By Richard Yao

This was the year of acceleration. Thanks to unprecedented circumstances brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, consumers and businesses have been and will continue to adopt digital channels and tools across the board, enabling new behaviors and opportunities for marketers to explore.

For the past four years, the marketing experts at UM have been putting our heads together to track how the media innovation landscape has evolved each year. We judge those territories in terms of their audience reach and their maturity as a marketing channel on a 0-to-10-point scale and compare the year-over-year movement of each territory to gauge the direction and velocity of development.

In 2020, based on the latest expert scores gathered in late October, we identified seven innovation territories that saw significant movement, either in terms of reach or maturity, that all marketers should keep a close eye on.

Augmented Reality, up 1.3 in Reach

As time spent on mobile continues to grow, Augmented Reality (AR) is quickly becoming a popular way for brand marketers to add a new level of interactivity in their mobile efforts. The Reach score for this territory increased by 1.3 points this year, reflecting the continuous efforts from platform owners to popularize mobile AR experiences. In June, Snapchat updated AR Lenses and developer tools and announced that over three-quarters of its users (over 170 million people) use the app’s AR features on a daily basis.

AR experiences can now be found not only in camera-focused apps like Instagram or Snapchat, but also within Facebook newsfeedsGoogle search results, and even on Amazon packages. With its rising reach among mainstream users, mobile AR is becoming a fertile territory for brands to explore, partly in preparation for upcoming AR wearables from Apple and Facebook.

The Metaverse, up 1.3 in Reach

The metaverse refers to the emerging concept of a continuous and persistent virtual environment where users can explore, create, and socialize as they wish. Today, prototypical versions of the metaverse are common on multiplayer online games such as Fortnite and Roblox. Users come together to partake in shared experiences, such as Travis Scott’s Fortnite concert in April that was attended by 45 million players, or Lil Nas X’s live shows in Roblox that amassed 33 million views across two days.

This territory grew by 1.3 points in audience reach, thanks to the huge boost in time spent that gaming gained during lockdown. In July, Roblox said it had more than 150 million monthly active users, up from 115 million in February, and launched Party Place, a private venue for virtual birthday parties and other meetups. Notably, more than half of U.S. kids and teens under the age of 16 now play Roblox. Similarly, Fortnite launched Party Royale in May and proceeded to host a series of virtual events. As more people become accustomed to these interactive virtual live experiences, whose value has been amplified this year, the burgeoning metaverse represents yet another fast-growing territory for brands to explore.

Wearables, up 0.9 in Reach

It was another year of steady growth for wearable devices, reflected by a 0.9-point rise in its audience reach. With the pandemic and recent wildfires sharpening our collective public health concerns, wearable devices increasingly appeal to mainstream users. 24% of U.S. adults now own a smartwatch, up from 20% a year ago; and 32% own a fitness tracker, per the latest data from CivicScience. Market leader Apple Watch now sells more watches than the entire Swiss watch industry.

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