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How Tactic used augmented reality to bring Coca-Cola to life for the holidays

December 19, 2019 in Technology | 8 min. read
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Tactic is using Unity to pioneer a new category of brand marketing: AR-enhanced product packaging. Pointing your phone’s camera at a package or label launches unique and compelling AR experiences that drive increased engagement and sales. We caught up with Tactic’s executive creative director (ECD) to talk about the challenges and opportunities for AR-enhanced products and discussed their latest project to bring Coca-Cola cans to life during the holiday season.

Tactic is one of the most innovative companies in immersive technology and design, specializing in augmented reality (AR) and real-time experiences. They were first in an entirely new marketing category of ‘brand in the hand’ AR experiences, starting with the first-ever AR wine labels for Treasury Wine Estates’ 19 Crimes AR app in late 2017, followed by the Jack Daniel’s AR app, and many more.

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Now, Tactic has launched Coca-Cola’s first large scale AR activation, just in time for the holidays:

  • This year, Coca-Cola’s holiday cans and bottles will each feature unique AR experiences that trigger directly from the packaging, revealing animated holiday scenes with interactive storytelling and gameplay.
  • Consumers can use the Coca-Cola mobile app to scan the design on any Coke holiday can or bottle to experience these real-time, interactive AR experiences featuring Coke's iconic family of holiday Polar Bears.
  • Different packaging options will unlock different interactive Polar Bear experiences– from a snow-covered ice slide to a snowball fight or a musical holiday light show. When any two cans are scanned at the same time, the Polar Bear family will join together for a special rendition of ‘Jingle Bells’ using glass Coke bottles. 

Tactic’s AR experiences are all made with the Unity engine in combination with their proprietary character design and animation tools and expertise. I recently sat down with Peter Oberdorfer, VFX veteran and President/ECD at Tactic, to talk about the Coca-Cola project and the great work they are doing in Unity to bring packaging to life for brands.

Tactic hit the scene in a big way with the Living Wine Labels app for Treasury Wine Estates. I remember the first time I saw it and thought how cool the experience was— point your phone at a bottle of wine and the label comes to life with animations and sound. Honestly, I didn’t expect it to take off like it did; but now I see 19 Crimes and other Treasury brands everywhere I go. And as I understand it, the AR-activated product labels are a huge hit. Can you talk about the journey Tactic has been on and how you are creating success for your customers?

We actually initially started talking to 19 Crimes/Treasury Wine Estates and JWT SF, their agency, about creating a VR experience. Once our team saw the packaging, we thought it would work well to instead have the experience directly activate AR from the 19 Crimes bottles. 

Our initial test turned into a multi-product app, where each bottle had a story to tell, and each character on the bottles had an interconnected story. The app was a hit and started gaining users by several hundred thousand during the first year. We added features and other brands within Treasury’s brand portfolio and grew this into a portfolio platform with modular-functionality, updating AR experiences and a host of features with downloads in the millions.

From there, other brand groups were interested in their own AR stories, and we created similar executions for many other brands like Coke, Jack Daniel’s, Procter & Gamble, etc. We see this as a great use case that can scale to a variety of brands and consumer goods. Our team is well equipped to leverage both content and technology within this space and are constantly refining our process along the way.

Let’s talk about the Coca-Cola project. Tactic used AR to bring one of the world’s most iconic brand’s IP— the Coke Polar Bear family— into the real world as animated, interactive content that can only be unlocked by interacting with the physical product. It’s whimsical and fun. Walk us through the project: how did it come about, what was Coca-Cola looking to achieve, what were some of the notable features and aspects of the project, what challenges did you face, and how did you make it a reality?

We were originally contacted by the Coke packaging team, who had seen the AR experiences we created for other brands. That led to a larger conversation about how Coke could leverage AR around their product in the future, and from there we engaged around this campaign. We worked with their brand team to craft scenarios for the Coke Polar Bears, where we mixed gamified experiences made with Unity, like snowball fights with the bears, to an interactive arctic 3D light show and concert, to multi-can AR experiences, among others. 

