GoldRun's Snaps App Lets Fans Play With The Brand
While it remains ill-defined and multifaceted, “augmented reality” has gone down a number of paths in recent years. At its most ambitious, AR can recognize complex objects like your car's engine and use virtual pointers to map out the undecipherable mess that is under your hood. In other recent implementations, AR just adds an e-commerce layer to a printed page so magazines can become online stores with buy buttons. One of the early players in AR, GoldRun has focused on an even simpler version of AR that is less dependent on gee-whiz technology than it is on leveraging the most popular social distribution systems and a brand's existing fan base.
“We are moving toward a model we call social advertising,” says Vivian Rosenthal. “Getting the right user that makes content to share with friends.” The idea is to inspire a brand's existing fan base by letting them play with branded assets. It could just be virtual Smurfs that a user could superimpose on their own images. It could be character masks, virtual stand-up celebrity figures to pose with as best buddies. For sports fans the ways in which team logos and apparel can be superimposed on a user image are endless. Essentially, GoldRun is using its Snaps app to let brands create simple overlays for fans to integrate into their own photos and then share.
Rosenthal says this approach addresses a number of weaknesses with existing social media brand exercises. Instagram is a good distribution vehicle, but it does not allow brands to insert their assets for easy re-use. “We heard they wanted to capitalize on the rise of photo-taking and sharing,” she says. “That trend is not going away, but so much of the content was not pertinent to theme and is not really helping them.”
Many brands had amassed large collections of likes and followers, but aside from contests and the occasional polls, it is hard to find ways to engage them. By giving the true fans of a product or entertainment property, the Snaps app has a range of sponsored and general content for goofing with images. You can insert yourself into a scene from the upcoming "Psych: The Musical" event on USA, for instance. The in app tools are adroit. You can assemble scenes from a set of overlays. For those of you old enough to remember, think Colorforms. At the least it allows you to paste a couple of Despicable Me characters around your tyke for her amusement. At best it provokes some wicked user generated creativity.
The platform has invited brands to leverage their own existing social channels to promote and distribute the content. Psych posts the content to its Facebook page and pushes people to the app. In essence, the platform gives brands a new source of content they can use as they like. And of course the people who are drawn to engaging the brand assets also tend to be the most socially active. “For every image that is shared, there is a multiplier effect,” says Rosenthal. “It ends up being millions of impressions that originate from key influencers.”
The resulting metrics can give a brand some interesting insights into how people interact with aspects of a property. The marketers can see which specific assets, characters, and messaging people use most and least. You can assess which types of content succeed and fail virally and also which channels of sharing your core constituency favors. One imagines that an artfully designed program could have built in a strategy for getting key market intelligence about how audiences are relating to product attributes. If you let people play with a brand, then the results could be a lab for testing and gauging new assets and messaging.
The next step for an app like this is naturally into video. Rosenthal imagines a clip of your children dancing next to an animated Smurf or putting a virtual sports car in your driveway that allows you to do a 360-degree view of both. There is also the opportunity for more real-time interactivity. Instead of tweeting about a show or voting for a reality show contestant, the user can vote by posting an image of herself with the chosen character. And of course there is messaging – putting more peer-to-peer communication into the app itself.
Rosenthal says they are encouraging brands to go beyond one-off campaigns and think about long-term storytelling and conversational engagements with users via the platform. One way of looking at this technology is as a kind of virtual and interactive licensing program. For decades, media, sports and some consumer products offered branded merchandise that their core fans embraced. This makes similar assets much more malleable, interactive, and share-able.