May 16th, 2023 | by Mathieu Gayet

“Through social networks, we measure the capacity of augmented reality to gather the general public” - Gabriel Picard (Atomic Digital Design)

Augmented reality has already been adopted: it governs social networks with its filters and interactive proposals by the platforms where it is distributed. However, we can find creative proposals, which do not demerit in the heart of an economic ecosystem very different from the world of culture. Focus on a French agency known for its innovative devices, Atomic Digital Design, on its return from the last SXSW.

  • Augmented reality (AR) has the potential to transform social platforms by enhancing the user experience and enabling more immersive and interactive communication, towards a more engaging and personalized user experience.
  • Social platforms such as Facebook and Instagram (Spark AR Studio), Snapchat (Lens Studio) or Tik Tok (Effect House) have already integrated AR features, such as filters and Lenses that allow users to change their appearance or add virtual objects to their environment.
  • Atomic Digital Design is an agency created in 2012 in Paris that benefits today from a close collaboration with these platforms, but also with brands wishing to develop innovative experiences.

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From motion design to augmented reality

Gabriel Picard - Atomic is now 10 years old, and since the beginning we have been dedicated to the digital transformation of brands - and for the last 5 years with a specialization in augmented reality for our clients' social networks and websites. The privileged platforms, of which we are officially partners, are well known: Snap, Instagram, Tik Tok. For the past 2 years, we have also been happy partners with The 8th Wall (acquired in 2021 by Niantic), which develops its own AR and WebAR technologies. This has been a particularly crucial period for us, very busy with projects for brand marketing campaigns. This is one of the segments of video content, favored by platforms but with much higher engagement rates for AR.

A Facebook's Messenger experience to customise your SUV directly in the app (2019)

G. P. - Augmented reality, as we conceive it and produce it on a daily basis, remains one of the networks' advertising formats with mechanisms from the entertainment world. In particular, storytelling and creation. Originally, our activity in this sector revolved around gamification, mobile games, motion design... But habits have changed, as has our expertise in the face of very competitive freelancers in these previous formats. We responded to the changes in algorithms, the loss of ROI, to direct our creations towards AR. We had already discussed it before, but it became our first proposal force from a project for Elis to support their salesmen in the presentation of their product in real conditions (link). Their sales took off!

G. P. - For Atomic, augmented reality was the meeting of our talents - from developers to creatives. It made sense! Very quickly, we got used to testing AR with atypical projects, like augmented cooking classes (putting the environment at the heart of the experience), where everyone else was limited to relatively classic masks. Our creative capacity was a gateway to quickly discuss with each platform (especially through the French offices), and they convinced us to accelerate. Today we produce 300 experiences per year.


Can augmented reality do everything?

G. P. - We measure the capacity of AR to bring people together; the power of social platforms does the rest. We were able to organize treasure hunts to win tickets for concerts (for PNL), for example, which reached millions of people. We noticed that some brands are ahead of the game on these subjects, and gave us a lot of freedom - as long as the quality was there. Our artistic requirement has always been the fidelity to the products presented (quality of textures, visualization...), but with interactive features, especially on the personalization of products. For example, try on shoes before going to the store. Or personalize your car before ordering it from the dealer.

DIOR - Christmas Packaging

G. P. - The latest tools and software we use on platforms offer us many possibilities. They are real creative toolboxes between no-code and some necessary programming elements. They have extraordinary potentials, certainly different from real time engines (Unity, Unreal), but they don't have the same constraints as before.

G. P. - It is clearly necessary to go beyond the "gadget" side that many see in AR. We can do a lot of things, and not just stick layers of virtual on top of the real. At Atomic, we are looking to improve the experiential aspect of our content. Narrative allows us to do that, even on relatively limited objects. File size, for example, is a real headache. We have to get to the point, be smart. It's really this work on the narrative itself that allows us to respect the client's brief and the user's experience. And we keep the "wow" effect of technology, which still amazes many people. It's always innovative to use it.

Dissemination... and education issues

G. P. - The education around AR (as for VR or MR) remains one of the challenges of digital transformation within companies. Many industries are already using it, but without having a real marketing habit. Our main competitor is video, and AR is still relatively expensive to produce and broadcast. You have to think about the promotional budget needed to promote these devices! Whether we are broadcasting worldwide or by territory. It's a fast-growing market, but far from the figures for video production. In terms of adoption, on the client side, we still need to make progress in explaining our budgets and the potential. Marketing departments need to be willing to try, and on a long-term vision (to avoid the often useless "one shot"). But we are getting there.


G. P. - The latest marketing trends that have emerged (Web3, Metaverse...) are for the moment very ideological. With nice ideas about personal control of data, transparency, decentralization etc. AR has a role on the spatialized part of the web as we know it today. We will have to get out of a "flat" use of the internet... And this is a subject that fascinates us! But we are still far from it. Our visit to SXSW this year confirmed the idea that "buzz" gets mixed up, that we confuse Web3 and metaverse. However, they are the ones that make a mark on people's minds, and that brands use. We try to follow this movement on the technology side, with a positive effect on the understanding with our interlocutors. But we must beware of the media effect which can lead to some disappointments...


An augmented future with the WebAR?

G. P. - In the end, augmented reality is often positive for the customer's ROI. And the next evolutions open a fascinating field of possibilities. But we still need to know how to reach the public. Google already has AR features in Maps, but does not allow augmented mode on the go. That's pragmatic! AR gaming experiences in the real world are being explored (as Niantic is considering), even if they are more projections into the real world than true augmented modes.

G. P. - Online gaming, in WebAR for example (or SharedAR as proposed by The 8th Wall), is a real field of investigation. Smartphones are available - but it's surprising that France is better equipped than the United States to host these experiences! Accessibility, the arrival of titles attracting the general public, sufficiently exciting interactions, these are criteria to keep in mind. Nothing is mature, everything remains to be invented on the WebAR side.



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