Mountain Hardwear’s presence at the Outdoor Retailer Snow Show isn’t new, but the augmented reality experience it brought to the trade show, this year Jan. 30 through Feb. 1 in Denver, was a first. In a quest to draw a younger audience and support its retail partners, the sportswear and outdoor equipment brand offered attendees a new way to engage with product through its proprietary AR app. The activation ultimately earned Mountain Hardwear a “Best in Show” award from the editors of GearJunkie magazine.
Through the app the brand showcased true-to-size products like tents and sleeping bags in an immersive environment in a fraction of the time it takes other AR apps to display similar objects. The technology behind it involves the use of special texturing plugins, and a combination of standard 3D programs that were leveraged to create high-fidelity 3D models. Breaking it down, the app creates hyper-realistic displays that allow a user to not only view a product, but physically walk around and zoom in on it, and, in the case of products like outdoor tents, place smaller items inside the virtual tent and view their features simultaneously. A more robust app aimed at consumers, rather than retailers, is slated to launch later this year.
Other touchpoints featured in Mountain Hardwear’s activation included on-site tech partners to answer questions, and a happy hour during which a brand executive discussed his recent mountain climbing book and offered signings. But for attendees, it was all eyes on the AR experience. For more insight on the activation and the technology behind it, we caught up with Snow Burns, vp-marketing at Mountain Hardwear. Following is an excerpt from our conversation. Agency: Transparent House, San Francisco (AR technology).
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Event Marketer: What did you want to achieve at the Snow Show?
Snow Burns: The key marketing goal was to introduce and user-test our AR app. I think one of the things we’re really mindful of is we understand our audiences are very digitally savvy, particularly among the younger acquisition set. We know that retailers are trying to find ways to cater to that appetite, so being able to engage with the retailers in a testing environment was really important because we want to help them reach this audience.
EM: What was the specific target in mind?
SB: Strategically, one of the things that we and everybody amongst our competition need to do is position ourselves with a younger audience just to maintain relevancy. So that’s not something that happens naturally, necessarily. I think you have to be proactive and strategic with it in order to figure out how they perceive a brand, and then how we can cater to them while remaining authentic.
EM: Why is the AR app valuable to your brand?
SB: It gives you this additional experience and ways to understand the product that you might not otherwise have from just looking at a photograph. And there’s a retail application, too, because a lot of our retailers have small store space and if consumers come in and see tents in bags, or they don’t have a particular size or style, then a store employee can help deploy it in AR and the consumer can get a really good idea. So, the idea was how do we augment the retail experience either in the home or even at point of sale.
EM: Were attendees receptive to testing out the technology?
SB: We expected to have more hesitancy because it is a relatively new technology, but people were stoked. To see it is to understand it… There’s not a huge differentiation in terms of AR versus VR in people’s minds initially, but they see it and they say “This is so cool and interesting and I haven’t experienced anything quite like this.” Plus, it’s simple, so you can hand them a phone or an iPad and they can navigate it very, very easily.
EM: What do you attribute to your “Best in Show” award?
SB: I think the fact that the app was unexpected in the industry, and then just a really new way to look at retail with the retailer in mind was interesting to people.
EM: Why did you decide to create a live experience around a digital product?
SB: One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you can only go so far in digital, but a face-to-face interaction opportunity is really valuable as a brand, as a team. So, we always come out of these events on a really big high because we’ve actually laid eyes on people and gotten a really good emotional read on how they feel and what they need.