5 Secrets to Creating AR Filters that Users Crave - Instragram AR
AR Target Tracking People and Objects

Luke Hurd, Digital Immersion Director at Signal Theory, Inc. and Technical Influencer at Spark AR Studio

Why Brands Can’t Afford to Wait to Invest in AR

With massive social networks like Facebook and Instagram adopting augmented reality (AR) into their platforms, tens of thousands of people are being exposed to this technology every single day. Last year, over 1 billion people used Facebook’s Spark AR platform.

Naturally, brands want to explore new technologies when they see other industries or, worse, their competition embracing them and generating buzz. New technologies always come with risks to early adopters. Yet being a pioneer is often worth the reward.

For an emerging technology like AR, Instagram is enticing. It has 1.1 billion monthly active users, with 80% of them following brands. It also happens to be a camera-first, visual platform. These users are already showing the world through their camera anyway, and many of them are focused on sharing their art with the world — music, fashion, makeup, photography, comedy, etc. Bringing that creativity to life with AR is a natural evolution of the platform.

An effective AR filter is a tool for that creation. Now, how can you master Instagram AR filters? It’s not about technical prowess or flashy ideas. In fact, that’s where most brands go wrong. Here are five tips to create Instagram AR filters that users crave.

5 Secrets to Create Instagram AR Filters that Users Crave

1.) Find a way into people’s lives

When a Facebook friend suddenly posts deals for Ray-Bans on your feed, your immediate response is to assume your friend’s account has been hacked and is now controlled by a sketchy scam-bot. Why would he share that content otherwise? Is he getting a discount or share of the profit?

You’re asking a lot of average users to share an ad to their friends and family — because that typically signals that the sharer has an ulterior motive (discounts, coupons, etc.) or the account has been taken hostage. The fact is, a whopping 98% of consumers don’t trust advertisements, and that’s the biggest barrier out there.

People don’t like being branded in the content they share unless the brand is part of their culture or identity.

With an Instagram AR filter, you are not only asking people to share an ad but to become part of the ad themselves. People don’t like being branded in the content they share unless the brand is part of their culture or identity. Fashion brands like Nike, Supreme and Louis Vuitton can effortlessly bridge the gap because people already brand themselves with these trademarks every day. Culture brands like Game of Thrones, Starbucks and Billie Eilish also bridge the gap based on cultural awareness, seasonal products and identity. What does this look like?

HBO developed an Instagram AR filter that showcased a burning fire effect and an icy frost effect. No branding, no dragons. Users could take a filter like that and represent their fandom for the show or use it to say, “Damn, I look good today!” with the fire effect. It served its purpose as a creation tool for the user because it wasn’t limited with heavy Game of Thrones branding. It focused on the concept of fire and ice, which was integral to the show.

Another great example of an AR filter that fit seamlessly into users’ lives was Adidas’ retro VHS filter. Adidas developed this effect to showcase its retro shoe release. But get this — there was no branding; it was just a simple filter that looked like a glitchy VHS tape recording. Users felt nostalgic and were inspired to share memories with their friends.

So, how can your company use filters if you’re not an iconic fashion or pop-culture brand?

People are everything. Their lives are everything. How they spend their minutes, days, weeks and years, etc is one of the most important starting points when deciding how your brand should use an Instagram AR filter. People wake up, they drink coffee, they eat, they yawn, they put on their face — and that’s just the first hour. Where does your brand fit into their day? Their week? Their year?

And what about those in-between moments? Killing time at the bus stop on a phone, the line at lunch and — I’m going to say it because it needs to be said — the bathroom.

Go everywhere people are because their stories do.

2.) Let people be the storytellers

In most cases, a successful Instagram AR filter starts with the understanding that it is a tool for people to create their own content for their personal audience. It should be treated as a way to frame a story; let people choose how they want to use the tool to share their lives.

People use Instagram Stories to create content to share with their friends, and they use many tools — color filters, stickers, gifs, questions, polls, locations, music and more. Filters are simply one more tool for people to share the story of their day. Or year. Or holiday. Or coffee break. Or swim meet.

Instead, consider how your filter might be used in other parts of people’s lives that have nothing to do with your brand or products to get maximum exposure and usage.

We don’t know all the stories people can tell, so try not to limit the experience by being too on the nose with your message. Instead, consider how your filter might be used in other parts of people’s lives that have nothing to do with your brand or products to get maximum exposure and usage. Could your filter amplify an emotion someone is sharing about his or her day? Happiness? Frustration? Hunger? For example, a filter about fire-smoked bacon can apply to many lifestyle situations when your audience is millions of people trying to find a way to say “I’m hungry” or “It’s hot outside.”

