Augmented reality

Is augmented reality sneaking up on you?

Although AR technology has been around for quite some time it is only now that augmented reality is morphing into a very real option for marketing innovation – research carried out by Juniper Research, for instance, suggests that augmented reality technologies generated $2 million in revenue in the United States in the first week of 2013 alone. Most critically, however, Juniper Research predicts that figure to jump to as much as $714 million annually by 2014. Similar levels of growth can be expected this side of the Atlantic; probably later down the line.

Augmented Reality Explained

Augmented reality works to enhance an individual’s perception of reality with a computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data. The technology then works to present that information as an “overlay” to our real-world view as we perceive it via a viewfinder, webcam or smartphone.

A very obvious example of AR is the yellow “first down” marker used to illustrate games of American Football on Sky Sports – here the real-world elements are represented by the field and the players while the virtual element is the line which augments that image in real time.

Augmented reality helps bridge the gap between the physical and the digital world. Indeed, the vision advanced by films like Blade Runner and Minority Report, in which surfaces come alive once prompted by a simple gesture, is likely to become a reality.

Most marketers will have heard of AR by now. Many ad agencies in Ireland have been pushing AR technologies over the last few years; mostly solutions of questionable usefulness up to this point if truth be told. But don’t be perturbed – augmented reality is quickly coming of age. With advances in AR technologies, augmented reality can now take the notion of customer experience to a whole new level by effectively simulating the experience that your product or service can offer. Location-aware AR services also offer significant experiential marketing opportunities.

Practical Use

So, how are innovative marketers taking advantage of AR?

  • Lego – by holding your phone over a certain point on packaging AR technology allows a potential customer to see how the box of Lego they are holding looks like once put together.
    BMW – the BMW 7 Series has AR technology built into the windscreen to allow the driver to access a heads-up-display. Vital information like driving conditions, speed and fuel efficiency can be presented in a non-intrusive manner.
  • Tattoo – at the WorldExpo in Las Vegas last year one brave individual had a tattoo designed which would then render an animation to a smartphone.
  • Movie posters – movie promoters in Los Angeles are utilizing AR by presenting customers with the option to view a trailer when they stand in front of a poster.
  • Cityscapes – using your phone’s camera as an input device specifically-designed apps allow users to view buildings and make those buildings come to ‘life’ i.e. is there office space available to rent.
  • VW Beetle – this year Volkswagon installed AR-interfaced billboards in Toronto which allowed iPhone/iPad users to view virtual Beetles performing stunts high above the busy downtown streets.
  • Starbucks – the coffee shop chain used AR to make images on decorated cups come to life.
  • IKEA – an application allowed users to look at a given room via a mobile device and experience what that that room might look like once populated with IKEA products.
  • Esquire – the men’s magazine has experimented with augmented reality covers. Robert Downey Jr, for example, introduced an issue and guided a potential customer through the edition highlights.
  • Google – Google are betting that their ‘Google Glasses’ project will carry AR into the mainstream.

Endless Possibilities

Obviously, AR technology houses endless possibilities and in this space some very exciting work is happening.At the same time however it is important for brand marketers to understand the cons as well as the pros. Firstly, there are large costs associated with the development of AR and, secondly, consumer adoption and familiarization with it is still in its infancy.That said the use of augmented reality can only grow, particularly as the associated technologies evolve and as more standardized interfaces become commonly adopted.

Technology moves fast and if we assume that technology will advance at a similar pace over the next ten years that would suggest that we will use technology in the future that we can barely conceive today.It is likely, however, that augmented reality will form a (very) large part of that future.