Winning Work: Turning AR into more than just a gimmick for Chevrolet

As part of an ongoing series looking at Mumbrella Asia Award-winning work, Isobar's Stan Lim explores how the agency managed to find a tangible, business-solving use for AR and why 2018 is the year the medium will shine

For many agencies, finding practical uses for augmented reality technology that elevate it beyond just a marketing gimmick remain elusive. But when General Motors first came to us with what was just a brief for an advertising campaign, it soon became clear there was a problem to be solved – and AR could be just the right solution.

At the time, GM was trying to launch the Chevrolet Cruze in South Korea, and naturally, the marketing team wanted to show off the car’s technology. But additionally, they also wanted us to assess if we could do anything to enhance or improve the current showroom or dealership experience.

When we went to Korea to get a measure of the new Cruze, we took the opportunity to scope out the dealership environment. In talking to several of the teams there though, we realised that not all showrooms are created equal. There are lot of dealerships in Korea that are actually so small that they may have space to only display a single car on their premises, or sometimes none at all.

At our Nowlab, we had been experimenting with all forms of virtual and augmented reality for some time now. Meanwhile, the GM team in Korea had heard of AR, had an interest in it, but didn’t really know how they could use it; to their thinking it was just a gimmick and they weren’t quite sure where they could go with it.

Given that most dealerships had no physical stock, buyers didn’t really see the point in visiting it. So, car dealers became a mobile salesforce, usually travelling to where the customers are – and with no car at hand, they would normally rely on brochures. It would be tricky for customers to visualise the car and trickier still for the salespeople to demonstrate the technologically-advanced features of the car.

This is when we started realising there could be a use case that could actually drive business value. The piece of technology we sat on allowed us to create what-was a new  form of augmented content called ‘mixed reality’. When we looked at all these elements and we put it together,  we evolved GM’s original marketing brief into something that is more of a virtual dealership or showroom.

Proving the concept

The Carat Asia-Pacific team at Dentsu Aegis Network were familiar with the GM business. Their input was valuable for our team to actually understand the challenges they had, including getting to the right people and asking the right questions within the GM network.

A huge challenge for us was getting the clients to understand and visualise what this technology could look like; feel like and how it would behave. The technology itself that we used was quite hard to explain, because it is a form of AR that you can actually walk around, explore, and go within the car cabin.

But there were not that many past examples of it – it was so new. We couldn’t give a reference video to help aid understanding. So, we actually took a tissue box, put it on the table, turned on our phone’s camera, and moved around the tissue box to simulate and get the clients to imagine it was the car.

Afterwards, it was all the usual considerations: how do you market the car? What the application would contain in terms of colour, the animation of the car’s technological features and so on. And because it was all new, challenges popped up – in the first month, was easily spent all our time on convincing and planning and designing what would go into the actual app. Only then did we go into production of the proof of concept.

For the hardware, we picked this company from Silicon Valley that does depth sensors because we wanted something that could be attached to the one thing that most showrooms already have – an iPad. The depth sensor is what allows the virtual app to scan and map the physical environment in 3D and in real-time.

We managed to get in front of a lot of South Korean dealers and demo the tech to them all at once. So, what began as an initial order of five units became 200 which were distributed to 110 dealerships across the country.

Why AR and not VR?

For every project we work on, we usually go in with an open mind. We talk to the clients, try to understand what their needs are and how a campaign is going to be used. We chose AR because the dealers were already on mobile. In this instance, VR wasn’t too feasible, because the headsets would mean a huge investment in terms of setup. In addition, a clunky VR headset could become hazardous in a public place that’s not designed for safety; meanwhile mobile versions of VR, like that developed by Samsung, are not as powerful to deliver an experience with the same impact.

The technology itself is limitless and can be reimagined in other industries. Augmented reality is still in its infancy; right now a lot of it is centred around retail and virtual showrooms, which is a more natural choice. But in the future, this technology will prove useful, especially in more complex situations, such as healthcare and education and even in areas like after-sales support.

Since launching, we have generated a lot of interest from retailers, simply because brands are finding themselves in an era of shrinking physical retail footprint. They needed a better solution to meet this new reality around their physical channels with limited spaces, all while retaining a good retail and product experience. Existing sales tools like brochures, webpages or interactive kiosks do not meet that exact requirement.

As retailers still need to have a presence, what this technology allows them to still generate a good shopping experience with a more limited physical inventory.

The technology can also help the healthcare industry to present a new piece of research and development to clients without having to erect big and complicated equipment.

Ultimately, our goal is to transform businesses, brands and people’s lives through the creative use of digital technology. There are more advancements in the technology that should be watched closely: spatial computing, which is what we used for V-Showroom, facial tracking, pose estimation and remote guidance and collaboration technologies.  

I believe 2018 will be a maturing year for AR. Largely what you have been getting now is content, but more and more brands are starting to see it can actually bring business value, and they’re starting to think about how that might be applied in their own businesses, from smart displays and virtual assistants within retail. All these will be made possible by some form of AR technology, and it’s about time we gave the medium the attention it deserves.

Stan Lim is the executive creative director of Isobar Singapore. The agency won two Mumbrella Asia Awards for Innovation and Most Engaging 360 Video/Virtual Reality or Augmented Reality Work at last year’s ceremony. 


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