Facebook tries selfie commerce with augmented reality ads

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Michael Kors tried advertising sunglasses in augmented reality on Facebook.
Michael Kors tried advertising sunglasses in augmented reality on Facebook. Credit: Facebook

Facebook has introduced new augmented reality ads that let people try on virtual renditions of products, as the battle for control of consumers' cameras heats up.

People flicking through the News Feed will see ads for Michael Kors sunglasses, for instance, and can play with an augmented reality version through their cameras. They can also see how a piece of Pottery Barn furniture would look in their living rooms if they hold their cameras up to the spaces.

Facebook has already tested the ads with Michale Kors, Pottery Barn, Bobbi Brown, Wayfair, Sephora and others. Augmented reality is a technology that was pioneered by apps like Snapchat, and now adopted by the biggest platforms like Facebook, Apple and Google, blending the real and virtual worlds through phones and other devices.

"Better marketing equals better shopping," says Ty Ahmad-Taylor, VP of product marketing at Facebook, who was speaking at a holiday shopping event at Facebook's New York headquarters on Tuesday. "You connect with [customers] in a way that's unusual and new, and you can deliver messages to them in a format they want to accept."

Facebook is not the first company to connect shopping and augmented reality. In fact, Snapchat pioneered this type of "selfie-commerce," first with an AR ad for BMW last year. Then this year, Snapchat connected AR lens ads to shopping, letting people click to a checkout page to buy products on display—called "shoppable AR."

On Tuesday, Facebook said the new AR ads would appear in the social network's main News Feed, but declined to discuss their possible arrival on Instagram and Messenger. It's safe to assume, however, that they'll make it there eventually.

While Snapchat led the mobile obsession with AR and pushed the possibilities of the format in advertising, Facebook and its lineup of apps are proving too dominant for marketers to ignore. Facebook reaches more than two billion people a month, plus 1 billion for Instagram and 1.3 billion for Messenger. Meanwhile, Snapchat has 191 million users per day (it does not release monthly stats).

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Facebook is already talking to agencies about AR commerce, in which AR ads could take consumers directly to checkout in its other properties, too, according to a digital ad agency executive who works closely with Facebook and spoke on condition of anonymity.

"In Messenger, you could do an AR ad that is connected to a customer service bot," the agency exec says. "So, if you see the product, it looks cool, then there is the opportunity to interact with the store and buy through there."

Snapchat has also borrowed from Facebook's playbook over the years, most recently opening up a third-party developer platform so outside companies can build experiences inside its app. This week, TechCrunch reported that Snapchat is building a bridge to Amazon to let people to point their cameras at real-world products to be taken to the corresponding Amazon page.

Instagram has evolved into one of Facebook's most important shopping channels with the introduction of product tags that brands put in their posts and collection ads, which deliver a catalogue of product options in one ad.

"Shopping has become ingrained behavior on Instagram," said Travis Freeman, executive VP at VaynerMedia, who spoke on a panel at Facebook's event.

Wayfair, the all-purpose e-commerce site, has been investing in augmented reality on its own for months, as have retail rivals Lowe's and Target, which are building AR into their sites and apps.

AR "continues to be a core way that our customers are engaging with us as a way to try on products," says Jess Jacobs, director of marketing at Wayfair, who also attended the Facebook's shopping event. "We see that as great way to move the customer through the funnel, when she's probably deciding between a couple of different things and wants to see how does this couch fit in my space or how does this lamp fit on my bedside table."

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