OOH Augmented Reality – A Virtual Escape

In the world we live in today, human interaction is limited as we’ve quickly adapted to socially distancing ourselves from one another. As a result, people are constantly searching for alternatives to communicate better in order to overcome social isolation anxiety. Digital mediums that provide interaction such as social media, online gaming, and streaming platforms are acting as a lifeline to satisfy our longing for communication. An emerging superstar, Augmented Reality (AR), that was previously struggling to achieve worldwide consumer adoption, is now proving to be an optimal solution for these peculiar times. Virtual experiences are now shifting from not only being interesting and engaging but also becoming an integral part of many marketing and advertising campaigns.

COVID-19 is playing a major part in the increasing demand for augmented and virtual reality technology. According to Technavio, a leading market research company that has been monitoring the AR and VR market for years, suggests that the market is likely to grow by $125.19 billion during 2020-2024. A recent ISACA study of approximately 12,000 consumers and IT professionals, said that they believe using AR-enhanced devices daily can help them acquire new skills. The study also found that 67% believe AR devices can bring healthcare benefits and 64% believe AR will make shopping easier. As a result of the pandemic, there has been a sudden need for virtual meetings and remote collaborations, giving AR technology more responsibility than ever to pioneer the market. In consideration of that, out-of-home (OOH) advertisements can compliment augmented reality by being a compatible medium for user experience and engagement that can generate a lot of buzz and word of mouth. OOH also brings an added value for businesses to promote their products using augmented reality during a pandemic.

Augmented Reality Rescues Retail

With a rise in e-commerce dominating the retail industry, companies are constantly looking for innovative ways to provide services that are more convenient for consumers. Retail companies have resorted to creating apps to make the online shopping experience easier. Companies like Ikea, Wayfair , and Lowe’s have gone the extra mile to create augmented reality experiences through mobile apps. Augmented reality makes it possible for consumers to test the furniture in their own living space before purchasing it. Home décor and fashion industries began implementing AR as a way to distinguish themselves from their competitors who have not yet adopted this technology. However, no industry had anticipated a global pandemic that would escalate the demand for this technology in such a short period of time. Covid-19 is changing the way retailers approach customer experiences and engagement, since shoppers who would ordinarily go to a store to view an item, are now purchasing them online. As a result, consumers are now more likely to experiment with AR as they shop online. Subsequently, AR engagement has increased by 20% and customer conversion rates by 90% for consumers who engaged with AR as opposed to those who did not.

The following video is an example of how Timberland’s 2014 campaign used AR in a clever way to entice consumers by showing them what they would look like wearing the brand’s products. The screen displayed on the store-front window acted as a virtual fitting room using the paradigm known as the “Magic Mirror”. The device takes a picture of the shopper by scanning them and then follows a person’s movements to match the shopper with a similar model body type. The shopper is then free to change their outfit as they please, and then it is saved and sent to their email where they can share it on social media. The picture also gets featured in Timberland’s fan page gallery. The purpose of the ad was to create a convenient and fun way to shop for those who find it to be more of a chore than a hobby. Fast-forward to 2020, the magic mirror may just be the future of fitting rooms and virtual shopping as we know it. 

Consumer’s Attitude towards AR

According to a survey by Vertebrae, 62% of participants claimed to have had AR experiences, with 56% claiming to have experienced it by downloading an app and 30% via QR code. Out of these experiences, 37% were not branded, which allows plenty of opportunities for advertisers to give consumers a memorable first-time experience. The overall attitude towards AR was very positive with 89% saying it was fun, 58% saying it made them laugh, 43% saying they spent more time than they intended to in the experience, 65% shared the experience, and 84% said they would not have been embarrassed to share the experience. With that in mind, consumers seem to be very receptive to the idea of AR – especially since apps like Snapchat and Instagram have made selfie filters the trend of the decade. As for brands integrating AR in their marketing services, people are enthusiastic about experimenting further. According to the same survey, 25% of participants said they would like a facial experience in which they can try on makeup or a new look, 42% said they would like to place imaginary things in their environment (such as fairies and dragons), 34% would like to try  products on their body, 57% would like to place items they are considering purchasing in their environment, and 44% would like to experience an AR game. We can conclude that moving forward, brands will be capitalizing more on the use of AR in their campaigns and services.

Augmented Reality and OOH


With the introduction of 5G (fifth generation), wireless connection is becoming more and more advanced, allowing users to speedily connect to many devices at the same time. 5G provides high speed internet data services at an accelerated rate compared to previous generations with more responsive features. This opens a whole new world for advertisers wherein OOH and mobile phones can come together to create an immersive experience for users. 5G will help advertisers break through the clutter and communicate with their target audience more efficiently by customizing their messaging to those who are most responsive to the ad. For digital billboards, 5G makes it possible for advertisers to change their post instantly and adjust it to any big event that may be happening in the world, making it more relevant to consumers. Lastly, it allows augmented reality to truly shine by giving it the appropriate speed connection it needs to deliver graphics that bring it to life.

