Reality's new dimension
Technology is enhancing the customer experience like never before.
Doritos: one of the first brands to use AR codes on packaging
Greetings card-maker Hallmark is set to become the latest brand to use augmented reality (AR) to show off its products, as the technology starts to emerge from the sidelines to become a key element of mainstream brands' marketing plans. The company is partnering with AR specialist Total Immersion to add a 3D element to its cards, using the technology in an attempt to gain an edge on rivals. Total Immersion is also in talks with Procter & Gamble and McDonald's about how they can use AR to offer more to customers.
The technology is best described as one that enhances real-life experiences. It works by a webcam or mobile phone camera detecting symbols or movement and triggering computer-generated images, which are then projected on-screen, augmenting the real-world experience.
AR in action
One simple example of AR is Nearest Tube. This is an app that, when the user holds their iPhone camera in front of them, detects their location and shows them the quickest route to the nearest London Underground station.
So far, AR has been used mostly in short-term campaigns designed to maximise 'wow factor'. Doritos and Wrigley were among the first brands to use AR codes on product packaging. This meant that after a consumer had eaten a bag of crisps or chewed gum, they could hold the packet up to their webcam and, for example, watch a virtual band play a gig on the wrapper.
However, experts say AR is now moving beyond the hype. Although many campaigns are clearly aimed at impressing consumers and little else, some are being used in-store and online to increase purchase intent.
One of the most effective uses of the technology to date has been an on-pack promotion conducted by Lego Technic. The toy brand has made its packs compatible with AR, so that when they are held up to a webcam, the consumer sees the Lego bricks and components inside being put together to form a toy. The brand says that following its installation of kiosks in-store to show off the technology, purchase intent has risen and sales have increased.
Brands are hopeful that AR could have a transformational effect on the retail experience. One model being developed by Cisco, although still at concept stage, is an 'interactive mirror' that enables the consumer to see themself dressed in any outfit they choose. A flick of the wrist changes outfits and colour, enabling them to select garments without having to try them on, while full-body scans ensure that the correct clothing size will be taken every time.
Miles Peyton, European sales director at Total Immersion, claims that Hugo Boss increased footfall at its Sloane Square store in London by including AR in its magazine ads, directing consumers in-store for a real-life interactive experience.
Meanwhile, blue-chip companies are using the technology for a diverse range of projects, from product demonstrations to promoting the latest blockbuster films by making characters 'come to life'.
Unusually for new marketing technologies, the innovations are coming from Europe - France in particular - rather than the US.
With an increasing numbers of people using smartphones, the future is predicted to be bright for AR. Only 12 months ago, few people had heard of it, but experts are putting their faith in the technology and believe its long-term growth will outstrip the short-term 'wow factor' that has led many to label it a gimmick.
Brands will spend a total of just $20m (£13.6m) on AR this year, according to Juniper Research. However, this figure is predicted to rise to $300m (£204m) by 2014, and with some of the UK's biggest advertisers, including Adidas, IBM and Coca-Cola, weighing up the technology, it could well reach those heights.
For now, AR remains an exploratory marketing technique. Yet, as more brands experiment, it looks set to become common in retail outlets, and a regular conversational pastime for those iPhone bores who like to show off their latest apps at parties.
For the latest examples of augmented reality, visit Andrew McCormick's blog at http://bit.ly/biqsmD
197m The number of AR-capable smartphones that will be in the global market by 2012, up from 91m in 2010
$300m The amount AR will grow to be worth in 2014, from $20m (£13.6m) this year
Source: Juniper Research.
This article was first published on marketingmagazine.co.uk
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