With Pepsi’s AR filters, Instagram is coming for Snapchat (again)

Instagram’s next attempt to overshadow Snapchat is here — well, almost.

On May 20, Pepsi revealed its annual summer campaign, where millions of Pepsi bottles will feature QR codes that unlock hundreds of augmented reality filters and digital stickers. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Pepsi’s 2017 campaign touted a similar experience. But there’s one major difference. In 2017, the codes were for Snapchat; in 2019, Pepsi’s opting for Instagram.

Pepsi’s campaign is just the latest move by Instagram to expand AR on the platform. At F8, Facebook’s annual developer conference in April, the company announced it would open Instagram AR out of closed beta this summer. When that happens, any AR developer who uses Facebook’s Spark AR platform can share their creations to Instagram. In the meantime, Instagram already has attracted a few thousand AR creators to its beta who are anticipating an acceleration of the product this year.

While Snapchat may have had an early lead with AR and wooing creators, Instagram’s experience can be more valuable to creators and brands. Nicholas Dominici, a 16-year-old student who builds AR for Snapchat and Instagram, said he’s seen his follower count on Instagram spike after sharing his own filters.

“Honestly, the real incentive to create on Instagram is for the follower count and for brands. I gained around 600 followers in one day after posting my first filter. Also, brands like the idea of having a filter created for them to use on Instagram since they think that it’ll be more successful than on Snapchat, which I think is bogus,” Dominici said.

Brandon Sears, CEO of Scarlet Social, a digital agency, said he’s seen AR creators on Instagram reach hundreds of thousands and even a million followers after their filters spread.

“Snapchat does this too, but the difference is that Snapchat is a more personal platform to chat on, not to really grow a large following as the sorting on stories currently doesn’t encourage views from new subscribers,” Sears said.

Indeed, the way that AR filters can be discovered and shared varies on the two platforms. On Snapchat, users can discover creator-made lenses through a tool called Lens Explorer. Instagram is working on a similar feature, according to app researcher Jane Manchun Wong. That feature is currently available on the Instagram beta app. For now, on Instagram, users can only see the AR filters by creators if they follow the user or if they get a link to the filter from an account that uses the filter or from the creator directly.

Instagram doesn’t currently have its own version of Snapcodes to unlock AR filters (it does have Instagram nametags, which are codes that unlock usernames). The QR codes that Pepsi uses on its bottles are a workaround solution that link to the Instagram filters. But they require people to scan from their phone’s camera app to then open the Instagram app instead of scanning from Instagram directly.

“Really the tech is not ready at all,” said an AR developer, who requested anonymity for fear of speaking ill of Pepsi’s campaign.

An AR developer who has created for Instagram said the internal team at Instagram has said they are working on a “Snapcode” type solution. An Instagram spokesperson said they had no new information to share on plans to expand nametags to unlock filters.

For now, Instagram is not publicizing a formal ad unit for AR on Instagram. Pepsi’s campaign is similar to what Kylie Jenner, the NBA and other brands have done to create their own branded AR filters for Instagram, an Instagram spokesperson said. One AR developer said Instagram has discouraged creators from creating sponsored filters.

Instagram is more restrictive than Snapchat in terms of what type of AR content is allowed, creators said. In both platforms, AR filters have to be submitted for approval.

Instagram’s review process also takes a day or two while Snapchat’s is far quicker, which can be frustrating to creators.

“Instagram’s platform is in beta still but can be a hassle when submitting your camera effect from exporting to leaving the application and submitting from a web browser and waiting a business day or longer to get your camera effect,” said Chris Higa, an AR creator on Snapchat and Instagram.

Even as Instagram tries to cater to the growing community with new updates, Snapchat does have a better reputation among AR creators. Sears said he finds Snapchat to be “much more personal” in how they work with AR creators.

“Snapchat is really a great welcoming place and the community is amazing. I think many creators are also wary about supporting Facebook due to many reasons, as a Snapchat Lens Creator, for instance, it can sometimes feel like you might be betraying a friend,” Sears said.


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