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When Different Realities Collide

July 2023
  • The variety and adoption of different Extended Reality (XR) technologies has dramatically increased since the beginning of the pandemic. 
  • The XR umbrella of technologies ranges from primarily physical to entirely virtual and everything in between. 
  • While the utilization of XR technologies is driving a positive business response from consumers, its true value comes from being able to augment and enhance compelling brand experiences. 



The pandemic created a significant shift in how people enjoyed experiences, with most events having to be done remotely. While for some this was a momentary pit stop before in-person events resumed, for many this was a larger shift in how consumers wanted to enjoy experiences.

As we’ve (largely) moved out of the restrictions caused by the pandemic, we’re seeing an increase in both the adoption and diversity in different forms of reality-changing tech experiences, either in isolation or in tandem with real-world experiences. In this Direct Hit, we explore the landscape of alternate reality technologies and how brands are using them to connect to consumers. 


Figure 1: Representation of current XR technologies according to the spectrum of immersion (Courtesy of

When it comes to technologies that change how we perceive reality, they can all be grouped under one umbrella, which is Extended Reality (XR) technologies. Any technology that alters reality by incorporating digital elements falls within this bucket.

When we talk about specific types of technologies, we can separate them into 3 large categories: Augmented Reality (AR), Mixed Reality (MR), and Virtual Reality (VR). These categories fall on a spectrum of how much they interact with the physical environment, from layering digital elements onto a physical environment (AR), to having digital elements interact with the physical environment (MR), to fully replacing the physical environment with the digital (VR).

When we put these categories on a spectrum of immersion, as seen in Figure 1, we aren’t necessarily talking about how compelling those individual experiences are, but how immersed in the digital environment the user is, compared to the physical. Each of these categories can provide immense value for consumers if used in the right way by brands to create interactive experiences. 


1. AR: Snapchat
Snapchat was one of the first platforms to dabble in AR, but they are also at the forefront of integrating AR into unique experiences. This year Vogue and Snapchat teamed up to debut Redefining the Body, an exhibition that explores the future of fashion’s very physicality, harnessing augmented reality to ensure that design is available for everyone around the world. As part of the activation, Vogue teamed up with six major design brands, each with their own section of the exhibition, and Snapchat used AR to transform each room from virtual try-ons to interacting with the designers’ visions and collections through an array  These custom AR lenses garnered more than 48 million views worldwide, while also serving as a successful debut for several new technologies developed by Snapchat as they continue to line up large brand partnerships.

Figure 2 & 3 Redefining the Body Exhibits Where AR was overlayed (Images courtesy of Vogue)

2. MR: Nike
Nike is another major company that has been experimenting with reality altering technologies for years, but that all came to a head in 2022, when Nike partnered with Louis Vuitton for their Dream Now exhibition honoring the late Virgil Abloh and raising money for charity. Not only were there 50 different holograms to display 3D sneakers, but through touch-free gesture recognition technology, visitors could expand and rotate the 3D collector shoe images. This real time interaction with the holograms turned out to be a huge hit, and a perfect way to memorialize Abloh’s dedication to intertwining design and technology. As part of this partnership, Nike has raised $25.3 million to benefit Virgil Abloh’s Fashion Scholarship Fund “Post-Modern” for Black students.

Figure 4: Immersive Holographic Experience at Dream Now (Image courtesy of Highsnobiety)


3. VR: McDonald’s
In recent Direct Hits, we’ve explored how important brand authenticity is, particularly when it comes to highlighting diversity, equity, and inclusion. McDonald’s, in an effort to do just that, launched their virtual Hall of Zodiacs exhibit, which introduced a fully virtual kick-off for the Lunar New Year in a way that underscores the creativity and innovation of the Asian American community, according to principal designer Humberto Leon. This activation had several interactive components, including live horoscope readings and a prosperity wall users could interact with in real-time. McDonald’s also included real-life extensions, such as symbolic red envelopes that could be received at in-store locations to share new year prosperity with friends and family.

Figure 5: Scene from the virtual Hall of Zodiacs Exhibit (Image courtesy of Virtual Reality Marketing)



Statistics show just how impactful XR technologies can be for brands. 61% of consumers say they would be more likely to buy from a brand that uses XR technology, and almost half of consumers say immersive technologies make them feel more connected to brands and products. On top of that, 48% say they would better remember brands that regularly engage them with immersive technologies.

Clearly, these XR technologies provide extra value for consumers, and brands should be taking advantage of that, especially in the consumer goods categories, where these technologies can be utilized for product “trial” before ever setting foot in a store. But in marketing terms (outside of retail spaces), the real value of these technologies is to enhance existing experiences.

In both the examples of Nike and Snapchat previously discussed, those activations were especially effective because they took a physical experience and layered in these XR technologies to create more compelling and interactive stories, ones that consumers would remember long after the physical experience was over. Even in the case of McDonald’s, the Hall of Zodiacs was one part of a larger campaign to celebrate the Lunar New Year, seamlessly tying in virtual and physical experiences.

These technologies shouldn’t be thought of as replacing the physical, but rather as enhancing and extending what can be achieved during physical experiences. 


As technology continues to advance, there is no telling how the advancements of XR tools will continue to provide unique, innovative ways for brands to connect with consumers more seamlessly across a variety of different platforms and mediums.

In many ways, we are still in the infancy of these technologies, particularly in the widespread adoption of VR. But there is no doubt that XR technology will continue to make a difference for consumers — not by replacing the physical, but providing more tools for brands to enhance their experiences in ways that would not have been possible 20 years ago.

The future for brands, and XR, is bright. 

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