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Instagram’s New AR Features Will Force Brands to Change Strategy

Augmented reality features on Instagram present brands with new opportunities for experiential marketing.


Instagram’s launch of its new AR feature has created a massive opportunity for brands, offering a dynamic new way to advertise and drive e-commerce. The feature enables brands to build catalogs of their products in 3D, as well as AR lenses, allowing users to interact with these experiences and create their own personalized content.

This creates an entirely new plot of digital real estate that brands can populate with incredibly rich, interactive and sticky content. These types of augmented reality experiences will usher in a new era of e-commerce on the platform. Consequently, brands will have to adjust their social strategies to accommodate the change.

Instagram's Try It On feature
Instagram’s Try It On feature

Instagram’s Plan: Scale, Stories and Sharing

There’s, of course, no need to waste space talking about user numbers and how ubiquitous the platform has become. Instagram is the urlanguage for a whole generation. It seems they have taken learnings and innovations of Snap’s AR success and subsumed them into their Babel-like platform.

The real opportunity lies in the explosive growth of its Stories. Five hundred million accounts use Stories every day and 1/3 of the most viewed Stories come from businesses.

See Also:  The State of Augmented Reality

To compete with Snapchat and its AR head start, Instagram has altered the user-interface within Stories, deploying multiple ways for users to initiate an AR experience. There is the standard “swipe up” gesture to trigger AR, along with a new, three-star symbol under a username that can be tapped for the same result. This provides a more frictionless user experience than Snap, where an AR experience or “lens” must be manually shared with other users.

The implications of this for a brand are immense. Imagine this earned media extravaganza:

1. Brand creates an AR lens;

2. Brand features lens it in their story;

3. User views, then opens lens and actively engages with the content;

4. User creates a new piece of content featuring themselves and the lens;

5. This new piece of content, with a link to the original lens, lives in the user’s story for 24 hours for others to repeat steps 3-4;

6. Lens is saved in brand’s augmented reality IG catalog to prompt more iterations of steps 3-5.

Welcome to the Wild West of Organic AR

While Facebook famously crushed brands’ organic viewership in a bid to build its pay-to-play advertising empire, Instagram’s Stories organic viewership is directly dependent on user behavior. This means that, in a standard user’s feed, both businesses and friends are on a level playing field. Therefore, the ability to build compelling content and experiences is paramount in garnering attention.

This is what makes augmented reality so compelling on Instagram. Getting users to interact with content, and create their own, falls directly in the wheelhouse for Instagram Stories users.

To be fair, much of this has been possible on Snapchat for a while – and Snap’s AR technology is top-notch. The most important difference is that Instagram catalogs these interactive and immersive experiences. This new piece of digital real estate will become a repository for augmented reality content and help fuel brands’ e-commerce efforts on IG.

A silver bullet lies within Instagram’s ‘Checkout’ feature. It allows users to buy products on Instagram without ever leaving the app. So this feature basically transforms what was once a simple social media channel, to an end-to-end e-commerce solution. To capitalize on this release, brands need to showcase their products in a dynamic way and provide contextual, engaging experiences through their AR catalog.

Instagram checkout feature
Instagram checkout feature

Qualifying Augmented Reality’s Impact on E-Commerce

Studies show that AR affects consumer behavior in incredibly positive ways. The University of New South Wales Business School, King’s Business School, Maastricht University, and the University of Sussex published a study in the Journal of Retailing, which found that “the AR-enabled frontline improves decision comfort, motivates positive WOM [word of mouth] and facilitates choice of higher value products.”

Augmented reality should definitively change the effectiveness and draw of shopping on Instagram. This will not only resonate with consumers but also allow brands to attribute sales directly to their (as yet nascent) AR initiatives.

See Also:  Augmented Reality: The Next Big Thing in Social Media

Instagram is heavily vested in winning the augmented reality social media war. Despite such a late start, their ubiquitous promotion and multimodal paths for users to experience this technology will drive usage numbers up quickly, helping them to surpass Snap.

These social tech giants have helped to build a massive wave of AR adoption. Brands now sit at a crossroad. They can either hold out and bet against an immersive new medium on the most popular platform on the planet, or grab a board and be one of the first to catch the wave.

Guest Post

About the Guest Author(s)

Mike Cadoux
Mike Cadoux
General Manager | QReal | + posts

Mike Cadoux is the General Manager of The Glimpse Group subsidiary QReal (formerly, a 3D and augmented reality content creation and distribution platform that usher's brands into the immersive media world. Previously, Mike worked as the Managing Director and Co-owner of Peak Organic Beer Company. He graduated from Pomona College.

Matt Maher
Matt Maher
Founder | M7 Innovations | + posts

Matt Maher is the founder of M7 Innovations where he guides brands and executive teams through the ever-changing media and technological landscapes - from AI and Voice technology to AR and VR. He formerly served as VP of Innovation at Assembly - AdAge’s 2018 Agency of the Year - and has given keynote presentations at CES, SXSW, industry panels, and private client events.