Instagram brings holiday AR to your festive Starbucks

Love it or hate it, Christmas is coming! Starbucks seasonal favourites are back – with an AR twist
Starbucks 2019 Christmas coffee cups
Starbucks Christmas cups interact with AR effects on Insta. Image: Starbucks

What’s the twist?

It’s that time again. The ‘festive’ coffee comes back. I’m personally a double espresso kind of girl, but appreciate the colourful cups and seasonal spirit!

Starbucks sell about 4 billion cups of coffee every year. That’s a lot of beans, and the annual Christmas cup launch has turned into quite the tradition.

This year, festive coffee gets a technological twist. Starbucks have launched an AR experience through their Instagram page. To use it, simply click on the ‘effect’ gallery, choose one, and point your camera at your holiday coffee cup!

It isn’t the first time Starbucks have launched interactive apps. They first introduced the Christmas AR effects back in 2011. This has been replicated year on year, as well as campaigns for other seasonal holidays such as Valentines Day.

The AR effects were built with Spark AR Studio. Image: Facebook

How does the Augmented Reality feature work?

The effects feature is simple to use. The technology behind it is powered by Facebook’s Spark AR platform. This is a vision technology which recognises which festive cup the user has chosen.

With target tracking, the camera can identify where in the frame the cup is positioned. The AR content is then anchored on this image, and the effect works around it.

Spark AR Studio allows users to create content without needing any coding experience. As you might expect from a Facebook product, the AR effects are designed for use via Facebook and Instagram.

The Patch Editor allows users to create interactive experiences. They can animate static objects and build instructions as to how the AR should react. Clever stuff!

Where else is AR being used in advertising?

There are some seriously creative campaigns out there.

One of my favourites goes back to the Lynx ‘Angels Will Fall’ campaign in 2011. London commuters could stand on a dedicated spot, and see themselves interacting with ‘angels’ on a big screen.

Macy’s in the US allows shoppers in their cosmetics department to use AR to see how different products would look on them. Created by Modiface, the app allows users to ‘try out’ over 1,000 products.

Pepsi Max used a London bus stop for their 2014 AR campaign. The tech made it appear as though the glass shelter was intact, when in fact it was an HD screen. This showed a live video feed of 3D animations. Pepsi’s award winning campaign had over 2 million views in seven days!

How is AR filtering through to the mainstream?

We probably see and experience AR more often than we realise. It is becoming a widespread tool to enhance user experience and elevate brand awareness.

One of the best examples is probably Pok√©mon Go. The AR game played on mobile phones first launched in 2016. Over one billion players have downloaded the game, and whilst it’s been around for some time, remains popular.

Modiface AR app with user trying on lipstick
Modiface create AR apps for cosmetics companies. Image: Modiface

What’s next?

I think that the next big thing will be developing VR technology to simulate other senses. Imagine seeing a banner for the new McFlurry and being able to taste it? Or walking past a donut advert and being able to smell them?

Whilst it might sounds a little Sci Fi, researchers are looking into how to do just that. Innovate has reported on how VR systems might be able to ‘trick’ our tastebuds into believing that they are experiencing the chemical reaction that allows us to taste.

This technology is based around temperatures, and how replicated thermal taste can make us experience sweetness. Taste sensations generated by the ‘Thermal Taste Device‘ have been found to work. Now it is just a question of enhancing and refining the technology further.

One thing is for sure; if every Monday morning commuter gets a taste of fresh coffee, Starbucks might need a little more than AR effects to keep up!

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