How Panera Uses AR to Heighten Cravings, Reaching Millions of Customers

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Consumers today are more health-conscious than ever before, and they’re being pulled in every direction by marketers vying for their attention. As an early adopter of augmented reality technology, the fast casual restaurant chain Panera Bread has found that innovative marketing strategies are the key to grabbing the attention of consumers and driving in-store visits.

Following up on the success of its #YouMix2 AR campaign, which debuted at SXSW last year, Panera recently launched a follow-up initiative. Working with M7 Innovations, a technology-focused consultancy that specializes in artificial intelligence and immersive realities, Panera designed an AR campaign that involved animated breakfast wraps. Consumers were encouraged to experience Panera’s breakfast wraps through AR technology and share the assets to Facebook and Snapchat.

Panera spent $50,000 on both Facebook and Snapchat over the course of the campaign, and for that cost, the company was able to reach 9.3 million users. The campaign received 47,000 shares in total, with 171,000 users clicking through or swiping across on Snapchat and Facebook.

“We’ve been bullish on augmented reality for the last two years — we knew AR had the potential to increase craveability of our menu items, but we also wanted to ensure the right technology-based experience to allow for optimal transparency,” said Panera Bread’s vice president of marketing, Scott Nelson.

Panera opted to launch this latest campaign via Facebook and Snapchat, in part because both social media platforms have unique audiences that Nelson says his team wanted to reach.

“We take social media very seriously and truly listen to what our consumers are saying to us,” Nelson says. “More importantly, we also want to provide our consumers with rich new experiences on those platforms and augmented reality has allowed us to do that.”

Having now run three AR campaigns, Nelson says Panera has hit its inflection point, and the initiatives are proving that the company was right to be bullish on AR.

Although there is always risk when brands leverage new technology, Nelson says that when it comes to AR and food, the biggest risk lies in the quality of the 3D models. Executives have to ask themselves, “Will the menu item look as delicious as it really is in café?”

Nelson says that Panera mitigated that risk by partnering with QReal, a Glimpse Group Subsidiary that specializes in 3D and AR, to develop this campaign. Other QReal clients include Magnolia Bakery, Domino’s, and KitchenAid.

“The fidelity of their 3D models and the way they bring our dishes to life via AR is unmatched,” Nelson said.

Panera also worked closely with M7 Innovations. To bring the vision for this project to life, M7’s team made the trek to Panera’s farms in Yuma. Together with a team of experienced drone pilots, M7 filmed a sourcing story for the company’s leafy greens. That digital content became the basis for the company’s AR initiative. Some of the content also ended up in a Panera television spot.

“The standard that Panera has set for food transparency and quality of service is unparalleled, so we have to ensure that when we use a new medium to tell the Panera story and showcase menu items, the execution is flawless,” says M7 CEO Matt Maher.

Although the relationship between Panera and M7 is relatively young — Nelson attended a keynote speech given by Maher at CES in 2018, and the two hit it off as they later discussed how Panera could integrate drones and AR into its marketing strategy — it has already led to three successful AR campaigns, multiple drone shoots, and new initiatives that Maher says are in the works for later this year.

“We’ve now proven that augmented reality doesn’t just drive craveability; it’s driving sales. The physical and digital worlds are merging, and it doesn’t matter if it’s fashion, food, or CPG, brands need to start thinking about creating ‘digital twins’ of their products and services for e-commerce environments,” Maher says. “Augmented reality is the medium that enables this.”

Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.Rainbow over Montclair

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.