Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Users first, brands later: Snapchat's Resh Sidhu's message for marketers on AR

Resh Sidhu, global director of Arcadia AR Creative Studio at Snapchat, says that when it comes to augmented reality, brands should create an emotional connection. Most brands put the brand message first and not the user, and that's where they fail, she tells Storyboard18 in an exclusive interview

Published: Nov 29, 2023 02:15:44 PM IST
Updated: Nov 29, 2023 02:30:23 PM IST

Users first, brands later: Snapchat's Resh Sidhu's message for marketers on ARResh Sidhu, global director of Arcadia AR Creative Studio at Snapchat

While the world is betting big on artificial intelligence (AI), American multimedia instant messaging app Snapchat is going all out, pitching augmented reality (AR) services to developers and advertisers, especially in India.

In India, Snapchatters play with AR Lenses over 50B times every month. Over 85 percent of Snapchatters use lenses during festive months in India. Nearly 80 percent of users in India interact with Lenses daily. Snap AR community in India grew by 60 percent in 2022.

New York-based Resh Sidhu, global director of Arcadia AR Creative Studio at Snapchat, was in India recently. Arcadia AR Creative Studio is Snapchat’s in-house full-service creative studio.

She leads a team that is building cutting-edge innovative AR solutions for brands at Snapchat. Sidhu and her team met developers and advertisers to understand what their challenges are and what they want from a platform like Snapchat. She is also in search of talent.

Sidhu has vast advertising agency experience. She had been chief creative officer at Barbarian, following stints with AKQA and Framestore. In fact, when she was creative director at the Oscar-winning VFX studio Framestore, she developed the VR experience for Warner Bros and JK Rowling’s ‘Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.’

Sidhu is, therefore, not new to the AR world. At Snapchat, she is trying to solve problems that she faced when she was on the agency side. In an exclusive chat with Storyboard18, she said: “I was always passionate about new technology. However, when I was at the agency side, many brands overlooked its effectiveness. I quickly understood that the user adoption of technology was going to hit at a level we had never imagined. We can predict as much as we want, but at the end of the day, all that matters are users and their consumption patterns.”

Sidhu also spoke at length about her conversations with advertisers, gave her hot take on AR, and more.

Edited excerpts:

Q. What is your conversation like with advertisers?

Snapchat is a great platform to engage with millennials and Gen Z. Often, brands and agencies ask us how they can interact with these audiences. Even developers have similar questions. Therefore, our conversations are more educational.

We showcase what we have done globally, with brands like Coca-Cola and L’Oreal. We have some great examples of engagements done during music and sporting events, too. We are, time and again, demonstrating these cases to brands. We are talking about how they can get results with AR-led campaigns.

What we observe is that innovative brands are breathing new life into shopping experiences. They are making it more immersive and accessible. A recent study from Shopify showed that 94 percent of people who interact with an AR experience and a product, do make a purchase.

It’s a no-brainer that certain categories should be doing AR activities. Luxury brands are at the forefront in this. They are using AR to inspire their audience. Fendi and NYX are two great examples. The campaigns that have rolled out on Snapchat demonstrate how AR can revolutionise fashion and beauty experiences.

Q. Do marketers understand all things tech?

They recognise the role of technology in the marketing ecosystem and its potential to transform the customer experience. They look for guidance from platforms like ours. They are looking up to us to understand the technical aspects and how to leverage them effectively. They want to know what the return on investments will be. They want to harness the technology they know consumers will understand and are ready to explore. For instance, an AR solution. It’s interactive. Brands can create unique shopping experiences. Marketers are always listening to what consumers want. They might not understand the technical aspects. That is okay. Their focus is on the tangible benefits and the outcomes that AR can deliver. I am hoping we can have meaningful conversations with clients in India, too. My focus would be to deliver what we do worldwide here too, from an AR solutions point of view.

Q. Isn’t design an integral part of AR-led work?

Yes, it is. Design plays a pivotal role when it comes to AR experiences because the medium itself forces us to keep users at the centre.

AR is not just about the intuitive way in which the real world is brought to life. By putting users first, brands are going to create a certain emotional connection. I think where brands fail is they try to put the brand message first and not the user first.

We emphasise craftsmanship. That’s why we spend a lot of time with the developer community. We're open-sourcing our learnings, and we are okay doing that. We're sharing our key principles and giving them the tools to be able to really create and put out the best AR solutions out there.

Craftsmanship speeds the quality of solutions. That’s why I love our Lens Studio. It’s a tool that lets you design and build augmented reality lenses for Snapchat. Our goal is to improve the tools on the application and inspire the developer community.

Also read: We want to create a powerful impact on the safety of our community: Uthara Ganesh, Snap's public policy head

I strongly believe art and technology operate at the heart of creativity and technology. We fall into the trap of a ‘cool’ technology but we don’t ask important questions, like whether it is solving a business problem. AR helps brands make immersive and impactful campaigns. It also redefines consumer interactions. That’s why it’s important to simplify these things to marketers to help them incorporate AR strategies in their toolkits.

Q. While Snapchat is going all out with AR, what’s your hot take on AI?

Earlier this year, when I was the Jury President for Digital Craft Lions at Cannes, I observed a few things. While purpose-driven work always stands out, we noticed a few interesting trends.

The emergence of AI was one of them. I could see a new era of creativity dawning with AI. It is a remarkable creative tool but it is its mastery that will make campaigns stand out. AI is really pushing creative boundaries. It helps in combining artist expression and innovation. That’s something that has been happening for a while now, and this year it took centre stage.

I saw a lot of work where AI wasn’t used for the sake of it. As a trained graphic designer who has worked in the advertising industry for over 20 years, AI is absolutely another tool for me and my fellow artists. AI-driven work is expanding our ability to deliver ideas at speed. It’s also expanding our imagination.