A roundup of technology-driven tools that drive consumer understanding, engagement and conversion on every step of the path to purchase.
In April, Trader Joe’s said it was the first grocery store to partner with Buffalo, New York-based MagnusMode, a life skills library that provides digital guides to daily activities for people with cognitive disabilities such as autism. MagnusCards is a digital app that combines instruction, visual cues and interactive audio guides to everyday experiences such as dealing with rapid transit systems, airports, museums and banks.
Step-by-step instructions have been provided by companies ranging from Colgate-Palmolive (oral care tips), Kraft Heinz (lunch tips) and A&W (stress-free restaurant dining). The Trader Joe’s card deck covers topics like “checking out your items” and “sensory experiences in the store.” The MagnusCards app covers 12 categories of life skills learning, including social, travel, personal care and shopping. Once downloaded, the card decks don’t require Wi-Fi so they can be used easily anywhere.
Atlanta-based Bakkt Holdings recently launched a consumer app that acts like a digital wallet filled with various assets, including bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, gift-card balances, frequent-flyer miles and loyalty-reward points. After beta testing with more than 500,000 users, the app is available via the Apple app and Google Play stores. It can already be used, the company says, at participating Starbucks, Best Buy and GolfNow locations as well as retailers who use Fiserv’s payment-acceptance service. Bakkt says that loyalty cards from more than 200 brands are currently supported by the app, and that the “crypto curious” can also use it to buy bitcoin without transaction or trading fees.
Austin, Texas-based FreeWater Inc. launched in May, declaring itself “The World’s First Free Beverage Company.” It’s a philanthropic marketing startup that aims to be underwritten by selling ads on aluminum water bottles and cartons. The founders assert that this form of advertising gets 10 times the impressions of direct mail. The short-term goal is to become “a prominent advertising channel that doesn’t annoy or harass its audience; the bigger plan is to “evolve into the world’s first free supermarket and to disrupt the food and beverage industry.” The hope is to generate 10 cents per package, which will then be donated to charities that build water wells in Africa.
SPOTLIGHT: Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality
In late April, San Francisco-based Afterpay, considered a leader in the “Buy Now, Pay Later” payments business, launched The Dropshop, a global platform that offers access to limited-edition merchandise, offers and experiences. The unveiling event, or “first drop,” was done in partnership with Finish Line and gave Afterpay consumers early access to a limited-edition Nike AIR MAX 90 in black, orange and silver. During the launch window, April 27-May 2, Snapchatting consumers could try the sneakers on virtually using Snapchat’s AR Lens, then use Afterpay to take them in a few clicks over to checkout on FinishLine.com.
In May, Ferrero launched an augmented reality app called “Applaydu” for use with its Kinder Joy candy/toy eggs. The AR features are activated in the app by scanning a leaflet included in the Kinder Joy egg. Animated 3-D characters, avatar costumes and personalized adventure books are awarded for completing achievements within the app.
Parsippany, New Jersey-based Ferrero (now the world’s third-largest confectionery company) developed the AR app with educational guidance from Oxford University. It has parental controls, including a pin-protected feature that lets parents follow their child’s progress through activity reports.
As business got back to business in 2021, a recurring theme inside the AR arena has been lowering barriers to entry. Consider Beerscans, for example, an AR platform that its boosters claim will enable even small craft brewers to offer virtual experiences. The platform is said to enable a brewer’s marketing team to upload content in simple formats, automatically convert them for use in AR, and then use its intuitive reporting system to track results. It’s all being pitched by an Australian company, Third Aurora, for rollout later in 2021 (possibly as early as July) in an initial release to just 50 U.S. brands. “Forget QR codes,” says Beerscans’ marketing materials, arguing that since today’s smartphones have better image-recognition technology that can analyze detail on cans and bottles, there’s only one label to upload for the system to learn. That means every identical label, even if it’s on an old bottle that’s been in the fridge for a while, will be usable for an AR activation. Beerscans has a sister application called “Winerytale” that already is in use around the world.
Snap Inc. made a splash on May 20 by introducing AR eyeglasses called “Spectacles.” They aren’t for sale however, at least to civilians. About 1,000 pairs will be given to successful applicants from the “creator community,” basically AR platform developers who use Lens Studio, Snap’s desktop application, to generate virtual images.
You may recall that Snap first released eyeglasses called Spectacles back in 2016, but those were camera glasses, not AR glasses. These new AR Spectacles are powered by the Snap Spatial Engine, allowing for “six degrees of hand, marker and surface tracking” that will enable creators to wirelessly push their AR creations onto Spectacles for rapid testing, in real time.
In April, Chicago-based Threekit, a 3-D and AR platform, launched “Shop Threekit,” dubbed the world’s first multi-brand 3-D marketplace. The company says that by using technology developed through 15 years of creating visual effects for films, its site lets shoppers “visit” more than 20 e-commerce stores and create photorealistic 2-D and 3-D visuals as well as AR experiences. For example, shoppers can configure and view a TaylorMade SIM2 driver, view a Crate & Barrel sofa in the materials they want, or as I did at the Bamford watch site, assemble what might be the ugliest $560 watch in human history (pictured). Other brands featured at launch on the site include Lovesac, Duluth Trading Co. and Shark Tank winner PRx Performance.
In April, Kellogg Co. announced the nationwide debut of its latest cereal, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes with Crispy Cinnamon Basketballs (quite a mouthful). The product rollout marks the first time that mascot Tony the Tiger has had to share the front of the box, in this case with Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal. “It’s no secret [that] having my own Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes cereal has been a lifelong dream,” Shaq was quoted as saying.
Folks sitting at their kitchen table will be able to scan a QR code on the back of the box and, through augmented reality, watch Tony and Shaq compete in a dunk contest. Before the cereal hit retail shelves, Kellogg’s gave fans a chance to win one of 25 autographed boxes by commenting on Shaq’s Instagram post.
Norwalk, Connecticut-based Pepperidge Farm announced that, starting in May, it was pairing its Goldfish crackers with McCormick & Company’s Frank’s RedHot hot-sauce brand in a limited-edition snack. At a two-day preview event designed to give an early alert to its fanbase, Goldfish directed consumers to Instagram to unlock and use a custom AR filter (tagged “@GoldfishSmiles”) in their stories and post it with the hashtag #Sweepstakes. Winners received a direct message from the Goldfish Instagram account informing them that they’d won preview bags of the product.
If you need motivation as a do-it-yourselfer, well ... there’s an app for that. In May, the Richburg, South Carolina-based Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety launched an augmented-reality mobile “experience” called Wildfire Ready Virtual. It’s an interactive tool that guides homeowners through some basic, D-I-Y wildfire-mitigation actions with scary, virtual-reality simulations of embers showering your neighborhood that even alarmed my dog Olive. The app opens with a short survey about your home’s vulnerabilities and then the AR really kicks in: It zooms into a home’s “ignition zones” – the roof, decks and vents. If discovering that your patio is a fire trap doesn’t send you running to Home Depot, nothing will.