Unity allowed us to create a variety of AR scenarios with the bears that were packaging-based, accessible, and fun. All the user had to do was open the app and point their camera at the product to access the various AR experiences and then could share to social, sign up for deals, or participate in any other call-to-actions. 

We were given the challenge of integrating a front-end AR experience into their existing app platform, for which we used the Unity library to do. We collaborated with their app team to optimize the Unity libraries to a small enough container to include the variety of AR experiences we provided, while still maintaining a smaller footprint alongside their existing app. The AR experiences launched in early November, alongside the holiday-themed Polar Bear cans and bottles for Coke and Coke Zero Sugar and has met great reception with a continuously growing audience.

Tactic develops AR experiences in Unity. Can you give us a few reasons why you chose Unity in general, and dive into some of the features used in the Coca-Cola project in particular?

Unity is the best toolset out there for the types of mobile AR experiences we create, where we can customize deeper, story-driven AR around characters and worlds, and include games and interactions. Our team can use Unity to quickly prototype and iterate with an artist-friendly toolset. Once we rally around a concept, Unity allows us to work within accelerated schedules and come out with a polished product, which is super useful for our deadline-driven clients. 

With Unity, we are also able to quickly add features to our apps, whether it’s a customized age gate, a secure login, GPS/geofencing, a timeline-based cinematic piece, scripted or gamified character pieces with Mecanim, or Shader Graph for customized looks… all of which give our AR the edge it needs to shine. 

From my prior experience in feature films on movies like Happy Feet and the movie series, The Matrix, I was happy to see that we could even do full-color sessions on the output with Unity’s Post-Processing pipeline. This is good to have in our back pocket for tuning the look of an AR activation, like the Arctic landscapes we made for Coke’s holiday activation. We were even able to bring all this to existing apps, using Unity as a library, and the 2019.3b version made it easier for us to accomplish that.

Amazing! It sounds like you really pushed the envelope with Unity on this project. So, how did it go? Can you talk about the launch, the length of the campaign, and how you measure success?

While I’m not able to share specifics of the Coke campaign’s numbers, I can generally say that it’s been a big success for them, and we are seeing opportunities open up for brands like Coke that take the AR plunge. Our metrics for our apps have proven to be a great way to engage customers on packaging and connect brand stories to products on the store shelves in entertaining ways. 

Some of our apps that have been around for a while, like Living Wine Labels, still have hundreds of thousands of active users, with over 4 million installs to date! We see brands from a variety of categories getting involved, and it’s only growing. Increasingly, AR is part of an integrated digital strategy, as phone cameras are a significant part of our lives, and AR lives in that space.

One last question: where is this all going, why does Tactic think that brands like Coca-Cola, Jack Daniels, and more, are embracing immersive technology like AR, and what does it mean for the future?

We see great potential in the idea that everyday products can tell stories and serve up interactive experiences. Mobile phones are ubiquitous, and by turning everyday static, packaged goods to life, we see an opportunity for brands to make connections with their customers in ways that weren’t possible in the past. Immersive technology allows for real-time, direct, and personalized connections to consumers and a channel of evergreen content, with valuable data exchanged as to how consumers interact with brands and products.  

Tactic sees this becoming the new normal in the coming years, and we believe that brands will increasingly need to have a “camera strategy” as they engage with customers. The Unity toolset will be a big part of this as well, given that gamification and real-time on mobile is their wheelhouse. 

As this all migrates from a bespoke app store environment to the web, we’ll increasingly see web-powered AR that rivals anything that can be done within a standalone app. Tactic is excited about technologies like Unity’s Project Tiny, which could eventually support AR on the web. We believe it will have huge potential for unique storytelling that has only started to scratch the surface.

For more information on Unity’s solution for sales and marketing, visit our webpage.

December 19, 2019 in Technology | 8 min. read
Topics covered