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Krystal, Starbucks try augmented reality apps

Restaurant marketers trying to envision the next big thing in advertising may start experimenting more with augmented-reality, or AR, mobile apps. But while the technology has the ability to surprise and entertain consumers with animated scenes on their smart-phone screens, a direct correlation to sales and return on investment remains a bit abstract, some early adopters say.

The Krystal Co., which operates more than 400 quick-service hamburger restaurants throughout the Southeast, has been pleased with its first foray into augmented reality with its mobile app, said Brad Wahl, the company’s vice president of marketing.

“It was not a real direct-ROI project for us, but it fell more under the idea of keeping in line with our overall strategy of a ‘Nothin’ like it’ brand,” Wahl said. “We decided to jump forward with AR. It was a real neat idea presented by our agency to step out from our competition.”

An AR reader is one of two main features of Krystal’s first smart-phone app, Wahl said, adding that a restaurant locator is the other main function. Scanning a special AR code on the restaurant’s hamburger packaging with the smart phone’s camera activates the mobile app’s AR reader, and a digitally animated scene plays on the phone’s screen over the picture of the packaging.

Krystal distributed three different animated scenes with its Freeze Penguins characters on hamburger boxes and drink cups to promote its Krystal Freeze beverage over the summer.

Watch a video of Krystal's AR app; story continues below

More recently, Starbucks Coffee introduced the Starbucks Cup Magic app to promote its holiday beverage lineup and Holiday Starbucks Petites dessert line at its coffeehouses in the United States and Canada. By scanning an AR code on one of Starbucks’ red cups, coffee packages or other signage, customers activated one of several animated holiday scenes. Festive characters included carolers singing, an ice skater, and a boy and his dog sled riding.

Watch a video of the Starbucks Cup Magic app; story continues below

“As part of Starbucks’ efforts to find innovative ways to engage customers and bring the Starbucks experience to life, we are excited to introduce this fun new Starbucks Cup Magic app for customers to use to interact with holiday characters,” said Annie Young-Scrivner, global chief marketing officer of Seattle-based Starbucks.

In signage and commercials for Starbucks’ “Let’s Merry” campaign, guests are invited to find all the holiday characters and spread them to friends through a built-in Facebook share capability on the mobile app, encouraging repeat traffic with the scavenger hunt for all the characters and netting Starbucks some social-marketing benefits.

Wahl of Chattanooga, Tenn.-based Krystal said AR is a slight step beyond quick-response, or QR, codes, which activate a mobile Web browser window on a person’s smart phone when the code is scanned from a poster or restaurant packaging. He added that Krystal did not take the intermediate step of experimenting with QR codes because augmented reality seemed more in line with the brand’s advertising strategy.

“Where the industry is with QR codes, people were falling into one of two categories: either a direct link to your website or a direct link to a coupon,” Wahl said. “We’ve been adamant in limiting our coupon use and not using them as a crutch. We have a unique product, so if we don’t have the right to get full price for it, then we have other issues to address.”

Even though AR codes don’t lead directly to a sale or to coupons or other offers that drive traffic, Krystal is satisfied with the word-of-mouth and social-media buzz the AR codes have spurred, Wahl said. The real return on investment, he added, comes when the mobile app gets linked to a rewards program and further populates the brand’s customer database with more email addresses and phone numbers.

The biggest objective for using AR was to drive more interest in and downloads of the brand’s first mobile app, Wahl said.

“This technology, which we’re calling version 1.0, is not that different from other mobile apps out there, and there’s a bit of a rush to get it to market,” he said. “We want to learn a lot and get the kinks out, and AR was a way to generate a lot of downloads early on. AR can be one of those elements to reveal something special on our packaging or a sign at the point of sale. Our main focus right now is to get more frequency from our passionate fans.”

Contact Mark Brandau at [email protected].
Follow him on Twitter: @Mark_from_NRN

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