Augmented reality (AR) may sound like something that you get to do in a dark basement with a William Gibson novel and a pair of virtual reality goggles. But the true promise of augmented reality will integrate the digital world into our offline world, and ultimately transform mundane experiences into meaningful, holistic ones. Imagine walking into a supermarket and seeing all of the nutritional and pricing information projected into thin air, or overlaid onto products; touching a logo on a box of cereal would trigger a digital reaction and enable you to use your fingers to scroll through information or content right on the cereal box.
We’re not there yet, but we’re closer than you think.
In the next nine months, mobile applications will make tremendous leaps toward integrating augmented reality into our lives. Today, there are multiple image recognition applications like SnapTell or Barnes & Noble’s Bookstore app that trigger a reaction when you take a picture of an object, logo, or barcode. Instead of pushing you to content on a website, these apps will increasingly pull in information that will be overlaid onto products via the screen’s camera function. Wikitude is an example of an application already doing this — simply hold up your phone and it will tell you what places of interest, restaurants, and shops are in your vicinity, based on the direction you are facing. Overlaying the data onto products (and people!) will be a natural evolution. Pattie Maes of MIT’s Sixth Sense Project describes it as “seamless, easy access to information” using our bodies to navigate the content in intuitive, natural ways.
In the meantime, before things get really interesting, we encourage brands to use current incarnations of augmented reality to enhance print campaigns, as a part of UGC campaigns, via Facebook applications, to enable customers to try before they buy, or as a content-experience reward for purchasing a product.
This article highlights some of the best recent brand executions we’ve come across at the IPG Emerging Media Lab.
We were delighted to see Samsung’s AR execution, which helps consumers figure out what a TV will look like on the wall, before they hang it. Users print out an image that they then show to their webcam, which faces the wall on which they want to hang the TV. The screen recognizes the AR trigger, and instead of seeing the printout, users see a TV laid over their wall through their screen. This is exactly the kind of utility that AR should provide; this is the “magic” element of AR: being able to see digital imagery layered onto the physical world to help you make better choices.
Even though we look forward to seeing Home Depot incorporate AR in-store one day, we like Home Depot’s current AR gift card experience because it adds a reward to the usually underwhelming gift card. When you receive a gift card, displaying it in front of a webcam enables users to browse and buy products online or plan for their next project. Expect to see AR uses exploding in the home improvement spaces. Currently kitchen and bath demos are expensive to produce for retailers. But AR will enable customers to see their paint colors, counter tops, and flooring choices displayed in real time and space.
Excitement around James Cameron’s “Avatar” created opportunities for several AR tie-ins to the movie. McDonald’s launched a site called “Experience Pandora” that users can tap via a “Thrill Card,” which can be cut out from McDonald’s boxes or printed out at home. According to Variety, Coca-Cola also placed Avatar related content on 140 million cans, while Mattel created action figures with special AR tags that provide additional content. What is important in the Avatar AR executions is the ability to deepen engagement with the Avatar story and brand across multiple channels and partners. The more coordinated these efforts, the better the experience will be for consumers.
Following its neat integration of E Ink on the cover of the October 2008 issue, Esquire magazine made its first AR bet using the cuter-than-ever Robert Downey Jr. What we appreciate about Esquire’s attempt is the multiple experiences that are revealed, including a nice interlude with Downey Jr. and an interactive fashion preview with Jeremy Renner, which unfold in the way a “choose your own adventure” novel would. For marketers, the Esquire approach is notable for its forward-thinking fashion integration (a great use of AR) and because it enables media buys that incorporate an AR experience.
As these executions show, there are still clunky barriers to AR. Home use requires a webcam and typically a web-installed plug-in (sigh) and printer. Most AR doesn’t yet incorporate GPS functionality or social elements. And brands have to educate their viewers with dorky videos explaining how it works.
Still, many brands will try their hand at augmented reality this year. Some executions will be cooler than others. What will separate the winners from the rest will be whether or not the application of augmented reality is more than a one-off gimmick. AR has the ability to provide real value and function to consumers; this should be the goal of brand AR initiatives.
Article originally published on iMedia Connection.