How USAA used Snapchat’s AR Lens to engage the public for Memorial Day

When COVID-19 disrupted its annual Poppy Wall display, the company deployed the technology to create a virtual experience to honor the fallen.

United Services Automobile Association USAA logo displayed on Huawei smartphone

COVID-19 has disrupted many plans for live events in 2020—including USAA’s annual Poppy Wall installation to commemorate Memorial Day.

The exhibit, set up every year in Washington, D.C., usually draws thousands of visitors and is intended to honor the nation’s 645,000 fallen service members. This year, team members did what many organizations have done in response to COVID-19: pivot to digital.

They set up a site and worked with Snapchat to create a virtual experience for visitors. The collaboration reveals what is possible with technology and what changes we might see incorporated into future campaigns.

Chris Talley, USAA senior vice president and chief communications officer, explained the thought behind the campaign:

“The coronavirus pandemic forced virtually all Memorial Day ceremonies to re-envision plans, including USAA’s Poppy Wall of Honor on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. With so many experiences shifting to digital, we were able to work with Snapchat to offer a digital-only continuation of the Poppy Wall of Honor, allowing Americans to come together to honor fallen military members.”

Snapchat was a ready partner for the brand, and its team explained the process of setting up this year’s online installation: Users could dedicate a poppy using Snapchat’s messaging app and view a virtual Poppy Wall with Snapchat’s augmented reality features.

“In collaboration with USAA, Snapchat developed the Lens concept earlier this year,” said a Snapchat spokesperson when asked about the process for developing the AR offering. “After aligning on a concept, Snapchat’s Lens Team developed the Lens over several weeks, refining the technology and its features until it reached the final version that can be seen now.”

For USAA, the experience of working with Snapchat was seamless.

“Working with Snap, it was incredible to see how the team took what was originally designed as a powerful in-person experience (the Poppy Wall of Honor) and re-created that in a digital fashion in augmented reality,” Talley says. “Snapchat helped give USAA and many Americans this Memorial Day the ability to offer a digital tribute to our fallen heroes.”

Measuring the effort

As with any new tech experience, USAA wanted to measure the results.

The company used Snap’s self-service platform, which provided key performance metrics such as CPM, playtime (time spent using Lens), cost per share, share rate and more.

“We also are measuring key performance metrics related to our special website,,” Talley says. “Our goals include education about the meaning of Memorial Day, engagement with the content and fostering a sense of community among all Americans in remembering those who gave the ultimate sacrifice.”

The future of AR

Will these kinds of campaigns be with us after COVID-19? Virtual reality is getting a workout during this crisis, but when people are allowed to gather in groups again, what will technology’s place be in the media mix?

For USAA, the digital component of the Poppy Wall offers upsides to consider—even when we’re not social distancing.

“While we hope to return to the National Mall next year, we know it’s also important to offer a digital component, allowing us to reach more Americans,” Talley says. “Even small actions, such as utilizing the Poppy Wall of Honor Snapchat Lenses, helps spread the Memorial Day message of remembering those that gave their life so we can enjoy the freedoms earned by U.S. servicemembers.”

Snapchat has data to support this. “Over 75% of our Snapchat community engages with augmented reality every day,” says a Snap spokesperson. “We’ve turned augmented reality from an experiment into a daily habit, and it’s great to see brands like USAA partnering with us to build engaging augmented reality experiences that reshape how we experience the world around us.”

Are you using augmented reality during this crisis? Share what’s working for you in the comments.


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