Think beyond your brand, and create situations that people will want to use to enhance their own personal content.

3.) Help your audience resonate with its audience

For your filter to be engaging, you need to find a way to help someone use your tool to connect with other people. It has to enhance the user’s life in a way that is appealing to two different audiences: the person creating the content and the people consuming that content. Brands often get caught up in targeting users just to get the filter in their hands but often forget the goal is sharing the ad. Don’t forget to take into account the audience of the content creator.

The most common way to say this is “Target the audience and the audience’s audience.”

To do this, you need to understand how people are using Instagram AR filters in the first place. People create content in their stories so that other people can see it and react to it. They are trying to do what brands are doing — create engaging content so that other people will follow them and engage. They take the time to craft their stories, amplify their emotions and moods, and use all of the tools that Instagram provides in order to connect with other people.

Consider the storytelling methods that people use in Instagram stories: humor, drama, suspense, surprise, delight, irreverence. The methods are familiar to us all but are abrupt, simplified and increasingly easy to evoke because of the tools provided by the platform. Expressing “I’m sad” can be as easy as searching for “sad” and using a gif on top of a photo.

Your filter is a tool that people use to engage with other people.


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4.) Empower users to direct

Traditionally, advertisements are heavily “directed” by the team responsible for putting together the creative — hence the need for creative directors. They control the scene and make sure the camera is pulled in perfectly to a snow-covered cabin, soft cut to a little girl sipping hot cocoa by a fire, her dog walking over and snuggling up against her. They delicately craft the scene and evoke emotions of curiosity, empathy and trust.

With the interactivity of a website, directors relinquish a bit of control to the user, but they are still selecting a cultivated page from a well-designed navigational and content system. The content is carefully weighted for relevance (typically top to bottom), the logo is placed up in the left-hand corner, and the navigation is in the right (sometimes hidden under a menu icon). The experience is, relatively speaking, controlled and static with the designer retaining control of the scene.

With AR or an Instagram AR filter, designers can add menus and buttons and create a customized interactive experience — but they have lost all control over the direction of the scene. The person using the filter controls the scene and doesn’t have to click or interact with a single element the designer has intended because the camera movement can be the interaction the user seeks. It’s harder to elicit emotions and control the direction of these experiences because people are engaging with them from the opposite way — they are already hot, sad, cold, lonely, in love — and they want a tool to help enhance that feeling. People are the creators, writers, editors, directors and actors. An effective Instagram AR filter is a means to give people the tools to chronicle their lives. The brand’s job is to empower the user to direct and then gracefully step out of the way.

5.) Give the gift of an impactful experience

Understanding the journey of a consumer is imperative to understanding how an Instagram AR filter — or any AR experience, for that matter — can work within your brand’s communication strategy. Filters exist heavily in the “awareness” category of advertising, which can give brands heartache, especially when it comes to digital work.

Classically, digital advertisements have been tied to conversion-based metrics. Brands can build an e-commerce website, throw analytics at it, understand their consumer’s buying behaviors and fine-tune the dials to weigh their content, run promotions and more. Digital usually means that it comes with a determined ROI, so brands can know they spent X dollars on digital ads and sold Y number of products because of that investment.

Here’s the kicker: Outside of the digital space, brands are more than happy to spend money on awareness campaigns with no conversion metrics. They consistently invest large amounts of money into broadcast and radio advertisements to retain cultural relevance, create conversations and push earworm melodies into our lives. And they do it all without conversion metrics.

The goal is to create something people want to interact with to build a brand’s cultural relevance.

So why not do the same thing in the digital space? An effective Instagram AR filter can work much like a traditional broadcast spot — driving awareness and cultural acceptance of a brand without trying to do anything more than that. It doesn’t need to force-feed product information or immediately lead to a sales funnel. The goal is to create something people want to interact with to build a brand’s cultural relevance.

It’s not a sales pitch. It’s not a product detailer. It’s a fun way to help people share their lives and your brand with their loyal followers. A simple objective, to be sure — but one that is also easy to forget in the data-happy digital space. Your brand’s analytics team may not be able to track a filter’s value down to the last penny. But if you create a filter with awareness and your audience in mind, the value will be evident in the number of interactions.

Meet your users, give them space, and if you can, give them the gift of an impactful experience.

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