Social AR Reel |  The Mill 2020

CONNECTING THROUGH SOCIAL AR

New York based Creative Director Sally Reynolds is one of the leading creative minds behind The Mill’s 200+ multi-platform AR filters. As a multi-disciplinary artist with a rich design background, Sally approaches each project with purposeful intention, weaving in her love for science, figurative art and storytelling. We spoke to Sally about the AR revolution, and how brands can use AR to stay connected with their customers during this time of isolation (and beyond). 

WHY DO YOU THINK AR IS SO POPULAR?

There are three key reasons: 

The technology is already in your pocket.
Nearly all AR experiences are distributed and experienced on that tiny supercomputer you already own, and used with minimal effort to interact with the digital world. The mass adoption of emergent experiences is intimately connected to availability, ease of use, and cost of the technology required to engage. These variables decrease friction over time for all newcomers (advances in VR prove this as well). Think of the adoption of cell phones, which were solely the accessories of the rich and powerful until innovation, culture and competition made them as prevalent as a wrist watch. It is difficult for us to even imagine our lives without this technology, but in our recent past the experience and advantage of “talking to someone via phone wherever you are” smacked of trivial or even an elitist need. AR has had an accelerated path since the lens for experience is already in your pocket. VR is close behind.

Some of the primary platforms have billions of users pre-engaged.
The experience barrier to entry is invisible - social media platforms Instagram, TikTok and Snapchat democratise the medium by making it free and available to users. You don’t have to download a new app, you don’t have to sign up for relentless spam, or learn a new interface. You already use it, AR is simply a feature of these technologies. The number of global active users on these platforms are in the order of billions. Deploying an interactive experience to an audience of this size or demographic spread is unparalleled. Not only is access free, but these platforms provide easy-to-use creator software to the community with which to author AR experiences. These developed far-reaching platforms bring down the cost of creation & production for brands to form and deploy AR experiences. 

It does not isolate, it integrates.
For humans, it is not only a desire to make sense of the world, it’s imperative to survival. When we can’t make sense of it, our brain automatically generates an explanation. But when no such explanation is available, when something seems unreal, impossible… the world is no longer predictable, perhaps even a little dangerous - our brain delights in a little thrill. This is the delight of magic - making the impossible, possible.Think of Harry Potter, and how wonder-filled those beautiful films are with magic - and yet we the audience are acclimated to expect it. It sparks the imagination, but it does not give us the same thrill as it would do in our presence. To experience visual trickery and magic in real time, in your environment, by your hand, stimulates a thrill that can’t be matched by a passive viewing. AR engages you in the magic, integrating your immediate world reality with the impossible. Subconsciously implanting a thrill of the experience, a memory of delight, a lasting impression of the brand. So magical, you can alllmost touch it. 

HOW CAN BRANDS LEVERAGE AR TO CONNECT WITH THEIR FANBASE?

Two valuable dividends derived from a successful AR activation are user experience and user-generated content. To appropriate Benjamin Franklin: If you show me, I will watch. You could tell me, and I would listen. But hand me the wheel, and I will learn how to drive. Giving the viewer agency to activate, play and physically engage with content rather than experience it passively, imprints a lasting memory of it, makes a mark.

The second: user-generated content. AR lends itself to user’s incorporating the content into their environment and immediately sharing via their own platforms. And thanks to advanced facial recognition technologies, AR has been especially prominent as a tool of self-expression - augmenting the self/ie. AR lenses are now ubiquitous with social media recordings - the practice has been normalised and the enhancement of identity is made playful and rich with the assistance of virtual self-branding. The same way that I would wear designer sneakers to express myself, I use a retro glitch during a daily homily to my people. 

Brands collaborate with their audience through AR: a rare access to their audience. To create lasting memories of an interaction with the brand, an AR experience awaits. 

WHAT ARE YOUR TOP TIPS FOR DEVELOPING AN ENGAGING AR FILTER?

For AR to be an engaging experience, there are three foundational pillars to build on:

Seamless UX. 
The user experience must be as seamless as possible. Lower all the barriers to entry, ensure the foundational requirements are met (data speeds,functionality, discoverability, clear user flow, minimal steps to engage). 

Fidelity & visual wizardry. 
The tighter the content is integrated into the user’s environment, the more powerful the magic. The level of visual artistry that is designed, animated & coded into an AR experience directly effects the ‘reality’ of it. Lest we forget - our job here is to make the impossible, possible. 

I want to play with it.
Is there room for my homemade hot sauce? Leaving room in an experience for the user to play, and add their own spice is essential. An extension of my point earlier - give me the wheel, I want to learn how to drive this thing! To experience is to play, to engage, to be a part of. Create space in an experience for the user to discover, to learn, to uncover the magic for themselves. 

WHAT SOCIAL AR INITIATIVES DO YOU THINK WE’LL SEE LAUNCHED IN ISOLATION?
I’m hoping to see a lot of AR in virtual production come out of isolation. Video production utilising real time AR effects instead of post-VFX are fantastic. Bands like The 1975, Mark Ronson & King Princess have already made music videos incorporating real time AR in production. I’m looking forward to more, I am sure there will be plenty as film makers get creative with their at-home production means. 

WHAT’S NEXT FOR THIS MEDIUM?
When I wrote about this 6 months ago I was thinking about places and spaces - augmenting the world around us. Adding a digital second skin to artefacts and places in our environment, revealing hidden layers of meaning and context - using AR as a new tool of perception in our environment as we explore it [static interruption: enter pandemic]. The impact of isolation has temporarily shifted this, and I’m pondering two major areas for AR in the near future. Self expression in a time of self. People who don’t usually broadcast are doing so, and any stigma that existed around self-broadcasting using AR effects has been bulldozed. You may now jump on a conference call as a gherkin, a unicorn or sitting on a beach in Tahiti on a sunny day. And the second as mentioned above, using real time AR effects as a means of production. Especially in the fashion & music space. Deliver impossible makeup, costumes and camera LUTs directly to your talent. 

IN SUM, WHAT ACTIONS OR POSITIONS SHOULD BRANDS BE TAKING WITH AR RIGHT NOW?
Be bold. Be inclusive. Involve your audiences and give them the gift of play, joy, and expression when they need it most. Make meaningful experiences that bring beauty to our lives.


CREDITS

Production: The Mill
Executive Creative Director: Rama Allen
Executive Producer: Desi Gonzalez
Creative Director: Sally Reynolds
Senior Producer: Hayley Underwood Norton

CREDITS

Production: The Mill
Executive Creative Director: Rama Allen
Executive Producer: Desi Gonzalez
Creative Director: Sally Reynolds
Senior Producer: Hayley Underwood Norton