Pokémon Go proved that people will go to incredible lengths–literally to the ends of their cities–in augmented reality gameplay. Now, Verizon is trying to ride that trend by launching Snapchat’s first augmented reality-based treasure hunt. The prize is a total of 256 iPhone 8s, which will be given out throughout this week. Snapchat users in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Dallas, and Atlanta will see an ad in the app that invites them to take part in the scavenger hunt. By following clues throughout the day, they’ll travel from point to point in the city. After they find the last clue, a special Snapchat iPhone 8 Lens will be unlocked. They’ll be prompted to take a selfie with a big 8, send it to Verizon, and maybe win the real thing.
Squint through the hype haze, and you can see the future of UX-driven advertising–a world where we’re all hunting for the next mysterious giveaway.
While many brands have tried scavenger hunts on Snapchat before, Verizon is quick to point out that it’s the first to leverage augmented reality itself through a Snapchat lens, featuring a prize that you can only access through the perfect geolocated selfie. The system is also reactive to the conditions of cities themselves. “It’s powered by this real-time data with geolocation, also taking into account weather conditions and different real-time events happening,” says John Nitti, chief media officer at Verizon. And while he cannot offer much more detail than that, as he doesn’t want to spoil any clues, Nitti’s hope is that this scavenger hunt is a firsthand demonstration of Verizon’s technical prowess to the young millennial market that Snapchat so successfully targets (and that it will be successful enough that it was worth alerting the authorities in each of the eight cities about the potential need for crowd control).
It’s a lot of hubbub for a one-off project. While Snap’s platform offers many of the tools to make a virtual scavenger hunt possible–like geolocation to augmented reality filters–Verizon’s own team had to work extensively with Snap to cobble together this exact experience. Throughout the hunt, Snapchat points users to a Verizon website, and the website points them back. In other words, it’s not native, and some of the UX sounds a bit complicated. “The co-development area is a rich part of this–why we’re doing something for the launch of iPhone that other networks are not,” says Nitti. “I wouldn’t take that away. If it scales and it’s available to everybody, it has less of that specialness to it.”
As hokey as the advertising equivalent of Pokémon Go may sound, virtual scavenger hunts and other AR-powered ad experiences are almost destined to take off across the industry. You need look no further than the little iOS 11 ARKit experiment below, in which a virtual billboard floats in real space, to see the greater potential here. Augmented reality on its own is nothing but a UX gimmick–another neat technology. However, when you add a person (as in Snapcat’s selfies) or a place (as in Pokémon Go gyms), then that gimmick is infused with intrinsic value. The design is given purpose, because a unique user experience is placed atop the things we actually care about. Add a layer of mystery, the sense of endless possibility, and constant surprise? Suddenly these scavenger hunts become downright addictive. Our minds can’t help but search for clues and unlock answers.
The next wave of R&D spacial kinetic typography. No more fixed formats with AR & VR pic.twitter.com/pRTMMJq3H4
— Mitch Paone (@DIA_Mitch) September 18, 2017
So while Verizon is the first out of the gate with a Snapchat scavenger hunt, it will almost certainly not be the last. Whether it’s capturing virtual monsters, clipping midair coupons, or snagging a treasure chest hidden at some unknown location, from here on out, there will probably always be someone waving their iPhone around like a metal detector, trying to win them first.