Snapchat is eaming up with Amazon and HBO, among others, to show off its latest augmented reality technology at South by Soutwest this week.
Snapchat is deploying what it calls "marker" technology, which is a next-generation QR code that brands put on their packaging and outdoor ads so people can bring them to life in the app. Amazon, HBO and Warner Bros. have incorporated Snapchat markers into their installations at SXSW, which began on Friday.
In the case of HBO, for example, its "Game of Thrones" promotion has posters for the show that animate when seen through the lens of Snapchat. Marker technology is different than traditional QR technology, according to Jeff Miller, global head of creative strategy at Snapchat. Snapchat's QR codes only unlock certain features inside the app. For instance, if a person trains their camera on the code they could get a custom filter to decorate their selfies or a link to a promotion.
"Snapchatters have the ability to connect with the world around them," Miller says. "It recognizes an image and it has the ability to bring it to life in a way no one else can."
Snapchat is relying on its augmented reality to separate the company from rivals like Facebook, Google and Apple. Snapchat was one of the first to popularize augmented reality with its Lenses, which are digital animations that transform videos.
"Snapchat is still top of the game when it comes to AR," says Noah Mallin, head of experience, content and sponsorships at Wavemaker, a WPP agency. "They want to help brands understand that here is something they do really well."
Snapchat is fighting for position among the digital giants, which so far have been able to copy most of its other innovations, like vertical videos and ephemeral messaging. Facebook, Google and Apple all have their own augmented reality platforms, too. "Apple's next-generation iOS [phone software] is going to really crack AR open," Mallin says.
On Facebook or within mobile messaging on Google and Apple phones, augmented reality is not yet a fundamental part of the experience to the extent it is on Snapchat, Miller says.
"We have this strong innate behavior," Miller says. "People are trained to understand what to do when they're in the camera."
Snapchat expects the marker technology to take off with movie studios advertising summer blockbusters, but it is not leading directly to more ad dollars. The company includes markers in out-of-home campaigns for free, as part of services it provides to select brands, Miller says.
Last month, Nike made a life-size poster of LeBron James that leaped off the billboard in a Foot Locker, and James himself retweeted a video of the promotion.
At SXSW, the network is showcasing collectable "Game of Thrones" pins that launch an augmented reality fire display. Amazon is promoting its Prime Video show "Good Omens," Warner Bros. has a marker for its "Detective Pikachu" movie.
Snapchat also hosted its first pop-up location as part of the event. It has had a lower-key presence in the past, but this year Snap House will preset panels and parties.