Augmented reality has already arrived for many brands willing to experiment in virtual spaces, writes Blippar CEO Faisal Galaria — but striking the right balance of scalability and creative across various platforms will be a challenge in the metaverse era.

If you’re wondering when the metaverse will finally arrive or if it’s even real, you can stop guessing. It’s already here. Augmented reality is an on-ramp to the metaverse that’s available now and is already one of the most powerful storytelling mediums brands have in their toolkit. It’s multi-sensory, highly engaging, allows you to interact in 3D with the world around you, and doesn’t need any new hardware. It also increases brand recall by 70% – and in 2022, there are already an estimated 1.1 billion AR users worldwide. And even more significantly, it transforms the nature of our interaction with the internet from a pull experience, on a small screen, to an always-on, real-time, interactive 3D internet.

There’s a reason Apple’s Tim Cook called AR one of the “very few profound technologies” that could permanently embed themselves in our day-to-day lives.

And that technology is already giving all kinds of brands a creative jolt with the ability to layer on in-product games, extended content, interactive experiences, virtual shopping, and even whole new worlds. In fact, AR is sparking a creative renaissance, and brands are going all in. They’re using the power of augmented reality to unlock all kinds of new experiences for consumers including:

Virtual events: Skittles unveiled AR-ready candy packs to celebrate Pride. Limited-edition Skittles Pride packs were designed by six talented LGBTQ+ artists to represent how they “see the rainbow.” Users can scan their Skittles bags to reveal an immersive 3D experience, learning more about the artists, their work, and their inspiration.

New product launches: Timberland launched its Greenstride boot using an AR-powered shopping experience, allowing customers to “touch” the products and see how they are made without ever having to enter a store.

Brave new worlds: You don’t have to create an entire metaverse to experience a virtual world. PepsiCo created a Rockstar Energy drink portal for fans (no headset required, just a phone) that let them play arcade games, music or find their favorite skater.

Interactive games: For the American college football championship weekend, Pepsi recently recreated the Dr. Pepper ‘Halftime Challenge’ as an AR experience. Fans inside the stadium and also at home on the couch could play along on their phones for a chance to win prizes.

Rich content experiences: Cereal boxes have always been a source of delight for kids and adults. Kellogg’s took that idea one step further and turned Coco Pops boxes into an AR tropical island of games and interactive characters, no download required.

New media ads: What’s the best way to experience a car without even driving it? Rich media ads for the Range Rover Velar SUV let Land Rover customers experience the drive with just their smartphone camera.

These are all groundbreaking new ways to experience the world and for brands to bring these experiences to life.

But there’s a catch.

As more and more brands begin using AR to boost engagement, apps, and platforms like TikTok, Snapchat and Meta are creating their own walled gardens for AR. They’re enabling experiences unique to their platforms which creates massive costs for brands. AR initiatives are quickly becoming fragmented across platforms, requiring users to iterate experiences for specific platforms. Brands are left with a deliverable that is expensive and doesn’t scale. And then measurement – it’s a nightmare in the making.

Let’s imagine this in action. You can create amazing experiences on TikTok, but then you can’t use them anywhere else without rebuilding them, sometimes from scratch. A brand can spend a million dollars on AR creative and content to go on Meta, and then you must do it all over again on Snap or in a bespoke app. The creative and experiences are non-transferable. If Coca-Cola wants to make a can dance on your table via Snapchat, the campaign might cost $500,000 (let’s say) to build, animate, and format that specific platform. If Coca-Cola wants to run that same campaign on Meta or TikTok, it will cost them another $500,000 to rebuild the experience for each platform—and that’s just to build the creative, it doesn’t include promotion.

And that limitation and lack of interoperability is holding brands back.

If the same thing were true of video, the web would still look like it did in 2005. Brands want to invest in distribution and reach. Increased costs of production mean that many brands and agencies still think of AR as being a niche or early market and miss out on the opportunity for the 4x longer dwell times and 40% improvement in conversion (Snap claims a 94% increase in conversion) from AR-enabled experiences.

There needs to be an open platform for AR innovation and interoperability. Brands and creatives need to be able to publish once and distribute everywhere – and that’s where Blippar comes in, our mission is to allow developers and creatives to “build once and publish everywhere.” It’s time to democratize AR instead of allowing specific companies to tie its creation and promotion to single apps.

Interoperability is what’s allowed the video to become an essential part of the web. And that’s exactly the kind of democratization we need for AR too.