Google Pretties Up its Immersive Ad Ambitions

Google has taken immersive shopping to the next step. Its new interactive ads simulate what lipstick, eyeshadow, and foundation shades look like on users’ faces before they buy. This formalizes Google’s ongoing immersive ad ambitions in the fitting category of cosmetics try-ons (more on that in a bit)

This isn’t necessarily a new use case but Google has now standardized it as a search ad format. This follows years of conditioning user behavior around immersive shopping (e.g., Google Swirl), which was to be inevitably followed by monetization. Google’s latest move represents the next step in that process.

Going deeper into the dynamics, the new ad unit lets cosmetics brands offer virtual try-ons to boost their online conversions. These enhanced ad units show up in the mobile-specific search engine results pages where Google Shopping ads typically show up, such as Google Images and Shopping Tabs.

From the user’s perspective, the standard product image in Google Shopping can now include a small “try-on” icon. From there, users can choose to preview what the product looks like on them (using the smartphone camera), or on a model that they choose from a diverse selection (using their 2D screen).

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Measurable Boost

Naturally, to capture buying intent when it’s at its height, these try-on experiences hand off to Google Shopping’s native checkout flow. Based on Google’s internal data from past trials, one-third of viewers spend 80 seconds trying on lipstick, with measurable boosts in conversion that follow.

Stepping back, this isn’t Google’s first shot at virtual try-ons with cosmetics. Back in 2019, it did something similar on YouTube through display ads that appeared on the “how-to” videos of makeup influencers. Those display ads, if viewed on a mobile device, activate the camera for virtual try-ons.

Stepping back even further, immersive ads are still in their infancy. Though there’s ample promise in formats like virtual try-ons, the adoption cycle is still relatively slow. One challenge is that the technology is too disruptive in its departure from the primary practices of comfort-bound Madison Avenue.

Google wants to change that. As noted, this includes both virtual try-ons and 3D models shown on 2D screens (no upheld smartphone required). The latter widens the net as it’s more accessible and less complex. Gaining adoption through simplicity – on both brand and user ends – is the name of the game.

Products in Perspective

Speaking of which, Google is smart to kick off all the above in the cosmetics category. Among all the verticals that are applicable to immersive try-ons, cosmetics have gained the most traction. It got a meaningful boost in the Covid era when traditional high-touch retail try-ons were precluded.

The category also “fits” well because it’s particularly conducive to try-before-you-buy eCommerce. Things like color matching are critical to the product category, and these things are easily replicable in a simulated way that puts the product in perspective. Furniture and footwear do well for similar reasons.

Categories aside, immersive shopping’s potential is boosted by another factor: Gen Z. The camera-native generation is more comfortable with such features, and is beginning to develop expectations around its presence. This all points to the need for brands and retailers to future-proof themselves.

Speaking of future-proofing, that’s Google’s motivation for all of the above. As it looks for ways to grow its core search business, immersive shopping is one way to add depth to the UX and demonstrate greater ad performance to brands. If it can deliver at that level, as it often goes, SMBs come next.

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