We are all prone to doing things during the wild summer months that we’re not proud of and the summer of 2016 was quite a time for people doing strange things.
The consequences of some of those strange decisions may continue to haunt us, but whatever happened to the throngs of people running around playing Pokémon Go?
Remember how excited we all were? This smartphone game, in which you could "catch"" virtual creatures in real-world locations, seemed to herald the dawn of mainstream augmented reality.
It was an unprecedented success for joint developers Niantic and Nintendo, with 7.5 million downloads in the US alone within the first week of release. Nintendo’s share price shot up by 65%.
Fast forward two years to Facebook’s digital upfronts earlier this month. The underwhelming recent history of AR in marketing and media came up during a talk with VaynerMedia founder Gary Vaynerchuk.
"I would’ve lost a lot of money if someone bet me two years ago that today there will not be a single app in the top 100 of the app store that is based on AR. I would’ve bet the farm there would be at least three, by Lucas, Marvel, anyone with the IP to do that," Vaynerchuck said. "I’m stunned we’re heading into 2019 without another thing to point to."
'AR isn't breaking into new use cases or audiences'
Vaynerchuk’s hindsight tells him that social norms have not yet caught up to existing tech. It's much like online dating, which has been possible for about 20 years but used to be overwhelmingly seen as unsafe.
AR tech has actually been around for at least a decade before Pokémon Go but, apart from AR filters on social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook, it remains a supply looking for a demand in marketing, despite everyone carrying around an expensive computer phone in their pocket.
Lawrence Weber, a partner at Curve, told me that he doesn’t think AR is breaking into new use cases or audiences: "It is a bit like when a new console comes out and everyone makes the same game for a while until they work out what the new hardware and software use cases might be."
Then came a revelation by Weber that I found quite startling: he – a digitally woke ad indusuty creative – has two young daughters and he has not seen them use AR on their iPads, and nor has he seen their friends use it.
His conclusion: "Phone-based AR is perhaps not the real end answer to all of this. It is probably smart glasses and Magic Leap."
That may be the case, but do we really need another device to play with? This ecosystem is getting pretty crowded.
Success may lie in leveraging most popular brands
Nevertheless, there are tangible glimmers of light that may yield a path for a bright AR future.
Gravity Road founder Mark Eaves points to an AR update for Google Maps, which is already a widely used platform with a captive audience, while Niantic is gearing up for a Pokémon Go follow-up for Harry Potter.
"I absolutely would bet the farm on that one – it will be an epic cultural moment," Eaves predicts.
Perhaps Pokémon Go set the bar too high for what AR could be and instead was an outlier above a much slower upward trend.
But, for the time being, just like some other oddities from 2016, we are a long way from seeing how things will pan out when it comes to AR in marketing.