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Digital brand experiences in luxury

02 February 2023

This article first appeared in Warc, written by Marc Linder, Technical Director, New York.

As technology evolves, standalone devices that serve a single purpose are fused together to create new products that merge functionality in innovative and exciting ways, combining existing technologies into what has become known as the adjacent possible. This idea, which originates from biological evolution, is explored in depth through the lens of innovation in Steven Johnson's book 'Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation'.

The evolution of immersive experiences in luxury

Luxury and premium brands have long leveraged cutting-edge technology to tell their stories, create engaging brand experiences, and demonstrate their products. The convergence of virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI) gives brands a wide platform of options to create immersive, personalised marketing experiences that help them stand out in an increasingly competitive market. According to research by the Boston Consulting Group, two-thirds of luxury purchases are now digitally influenced.

When it became possible to combine small screen displays that were light and portable enough to be head-mounted with digital cameras, spatially aware sensors, and real-time image recognition, Mixed Reality (MR) devices were realised. Unfortunately, MR experiences required specialised, bulky, expensive headsets like Magic Leap or Hololens. Today, MR for brand experiences has largely given way to far more accessible AR content that customers can engage with seamlessly on their own devices.

First-generation AR experiences required users to download custom smartphone apps like the Warby Parker app. Since then, AR has converged with web technology to allow users to access rich AR experiences and content launched through the web without needing additional native app downloads. For example, Lamborghini utilised its official website as a launch pad for AR, creating an engaging brand experience with a low barrier to entry and requiring zero expertise other than being able to scan a QR code.

What does the future look like?

As more hardware and software platforms emerge (devices like AR contact lenses and Apple's much-rumoured AR headset), luxury brands will increasingly use AR for marketing to create virtual experiences that allow customers to interact with their products in a more immersive way.

We will see a convergence of experiential platforms and devices, allowing users to switch between MR, AR, and artificial intelligence-driven experiences without changing hardware or software. This convergence will enable content creators and developers to build richer, multi-layered experiences that combine multiple technologies.

Fashion forward

Fashion brands already offer AR, metaverse, and Web3 shopping experiences, allowing customers to virtually 'try on' and experiment with different outfits and accessories. Adding image recognition to identify physical products and machine learning to personalise an experience based on the customer's preferences will further enrich these experiences.

We're also likely to see many more digital-only luxury fashion items, such as Gucci's Virtual 25 sneaker, made to be worn as in-game clothing for users' avatars in Roblox as the metaverse becomes more popular.

Recent years have seen a boom in virtual fashion shows and product launches, such as Fashionverse, which hosts all-digital fashion shows for Digital Fashion Week in New York and London. By offering these types of experiences, brands can interact with consumers more directly and allow consumers to gain a deeper understanding of the brand's history and values.

Virtual experiences can also cater to broader audiences by offering more accessible experiences. As Metaverse Fashion Week returns for the second year in 2023 with an expanded schedule and new collaborations with Spatial and OVER, it suggests a growing consumer interest in these types of experiences.

The use of AR in the fashion industry includes brands like Zara using digital models in place of mannequins in its shop windows and ASOS Virtual Catwalk allowing users to visualise clothes on human models before making a purchase. By offering an added layer of information and context through a smartphone camera, brands can tap into a broader audience segment more seamlessly. Likewise, we've seen many luxury car manufacturers, such as BMW, use AR and VR to allow customers to see and interact with their vehicles in the real world – something that's likely to continue spreading to other industries in 2023.

When looking at targeted marketing experiences, luxury brands have been using VR and AR for some time to showcase their products better virtually. Luxury hotels often use VR to allow customers to virtually tour and explore the hotel as a way to showcase their facilities and amenities. We will likely see more sophisticated ways of utilising VR and AR in this space in 2023. Other destination-based businesses, such as luxury spas, are using AR to allow customers to see and interact with different spa treatments and products in the real world, similar to the growing fashion AR trends.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is another convergence of technologies, including wireless communication, sensors, and the internet, which has become mainstream in recent years. Forward-thinking lifestyle brands keen to innovate and stay ahead of the curve have invested in developing 'smart' wearables, such as Nike's self-lacing trainers, Tommy Hilfiger's clothing line enhanced with smart-chip technology, and Hermes’ Airtag Bag Charm. We're likely to see more innovations in this area as IoT becomes more sophisticated and consumers are increasingly looking for multifunctional clothing that offers features such as health monitoring and personal security in a fashion-forward way.

As technologies evolve and converge, we will continue to see exciting, innovative, and creative uses by luxury brands to share their stories.