Thursday, 25 May, 2023 UTC


Though AR hasn’t demonstrated the world-changing capabilities that were touted in its circa-2017 hype cycle, it’s finding success in specific areas. Those include enterprise productivity and brand marketing, both of which were examined in recent ARtillery Intelligence reports.
Zeroing in on AR marketing, one company leading the way in providing — and generating meaningful revenue from — AR marketing is Snap. Congruent with its “camera-company” label, it made an early commitment to social AR lenses and continues to double down on the technology.
In fact, of all the players cultivating consumer-based AR products and business models, none have achieved the traction of Snap. Though social media competitors like Meta and TikTok have the greater overall reach, AR lenses are more of a central priority and “north star” for Snap.
This includes 6 billion AR lens engagements per day, among other metrics. But what are the lessons and takeaways? What’s Snap doing right in terms of product and platform development? This is the topic of a recent ARtillery Intelligence report, which we’ve excerpted below.

From the Start

So how did Snap reach its industry-leading position in consumer AR? We’ll start our analysis with a brief history of its AR beginnings. The goal of this exercise? Examining the company’s AR beginnings can contextualize its AR positioning today and its trajectory moving forward.
With that backdrop, Snap’s unofficial tagline from the start was “camera company.” This has guided its product development and business strategy since. For example, its app opens to the camera rather than being a secondary feature that users must find and manually activate.
This underlying ethos set Snap on the right foot for AR endeavors to come. In fact, one of AR’s biggest adoption barriers is “activation energy” to pull out one’s phone, fire up an AR app, and go through steps like plane detection and localization. All these steps add friction.
Some of that is present and inevitable in Snapchat lenses, but the company maintains a core design principle to make AR easy to activate. That starts with opening right to the camera, as noted. Another design principle is to focus on experience rather than technical specs.
In other words, the endgame is fun. And that can be achieved through simple AR features such as early lenses for dog ears and rainbow vomit. While other AR players complicate things with advanced graphics, Snap’s AR North Star in the early days was simple, fun, and whimsy.
Not only did this cause Snap Lenses to be simple in the early days and thus operable, but it also made AR approachable. As Snap’s Carolina Arguelles explains, the whimsy in Snap’s early lenses created a fun and viral vibe that took the edge off AR’s otherwise intimidating persona.

AR as a Feature

In the same spirit, Snap steered clear of techy terminology and acronyms that the rest of the AR world — mostly engineers and tech people — embraced. Using friendly and plain-spoken terms like “lenses” and “filters,” Snap’s AR products appealed to a much wider audience.
Another early Snap principle was to bolt AR to communications. In fact, that’s what the “chat” in Snapchat signifies. This is important because social communication is a frequent activity. Positioning AR to piggyback on such a prevalent activity gave it a mechanism for virality.
Similarly, Snap held the philosophy that AR is too new and unproven to get users to seek out standalone experiences. So it positioned AR to enhance already-popular behavior. We’re talking selfies and multimedia sharing among friends. This gave AR a fertile place to incubate.
This is an AR go-to-market strategy that we call “AR as a feature.” It continues to be validated in ARtillery Intelligence’s consumer surveys as a popular way to consume AR. Snap was on to this principle early, which has since been adopted by several other AR players.
All the above principles drove Snap’s early AR wins, but they were only the beginning. Given Snap’s AR scale today, we often forget that its early lens libraries were limited to a handful of in-house creations. Though limited in number, these lenses were what AR needed at the time.
More importantly, Snap was then driven to take AR to the next level: a creator platform. Lens Studio was born to scale up AR creation and broaden its use cases through the crowd-sourced creativity of far-flung creators and developers. This set in motion the next era of AR at Snap.
We’ll pause and pick things up there in the next report excerpt…
Originally published at on May 23, 2023.

Reverse Engineering Snap’s AR Success was originally published in AR/VR Journey: Augmented & Virtual Reality Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.