From video conferencing platforms to chatbots, nearly every technology that keeps people connected and engaged saw a boom this year as the Covid-19 pandemic led marketers to experiment with tools they may otherwise never consider would have.
It can be hard to say how much staying power each of these trends will have when the world reopens in 2021. Will they prove to be part of a new normal or fleeting quirks of lockdown life?
The difference could be that many of the most promising innovations to take hold this year were about to take off – the pandemic simply lit a fuse.
With these considerations in mind, we’ve rounded up some areas of emerging technology that are likely to have a profound impact on the way marketers do their jobs in the year ahead and beyond.
Augmented Reality (AR) and 5G
In January 2020, Apple CEO Tim Cook called AR the “next big thing” and predicted it would “permeate our lives.”
The technology of overlaying 3D graphics on the physical world has been growing in popularity in recent months as retailers have adopted it to create virtual try-on facilities instead of physical store shelves and changing rooms. Other brands have also used the format as an interactive method for customer loyalty, as the pandemic made physical activation difficult.
“With people buying so much online, AR can enhance that experience,” said Sheri Bachstein, global director of Watson Advertising. “Companies are still trying to figure out how to best use it, but … you see it in beauty, you see it in some retail clothing – and I think this is just going to grow.”
Even before the pandemic, social platforms like Snapchat and Instagram had helped pave the way for such a trend by providing the developer tools needed to make AR faster and more accessible than ever. This is evident from a recent eMarketer report on this trend.
Now 5G has the potential to open even more doors for technology as it supports larger files, faster loading speeds, and thus more elaborate and impressive graphics. While the next generation of cellular services is still in the early stages of rollout, the launch of the first 5G-enabled iPhone this fall could help accelerate the adoption of AR.
“One thing I love to come across with any brand is thinking about all of the physical things you have in the world – if it’s your business, if it’s your products – that need a digital layer, and this digital layer will be augmented reality. “Said Matt Maher, founder of AR-focused consulting firm M7 Innovations. “And this world is starting to build now. I think we’ll get to a place in two to five years where the physical point of contact should be digitized when you hold your phone up to anything. “
With video production processes disrupted by lockdowns this year, a handful of brands turned to a technology more commonly associated with fake news than Hollywood magic: AI-enabled deepfakes.
State Farm and ESPN used this form of machine learning to modify a vintage clip of a SportsCenter anchor when a man on the street failed due to quarantine. Hulu used AI to overlay NBA player Damian Lillard’s face over that of a stunt double so the star didn’t have to be physically present for a shoot. And Spotify tapped it to restore The Weeknd’s likeness and simulate a one-on-one experience with the R&B star online.