Google AR

A new AR feature called Google Lens, allows users to scan out-of-home posters and billboards with their phone’s camera to get additional information and content that displays a virtual window that lays over the poster. This allows advertisers to reveal more information about their brand with an extra window of information that can be viewed via mobile phone on every OOH ad. Google Maps also introduced AR for a simpler way to navigate with virtual pop-ups guiding the way.

Location-based AR

AR has the ability to enhance OOH billboards by adding space for the ad that only exists virtually. Additionally, AR helps traditional OOH advertisers measure impressions with more ease by tracking user engagement using location data provided by AR technology. It also has the ability to monitor the traffic on the website that’s generated by the virtual pop-up content, offering OOH a better and more measurable approach.


OOH is increasingly using storytelling marketing to create an emotional bond between consumers and brands. Consumers want to relate to the message and experience the ad, thus making storytelling a popular advertising method. AR can assist advertisers in making OOH ads more engaging using technology such as parallel display, which enables the projection of different digital images at different viewing angles. AR also has the ability to create a world where the brand is the hero of the story, enticing consumers to be a part of it. By using incentives like games, discounts, and secret messages, consumers are more likely to participate in the memorable experience. Furthermore, AR has an impact on the psychological factor that navigates consumers towards this type of advertisement – it gives them the satisfaction of feeling that they can be somewhere they are not.

A Pop-up overlay ad using augmented reality on Google Maps.

Factors for a Successful OOH-AR Campaign

When marketers are looking to use augmented reality for their OOH campaigns, there are some factors to consider when planning the execution. The environment and location of the campaign can play a huge role in how consumers perceive the brand. If the campaign is not dependent on the usage of mobile phones to view the virtual effects, things like screen size, available space, footfall, light conditions, and crowd control become of greater importance. Technology is another key element to make the campaign an experiential one. Quality hardware and innovative implementation offer compelling experiences when hardware and software work cohesively. To ensure that the campaign is successful, engaging the audience is what augmented reality is all about. The more interactive and memorable the ad is, the more likely it is that the campaign will garner better results. As social media dominates a large part of our daily life, people are more prone to enjoy an experience that they can share on their own platforms, which in return, helps campaigns reach a larger number of impressions. The last part of the process comes down to the execution of it all. The quality of the augmented reality advertisement reflects directly on the brand’s image and must be executed in a professional manner using the appropriate technology required.

Memorable OOH Ads Using AR

Pepsi Max’s infamous digital OOH campaign used augmented reality to virtually send their message to, “Live for Now,” and bring the, “unbelievable,” factor of Pepsi Max alive on the streets by shocking commuters to jump out of their seats. The ad transformed a bus stop window display into a transparent looking window, where all of a sudden, imaginative scenarios are played out on the screen using 3D effects while maintaining the same background of the street – making it look as realistic as can be. Commuters evidently fell for it at first, before realizing the scenarios were too outrageous to be true, such as emerging tentacles, fiery asteroids, and giant laser-shooting robots. The campaign generated 3 million views on YouTube in just 5 days and 8 million views in total. Media news channels covered the story of the viral campaign that enabled it to reach over 385 million people, adding even more to its success and spiking a 35% increase in sales during the month of the campaign.

Lay’s Classic Potato Chips used augmented reality for their “Cheer of Champions” campaign for the UEFA Champions League. The touch screen poster located in a busy mall in Madrid displayed an interactive screen to create fun football-themed selfies for participants to share on social media. The medium allowed shoppers to select their team’s shirt color as well as other animations similar to filters such as beards, brows, and face paint as they virtually stood in a crowded stadium. Users got to live out their moment of fame while partaking in a fun interactive experience. With chips being the ultimate snack choice during sports games, the brand used a clever strategy to create an association with Lays Chips; a favorable sporting event, and a good memory in the consumer’s mind.

Bottom Line

With an unforeseen urgency for digital marketing to make larger leaps forward due to COVID-19, augmented reality is a great solution for businesses that can use the platform to replace in-store shopping with online shopping without losing the value of indulging in “the live” experience. As previously mentioned, studies show that consumers have a positive perception of AR ads and are interested and curious to encounter future experiences with them. With innovative technology enhancing AR, services like 5G wireless connection being on the rise, and companies like Google integrating it in their mobile services, this can aid in paving the way for brands and advertisers to put AR efforts to use. The combination of OOH and AR gives advertisers a unique added value  that provides billboards with additional space for content and an engaging platform that can take their audience pretty much anywhere they are willing to go.

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