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Augmented reality Augmented reality marketing: inspiration is vital for success!

Published on 18.06.2019 by Prof. Dr. Philipp A. Rauschnabel, Professor of Digital Marketing and Media Innovation at the Bundeswehr University Munich

The impact of technologies in our lives is constantly growing. It has become impossible to imagine a life without smartphones, mobile Internet and social media. However, there are two fields where current devices have potential for development. First, while online content has become better, more dynamic and more interactive, this content is still only shown on two-dimensional screens. Second, the consumption of media content often comes down to a reality-versus-virtuality trade-off. That means a user focuses either on digital content on-screen or in their environment. Experiencing both at the same time is, for the moment, largely unrealistic. Yet, the first prototypes of the latest devices do show what the technology of the future has to offer: augmented reality, i.e. the perception of the world in which virtual content is realistically integrated into the user’s actual environment.

The forecasts relating to augmented reality are stunning, pointing to explosive growth within just a few years. New technologies, such as AR smart glasses, which realistically overlay 3D content on the real world, are already in the starting blocks and could soon develop into mass media.

Our research deals with the question of what the potential impact of augmented reality may be in the future as a mass medium for marketing (and for society as a whole). One key finding is that inspiring AR content is particularly important to people and, in turn, to companies.

Inspirational content is vital for the success for augmented reality marketing

In an offline context, we are happy to “wander” through the city, while online we look for “ideas” using Pinterest or Instagram. From a psychological standpoint, this is underpinned by the need for inspiration. In simple terms, we understand it to be the search for triggers which serve to change things or broaden our horizons. In general, this is the desire for new ideas. One limiting factor is that inspiration is often restricted by high cognitive effort, as some people have great difficulty in imagining new things – in particular when these are highly abstract.

Why inspirational AR content is important

AR can overcome these limitations. Imagine that you want to repaint your walls. Most people would instinctively look for shades of white and would not even contemplate extravagant colours. Accordingly, almost no one would buy colour patterns in green or blue, as this decision would already have been ruled out to keep things simple. With AR apps such as Dulux Visualizer, people can simulate unusual purchasing decisions with little effort, helping them enjoy completely new forms of inspiration.

Our current study – published in the Journal of Retailing and Consumer Services in 2019 – also shows that inspiring apps have positive effects on brand attitudes. As part of this study, we surveyed test subjects about the relevant brand before and after using an AR app. We then examined and explained the difference in the evaluation using multivariate driver analyses. The key finding was that a person's opinion of an app plays only a minor role from the standpoint of brand management. If, however, the experience is inspirational, the impact may be up to four times stronger. The underlying reason is that inspirational content pushes people to question and rethink their attitude to brands.

Tips for inspirational AR content

Start with AR product testers

Users can call on the IKEA Place app to install and view virtual furniture in their home. If you already have 3D models of your products, something like this could be used as an initial step. The result does not immediately need to be made available to the general public as a complex app; trade professionals could show their customers what specific changes would look like (e.g. a new garage) simply with an AR browser on a standard smartphone or tablet with little effort involved. Here, you will need 3D models of your products.

Realistic replication

With regard to inspiration, there should be as little distraction as possible. Psychologists refer to “processing fluency“: only when people perceive AR content in a realistic manner will they be inspired – a fact we also demonstrated in our research. Apple and Google provide the technologies which fundamentally facilitate AR. It is vital that you offer good content. High-quality CAD models are essential to allow you to do so.

A splash of fun

Our research demonstrates that AR apps found to be entertaining can inspire users. It is important to note that apps which are too funny are quickly seen as gimmicks. You should therefore not only think of the functional uses, such as product placement, but should also incorporate different colours, social shares or other vibrant elements.


People not only want brands to provide information, but are increasingly keen on stories. AR provides numerous opportunities to implement storytelling. Use AR stories to talk about your brand and the background to pique people’s curiosity. Such curiosity can lead to inspiration.

The wow effect is good – but not lasting

AR apps can be inspiring. A wow effect often occurs when people are inspired. But our research shows that this wow effect in the purchase decision-making process often quickly fizzles out. A more stable approach is to trigger relevant brand associations. LEGO, for example, succeeds in triggering nostalgic associations using its AR apps. The result is that after an inspirational experience, even adults are keen to use LEGO again.


Prof. Dr. Philipp A. Rauschnabel, Professor of Digital Marketing and Media Innovation at the Bundeswehr University Munich

Prof. Dr. Philipp A. Rauschnabel is Professor of Digital Marketing and Media Innovation at the Bundeswehr University Munich. The focus of his research, teaching and consulting is on social media and XR (augmented reality, virtual reality, mixed reality).

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