Augmented Reality: worth the buzz?

Guy Bradbury, creative director at Touch DDB, gives his take on why augmented reality is growing at a rapid pace.

Guy Bradbury
Guy Bradbury

Cast your mind back to 2008, when you first heard of augmented reality (AR). It was new; exotic… no one understood what the hell it was. Skip to the present and marketers are casually dropping it into campaigns simply for the cache. But what is its long term application in marketing? Is it just a fad? Email is passé, we’re bored by banners: AR is our current fix – but marketers are wary and question whether it genuinely adds to their online toolkits.

In 2009 Wallpaper released an AR issue, BMW drove sales of the Z4 with an AR app and Stella Artois did an AR Eco-Christmas card. And that was just December. But we’re still waiting on results. Right now AR lends a brand kudos, but once the buzz dies down (which, I suspect, has already begun to happen) what will it add to a brand? Will it be exiled to the land of Gimmick-dom?

I don’t think so. In fact, AR technology could bridge the gap between on and offline, as agencies with different channel experience get to grips with the possibilities it offers. Increasingly brands will use it to expand their shelf space in-store, and armed with AR technology, consumers will come to expect it in advertising. Audience behaviour has shifted: people are no longer passive and will come to expect to be invited to interact.

A static car poster could become a driving game. Suddenly a small space media will allow brands to display the whole catalogue in a 10” x 2”. And the possibilities for the experiential space are even more thrilling. As ever, the Japanese lead the way. They have a museum, sponsored by Cannon, where you can walk around the exhibition and witness dinosaurs roaming the corridors, courtesy of a set of augmented reality goggles.

Just imagine: retailers could launch a car before they take delivery of it, with different audiences previewing it in preferred colours. Beer brands could cross-sell a new range by making it appear on a beer mat via your phone.

Consider the implications for the tried and tested channel of direct mail, which has suddenly become interactive thanks to AR. We can link what you receive in the post with your webcam to create something that people will want to spend time with. B2B briefs are suddenly highly desirable to creatives.

Inevitably the technology will throw up its own set of rules, but marketers should hark back to the central edicts of marketing: make it useful, create a rewarding experience and don’t just bolt it on to your campaign for the sheer sake of it. Put the idea at the centre, because as all good marketers know, marketing has always been about the good idea. Whatever the technological advances that will never change.

AR is here to stay as a channel in itself and will bridge the gap to other channels. We should all be excited about the possibilities for clients and thrilled by the fact it unleashes creative possibilities for us. We are now armed with the technology to build brands by activating individuals and engaging on a deeper level one to one.

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