Michael Broukhim

Augmented reality may be something of a lightning rod for beauty brand or furniture retail innovation. But retailers who chalk it up to lipstick and couches aren’t seeing the big picture: Smart marketers understand that the industry has only just begun to explore the deep potential in AR.

For FabFitFun, the technology offers a way to boost its storytelling capabilities, taking it from a 2-D experience to something more immersive.

The company is a subscription service that delivers a box each quarter filled with fashion, beauty, fitness or lifestyle products. “People come to us without wanting anything in particular,” said Michael Broukhim, cochief executive officer and cofounder. “They come to us wanting to be surprised and delighted, and we don’t put a lot of guardrails on that…So how do we make sure that we’re doing novelty in a smart way? Doing it in a way that’s delivering happiness, but with a broad mandate; not delivering randomness? Our answer to that is storytelling.”

The company knows a thing or two about telling stories. It started out as a media company in 2010, with a newsletter. Three years later, it began sending its first subscription boxes out. It wanted to tell a story with its new business — the anticipation before receiving a box, the surprise and delight when it’s first opened.

“But we were stuck with print collateral to tell our stories,” said Broukhim. “We use and still use postcards, inserts, magazines, newspapers and we’re really proud of what those look and feel like. But we knew we could do better. The unboxing is the moment of truth at FabFitFun. But how do you bridge the physical and the digital?”

That’s where AR came into play. “We always knew we wanted to launch a mobile app, but we didn’t want to just take our web site and smash it into an app, and say, ‘Now the web site’s in an app,’” he added.

The company partnered with Los Angeles-based Camera IQ to develop a new way of using AR, what the company calls a “magical unboxing.”

“[It’s] where each of the products in the box and the box itself became distribution nodes for the stories we wanted to tell,” Broukhim added.

Customers can launch their phone cameras within the brand’s mobile app when they open their boxes. “When you put the camera in front of the box, the first thing that happens is that box comes to life,” he said. “You see an animation, you see music playing. It’s really something super exciting and often very sharable.”

The customer can then put the products in front of the camera, and the camera recognizes them and conjures various types of content, from product information to founders’ stories, ingredients, tips and tricks, videos and other stories.

“We can do storytelling in a deeply personalized way,” said Broukhim.

The company has more than 100,000 members logging in every month.

Another usage shows off the fun aspect, with users popping virtual balloons.

“We want to give people a chance to see the world through FabFitFun’s lenses, through the lenses of the storytellers that we have on our team, and through the lenses of all of our brand partners, content partners and influencer partners,” he continued. “That’s sort of where we’re headed. We think that creates an opportunity for all sorts of new ways to engage with products and explore the world.”

Plenty of eyes will likely stay on FabFitFun as it furthers its grand AR experiment. “You’ll see us creating more in-depth experiences,” he said. “Imagine a whole branded Easter egg hunt where finding specific products or landmarks or brand logos activates experiences. It’s Pokemon Go, but where products are the objects of storytelling and activity.”

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