tactics become less effective and/or more expensive every year.  

For example, CBS charged brands $5 million for a 30-second TV ad at this year’s Super Bowl. And since the first big game in 1967, commercials have only gotten pricier — it cost under $3 million only six years ago. With prices at an all-time high, it seems like that Super Bowl advertisements are an endgame that most marketers can’t afford. But is that true?

Super Bowl ad costs have skyrocketed over the years.

To boost customer engagement and return on advertising investments, brands pull out every strategy. They pour in more dollars, enlist bigger celebrities, create flashier commercials and even tease ads early — anything to increase the mileage of a campaign.

What else can marketers do?

They could boost customer engagement by integrating augmented reality into their ad campaigns. 

How Snickers boosted customer engagement

The candy bar company is known for its popular “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign, which encourages folks to grab a Snickers bar when they aren’t feeling like themselves due to hunger. The campaign has been a fixture of television ads for years. To keep things fresh, Snickers’ expanded the familiar narrative to a new platform — augmented reality (AR).

As Joachim Scholz and Andrew Smith explain in their article on augmented reality marketing, AR gives brands the opportunity to create immersive experiences for customers that extend brand-consumer communications beyond traditional TV and print advertising.

Marketers can utilize this emerging technology to increase customer engagement.

In a nutshell, AR shifts control of the marketing experience from the brand to the customer. It is this shifting of control over to the consumers that boosts levels of customer engagement. 

Who are you when you’re hungry?

Snickers has been running its “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign for a while, branding it’s candy bar as the common cure for hunger-infused grumpiness. The television ads have featured the likes of Joe Pesci, Mr. Bean and The Brady Bunch.

For this year’s Super Bowl,
the Snickers ad shows the lovely Marilyn Monroe feeling a little “cranky” while filming, which for her means turning into the not-so-lovely Willem Dafoe. Posted on YouTube before the big game, the ad now has more than 11.5 million views, showing the success Snickers has had with this campaign.

But the company hasn’t stopped at TV ads.

This past November, Snickers ventured into the world of augmented reality, launching an extension of the “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign that brings customer engagement to new heights. In it, users can customize the label of a virtual snickers bar and pick how they’re feeling when they’re hungry (check out the video below to see how it works). 

This puts consumers in control of the marketing experience by highlighting they’re own, real hunger symptoms, not those scripted by advertising copywriters. 

The campaign uses Blippar, one of the leading visual discovery apps which utilizes advanced mobile augmented reality technology to let consumers activate AR campaigns on their mobile devices.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Using the Blippar app, customers point their smartphone camera at a Snickers bar.
  2. A virtual Snickers bar appears.
  3. Users can scroll through a list of hunger symptoms, or create their own, and choose one to appear on the virtual bar.
  4. The app then allows users to watch one of Snickers popular “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” commercials.
  5. Then, users take a selfie and and superimpose it with a character meme that embodies their hunger symptom.

A bite-sized look at customer engagement

Snickers’ campaign is a good example for how marketers can increase their advertising ROI by boosting customer engagement through augmented reality. If you are planning to incorporate AR elements into your ad campaigns as well, here are a few things to keep in mind.

In particular, you should address three distinct types of customer engagement — user-brand, user-user and user-bystander.

The highest levels of user-brand engagement occur when users can interact with a campaign, according to Scholz and Smith, instead of just perceiving or manipulating it. Snickers’ campaign offers relatively high levels of user-brand engagement because users can customize a Snickers bar themselves, instead of the more passive approach to this campaign — watching a commercial.

The Snickers campaign also incorporates user-bystander dimensions of customer engagement, which further adds to its success.

Bystanders are people who aren’t directly involved in the AR campaign, but observe a user’s actions. One of the best ways to stimulate this user-bystander relationship is through artifacts — evidence of a user’s activity within an AR experience.

Snickers’ AR campaign encourages users to post their character memes on social media, which can boost customer engagement.
Snickers encourages users to post their memes on social media in order to boost customer engagement.

The character selfie in Snickers’ campaign acts as an artifact.

Users can share it on social media (an #EatASnickers hashtag is already superimposed on the graphic) with the expectation that it will entice others to participate in the campaign.

Why this campaign is so sweet

For Snickers and many other marketers, the challenge is how to expand a campaign that is already both widely popular and successful. In the past, Snickers has relied on celebrities and recognizable faces in its “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” commercials.

Snickers' AR campaign shows how marketers can boost customer engagement.

Snickers will most likely continue its long-running campaign by working with new celebrities.

But more importantly, by incorporating  augmented reality into their campaign, Snickers has shifted focus from celebrities to someone even more important — the customer.

