Why Sports Illustrated Is on the Right Track by Integrating AR

The following is a guest contributed post from Tom Farrell, the vice president of marketing for the mobile marketing and consumer engagement platform Swrve. Augmented reality (AR) is hardly news by this point. The Pokémon Go craze has been and gone, and if you haven’t...

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The following is a guest contributed post from Tom Farrell, the vice president of marketing for the mobile marketing and consumer engagement platform Swrve.

Augmented reality (AR) is hardly news by this point. The Pokémon Go craze has been and gone, and if you haven’t taken a selfie with the Snapchat AR flower crown, what on Earth have you been doing? As all tech trends eventually do, AR has come to the point where its sheer newness is no longer enough to get people hyped up. As a result, in order to become more than just another futuristic gimmick, AR needs to be integrated into users’ daily lives in a way that is useful; it must enhance their experiences rather than just being used for software showboating. In particular, AR opens up interesting new monetization opportunities for publishers.

One of the most extensive recent examples of just how many options AR can offer comes from Sports Illustrated, which has introduced several AR and virtual reality (VR) features as part of its famous swimsuit issue. There interactive spread includes a 360-degree VR tour of the photo shoot; Snapchat lenses that use AR to turn the reader into one of the models; AR-activated pages that readers can scan to bring to life; 3D holograms; and more. What makes Sports Illustrated’s AR application particularly notable beyond the sheer number of different features is the way that these integrate into the print and web editions, becoming part of the publication rather than replacing it.

These features are likely to drive revenue in two main ways, with the first (and most obvious) being by boosting the amount of time that people are engaged. In the same way that most of us are likely to spend longer playing a video game than looking at the cover of its box, creating actions that the audience can carry out and ways that they can interact with the material mean that they’re likely to spend more time engaging with the issue’s content.

Second, the AR features require readers download the LifeVR app, which increases the number of engagement channels, as well. By incentivizing engagement with the app through an exclusive experience, acquisition is more likely to be encouraged than by any amount of “download now!” messaging. In fact, to get the most from these AR and VR experiences, readers are encouraged to engage with the print magazine, website and app, tripling the reader’s total contact with the brand. These added features offer a way to revitalize the print medium, bringing readers of the magazine into the app, and users of the app back to the magazine. Having the app on readers’ phones means that they’re more likely to engage with the brand in the future. Because the LifeVR app features several publications from the Life brand, it’s also an opportunity to cross-sell users on to other titles, too.

For publishers, increased brand engagement time is particularly crucial since apps are a prime platform for monetization. If a publisher’s content is monetized by upselling readers to subscriptions or premium packages, then using the app to deliver these interactions means that the publisher’s approach can be much more targeted and much more effective. If monetization relies instead on showing advertisements from other businesses, these, too, can be optimized through the app by timing them to cause the least disruption and, therefore, to support maximum customer retention. With ad blockers becoming increasingly common, the ability to have full control over the ads shown through apps is particularly valuable. Essentially, having more readers spending more time in the app translates to more advertising revenue, and Sports Illustrated’s use of AR features is a great way to do just that.

Sports Illustrated is on to a winner here. Readers get a more dynamic experience that they’ll want to share and spend time engaging with, and publishers increase brand exposure, which can increase revenue. We predict AR will be an area of growth over the coming months, as applications like Sports Illustrated prove to bring real benefits beyond its original clickbait appeal.

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