“I never doubted it.”
That’s what one of retail’s biggest innovators had to say about his belief in augmented reality. His name: Thibault Mathieu.
Having cut his teeth in the film and television industry in both Los Angeles and his native France, Mathieu comes from an untraditional background. But after seeing the storytelling power augmented reality could deliver, he found an opportunity to combine his passion for entertainment with his new-found passion for the technology.
“The first time I tried the Magic Leap headset, I realized how powerful of a tool AR was for immersing people into your story - the ability to integrate virtual content and narratives into a person’s real space.”
And just like that, Wilkins Avenue AR was born. Starting as a consulting firm in 2018, it quickly became a full-fledged AR studio specializing in immersive experiences for brands.
“It was just me initially. But by 2021, I had surrounded myself with very talented people who also had entertainment backgrounds. Our 3D designer, for example, helped make the Minions movie, and our CTO comes from video games, feature films, and animations.”
Since then, he and his team have been exploring the immense possibilities of augmented reality while helping businesses take full advantage. Over the years, they’ve helped some of the world’s biggest luxury and beauty brands engage customers in exciting new ways.
It didn’t take long for their work to end up in one of the most famous shopping districts in the world.
“We signed our first project with Lancôme, which was big for us because it was for their flagship location on the Champs-Élysées, and one of the first AR experiences made for a store.
“You would walk in and see all these flowers growing around you and portals that brought you to specific Lancôme 3D worlds. You’d even have virtual guides taking you on the journey. It was beautiful.”
Creating beautiful business firsts to drive brand and sales impact
As the technology evolved, the industry became increasingly competitive. What separates Mathieu and Wilkins Avenue AR from the rest? How was he able to take this endeavor from a single-man operation to Paris’ premier shopping street in only a couple of years? The answer comes back to his previous life.
“Our clients like that we see ourselves as creative storytellers more than marketers. Every experience we make is artisanal in its craft. While it’s important for us to create these stunningly beautiful experiences, it’s equally important that we create ones that have never been done before.”
They established this brand ethos quickly, starting at Comic Con, where they used the Magic Leap headset to create the first musical based in AR. To this day, it is still the largest location-based AR experience on the Magic Leap platform, with over 40,000 visitors experiencing it over three days.
And the results of this narrative-first strategy speak for themselves. Augmented reality has consistently proven to be an effective tool for getting consumers to engage with a brand, with a recent Shopify study claiming products with AR backing have a 94% higher chance of being sold than those without it.
But this team is raising the bar.
“For our last two Lancôme experiences, we’ve had a conversion rate between 55-60%. This means people who get to the end of the experience actually click on a call-to-action and get redirected to the e-commerce website. Even our last Tissot project had 25% of users share a virtual gift with someone to get them to join the experience.”
Now, they’re looking at new ways to innovate and grow, and it’s coming in the form of two of the biggest names in technology and beauty.
Accelerating the growth of Augmented Reality through business partnership
In early 2023, Meta partnered with L’Oréal in Paris to create an accelerator program dedicated to high-potential startups and studios working on the metaverse. This was a first-of-its-kind venture to help advance technology across industries, with participants getting access to mentors and tools to help them grow and innovate.
“That accelerator has helped on the technological front. We’re using two big platforms from Meta: The Presence platform, which lets us create XR experiences for their headsets. And Meta Spark, which lets us create AR experiences on smartphone, Instagram, Messenger, and Facebook. We’ve even received early access to things like the Quest Pro.
“We have a great mentor, great press exposure, and great opportunities to pitch ideas to their European team. This accelerator has really pushed us forward by light years.”
But this wasn’t their first time working with Meta. In 2021, Mathieu and his team helped develop one of the first AR multi-user experiences on Instagram and Messenger, integrating the then-new Multiplayer API to allow people on different sides of the world to play AR games together.
So how do they actually deploy all of this technology? Well, it depends.
“We are AR experts, but we are agnostic of the platforms we deploy it on. We can do it on an AR headset - like we did for the musical at Comic Con - or on a smartphone. For the smartphone, we can deploy this in two ways.
“The first way is through WebAR, which is an AR experience that lives directly on the browser and doesn’t require the user to download an app. The last two Christmases, we released an experience for Lancome in over 100 countries at over 1,000 points of sale. And it was so easy because it’s just a simple QR code to start the journey.
“The second way is called SocialAR Effect, which uses Meta’s platforms like Instagram. We’ve released experiences for Lancome using this method and have also worked directly with Meta on this as well. These are experiences that happen directly on a platform. So you scan using the camera within Instagram, for example, and it launches directly within the app.”
Revolutionizing the brand experience through technology innovation
Much of their success has come from the crew’s unwavering belief in the technology over the years. They stuck with it through all its ups and downs, and now they’re ahead of the game just as augmented reality is hitting its stride.
“We’ve seen the highs and lows of the technology, but we always knew it would mature and get adopted by more people. It’s happening with augmented reality and with the metaverse. We just need to be resilient, find the right use cases, and keep believing in our vision and mission.
“There are some limitations, for sure. We don’t have headsets that are lightweight. Smartphones aren’t the most immersive. And XR headsets aren’t as qualitative in terms of resolution. But I think in the near future, we’ll be experiencing the world we want with just AR glasses.”
Mathieu has gone from Hollywood to Paris. The world of film to the world of technology. And from a one-man business to the founder of an entire studio. But once you’ve been on the Champs-Élysées and worked with brands like Meta and Tissot, there’s one question that might be hard to answer: What’s next?
“We’ve worked mainly with luxury and beauty brands, many of them here in France. But as we move beyond luxury and beauty, we need to start looking more internationally. We’ve already signed deals with Coca-Cola Hellenic, and we are working on some projects in Asia.”
Beyond that, we’ll just have to see.
This team has made a habit of revolutionizing the consumer-to-brand experience. And as the technology they use continues to grow, so will they - leading to bigger and better ways for people to connect with companies, brands, and, most importantly, each other.
And we can’t wait.