After all, interacting with branded content lies at the core of customer engagement. So instead of letting customers simply perceive a funny TV advertisement, they can now manipulate and interact with the campaign.

The campaign is consistent with Snickers’ idea of “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry.” But it also allows users to take that element and tailor it to their own experiences. These increased levels of customer engagement have allowed Snickers to successfully extend the mileage of an already-popular campaign. 

By utilizing augmented reality, marketers like you can do the same. In addition to incorporating various types of customer engagement, successful AR campaigns are also aligned with a brand’s overall marketing program.

How to wrap AR and marketing campaigns together

The ENTANGLE method for implementing augmented reality campaigns and boosting customer engagement.To maximize the results of an augmented reality campaign, marketers should “ENTANGLE their augmented reality initiatives,” according to Scholz and Smith. This means they should combine the eight elements of the ENTANGLE acronym.

One of these elements — aligning AR — refers to how an augmented reality campaign is integrated into a brand’s overall marketing program. 

Snickers nails this concept, because the AR experience is so consistent with the “You’re Not You When You’re Hungry” campaign. “Aligning AR” shows how augmented reality is the natural choice for extending the longevity of marketing campaigns. 

But don’t forget to support the AR component with other aspects of the marketing mix. This can include product packaging or additional advertisements to encourage consumers to partake in the AR experience. For example, Snickers enlisted a handful of NFL players to help promote the campaign, and also printed some candy bar labels with hunger symptoms from the AR experience.

Hunger symptom labels would more effectively boost customer engagement.

How nourishment leads to customer engagement 

Enlisting just one of the ENTANGLE concepts isn’t enough. Marketers should try to include as many as possible.

In particular, there are two AR concepts you should keep in mind — nourishing engagement and enticing consumers.

According to Scholz and Smith, “managers can often encourage customer engagement through relatively minor, and inexpensive, design decisions. Affording consumers with the opportunity to choose or manipulate the content they view, or more readily interact with it, can nourish user-brand engagement.”

Snickers needs one of those quick design fixes. Its campaign lacks context integration, which describes how the digital AR experience is integrated with the physical elements in the background.

Though the idea of customizing a Snickers bar is engaging, the fact that it’s a virtual bar detracts from the experience. Users should be able to trigger the AR experience by pointing their device at a Snickers bar, then customize the label on that physical bar, not a virtual one which appears after the trigger.

Cadbury, a chocolate company based in the United Kingdom, did exactly that in its Qwak Smack augmented reality campaign. The experience is anchored on the real Cadbury product packaging, not a virtual bar.

This gives users a stronger sense of interaction, which boosts user-brand engagement. It also increases context integration by merging the physical and digital elements more seamlessly.

Entice customers to keep them engaged longer

In order to achieve and sustain the highest levels of customer engagement (and thus the biggest return on your AR investment), it is important that you offer the right incentives for consumers to participate in the AR campaign — preferably again and again. 

The character meme element of Snickers’ campaign is a start, but it could be better.

When users take photos of their customized labels and post them on social media, they could be entered into a contest for their hunger symptoms to be printed by Snickers. Not only would this level of interaction boost user-brand engagement, but the artifacts would also contribute to higher levels of user-bystander engagement. This would entice new users to take part in the experience.

The artifacts themselves could be improved too.

Snickers could use face-swapping technology and allow users to impose their face on Marilyn Monroe or Willem Dafoe in one of the popular television ads. According to Scholz and Smith, tactics like these support “…the fantasy of being a celebrity,” making users more likely to share this artifact because it supports “self-presentation and identity goals.” As a result, you can boost both user-bystander and user-brand engagement.

Lastly, make sure your customers an incentive to return to the campaign.

In the Snickers example, users could customize a candy bar label once and then have no desire to return. Your own brand should give an incentive for using the Blippar app multiple times. Perhaps using the app five times would unlock coupons or other rewards.

Creating AR campaigns that put customers in control

Companies spending upwards of $5 million on Super Bowl TV advertisements need to justify their marketing expenses with a high ROI. Luckily, augmented reality provides this opportunity.

AR is able to do this by creating an immersive experience that combines digital content with customers’ everyday, physical worlds. In this hybrid reality, customer engagement is liberated from the confines of a TV screen and scripted ad narratives, and instead located in your customers’ first-person experiences.

Customer engagement has thus become personal and emplaced in consumers’ own lives. It is this unique potential of augmented reality that allows you to extend the mileage of your marketing campaigns and increase ROI.

To become part of this exciting movement, share this post with other marketing professionals. To learn more about the exciting opportunities and trends in augmented reality, subscribe to for upcoming articles on the latest and greatest AR campaigns.

The author thanks Shawna Brown for her contribution to an earlier version of this post, and Dr. Joachim Scholz for his guidance in finalizing this article.
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