Augmented Reality: What it Means for Marketing

I’ve really been digging the potential that Augmented Reality can offer to marketing, it really is only limited by the power of the imagination as to how, what and where it can be applied.

But lets start at the beginning. What is AR you say? Its digital content, interacting with the real world, viewed through a webcam or smartphone camera. I could jabber on for ages about what that means but it’s much easier to show you. I posted this clip before Christmas, it demonstrates AR when used to promote the film Avatar;
So what do you think? It’s pretty straight forward; you log onto a website, and display a ‘marker’ into a webcam to generate a 3D image. When you consider how ‘markers’ could easily be distributed with brands there’s plenty of scope to reward customers. Coke (here) and McDonalds (here) have used packaging to distribute markers also to promote the film Avatar. But why stop there? Anything that involves a tangible item could be a ‘marker’, that could be an album cover, a business card or even a T-Shirt. This type of AR rewards customers with material that amounts to the equivalent of DVD extras, exclusive content that accessible through AR. However, I think this type of AR carries little more than novelty value for the user and will be quickly brushed aside.

This next video is for GE in the US, which moves AR on somewhat, to introduce interactivity. Here the user can interact with the 3D image by blowing into their microphone to make the wind turbines spin.


If you liked that you can get the GE’s smart grid in your hands here. Interactivity is a critical issue in marketing, it has been shown to communicate messages that individuals would often ignore when the interactive elements are removed. This Transformers AR does away with the use of a ‘marker’ to trigger the flash image and instead uses face recognition software that transforms the user into Optimus Prime


Interactivity opens the door for gaming AR, and removes the novelty element to provide the viewer with something of a little more substance, which they are more likely to return to over and over. This next clip is for a Skittles branded zombie shoot ‘em up game. The user views the game in 3D through a phone and can move around the game environment as they wish.


Which brings me to the step in AR, the use of smart phones to access digital content. Suddenly we are out of home, free from the shackles of the desktop and using AR in an external environment. This next clip is great, the hijacking of billboards to display art, surely its only a matter of time before billboards are hijacked by other brands in guerrilla stunts?


Phones also have GPS capabilities so when that is thrown into the mix the possibilities to deliver useful, targeted content becomes a reality. This next clip demonstrates an I Phone app for Yelp in the USA. Once accessed it uses GPS to provide the viewer with directions to the closest bar or restaurant along with any online reviews available


Another clip I want to show is for Google Googles. It’s a visual search engine that recognises objects to bring you further information on that item. Although in its infancy, the Googles can recognise a book, a monument or even a business shop front.


Visual recognition is the key element here, if you look back at the start of this post ‘markers’ were used to trigger the AR. If Google Googles is thrown into the mix we are talking about object recognition that can pull information, video or audio into real world interactive environments. This makes the application of AR for marketing only limited through the limitations of your imagination.

With all of these different technologies converging, what is to stop the user entering an AR game based on their surroundings? Think of it as almost the reverse of the Skittles zombie game above. You are on the ground using your camera to view the game. Image recognition picks up on buildings in your immediate environment, roads, cars, the sky and the game is viewed through a smart phone so you see the zombies coming at you. GPS can track your current location and that of other players nearby. But why stop at games? Why not live a film? or stand with U2 on stage? You could live and breathe in an AR world.

For something that’s really mind bending check out this video from TED. The technology on show is similar to that in Minority Report, remember when Tom Cruise sorted info on a screen with his fingers? Well its just like that…only better. Tom could only sort the information on a screen, this handy little piece of kit was built using existing technology for $350. It has a camera that recognises objects and a mini projector that projects related information onto any surface. So imagine your in a bookstore you pick up a book, the camera recognises the cover, reviews are pulled off the web, the projector displays the reviews on the book cover or on any nearby surface, interaction with the projection (like in Minority report) can sort through the reviews, or access further related information such as authors other books, suggested reading and so on. The video gives some great demonstrations on how this can be applied to tickets, products, places and even people!


So there you have it a brief run through the world of Augmented Reality. AR offers brands and consumers a new form of communication. While some of it here has little more than novelty value, I think it’s really only the tip of the iceberg as to what we will see in the coming years. The ability to pull any information, in any location with this level of interactivity is truly amazing. It’s an emerging technology that has yet to really catch on here in Ireland. I can’t think of one brand that has used AR here. However it’s only a matter of time. What I think will happen is that the brands that will use it most successfully will recognise AR as an opportunity to not only do something new, but in order to give each AR application a lifespan, it will offer customers a heightened brand experience that compliments the product by offering something of worth, be it in information or entertainment.