Helen Foley, Marketing Manager, Elanders UK, looks at how companies have been bringing printed matter to life with augmented reality.
Augmented reality is nothing new – it has been around, in one form or another, since early research into the subject began at MIT all the way back in the 1960s. However, it’s only in recent years that technological advances have made it possible for augmented reality to potentially become part of our everyday lives.
In a nutshell, augmented reality refers to layers of digital information being placed over or within an image. One key use of this has been to add another dimension to multi-platform marketing, often allowing for the use of one medium as a springboard to another that can offer more information.
Brands including American Apparel, Ikea, Thomas Cook and Lego have all experimented with AR offerings. Beyond its novelty factor, does AR have any value for consumers and brands? Although AR is often associated with fun and frivolity, it has a lot of practical uses too. Augmented reality is particularly useful in situations where a brand might not be able to get all of the information they need into a very small space. Take a short flyer, for instance. AR can be used to create a link between that flyer and a video on the product or service. That may feel like something we’re quite far away from, especially after the poor adoption of QR codes, but as AR becomes more widespread this is the sort of thing that could become commonplace.
It doesn’t just have to be leaflets. AR can also be used with brochures, books, billboards, banners and more. Marvel Comics are even experimenting with augmented reality, using small AR tags to bring the action on the pages of their comic books to life. However, the 1.5 star rating of Marvel’s AR app on the App Store suggests that there are a few kinks keeping it from living up to people’s expectations.
In cases like the above, printing companies and their clients need to take AR into account during the printing process. Most AR apps currently use either location, with GPRS or similar generating relevant data based on place, or markers to trigger AR. In our case, the latter will probably be most relevant. Fortunately, unlike cumbersome QR tags, AR tags can be made to be quite subtle and unobtrusive.
One particularly exciting space for AR is the travel industry. From destination planning to the trip itself, augmented reality can enhance every aspect of taking a holiday. Consider the following: A potential customer is trying to figure out where to go on holiday. A billboard of a beautiful white sand beach catches their eye. They hold up their smartphone and the beach comes to life, with tourists laughing and having fun. A beachgoer gives them a nod, inviting the person holding the smartphone to join them.
A single click takes them to a page with information on this holiday package where they can make their booking. Once they’ve arrived, they need to find their way around. By using an app like Metro AR Pro, they can use their smartphone to find the nearest metro stop just by turning from left to right. When it’s time to grab a bite to eat, they can use AR to find out more about nearby restaurants, see pictures of the food and view comments left by other diners.
The best part of all this is, just by monitoring app usage, trip providers can get an idea of the exposure they’re getting (based on the number of AR activations), see how effective their marketing is (based on clickthroughs) and even use data to build a profile of their customers.
Travel companies don’t get to have all the fun. Companies in other industries are using AR to bring new depth to things like outdoor advertising – check out the recent Pepsi Max campaign that brought bus shelters to life for an example of this. However, it’s worth noting that this campaign worked so well because there hadn’t been anything like it before. You have to wonder if it would have been so popular if more people were familiar with AR and what it can do.
Back in the world of print, catalogues linked to inventory allow customers to make sure products are in stock and buy them straight from their smartphone or tablet. Meanwhile, this data can help brands to figure out which of their products are most popular. Previously, figuring out that information in relation to printed media hasn’t really been possible.
Speaking of catalogues, IKEA is experimenting with augmented reality in a big way. Their catalogue allows you to use augmented reality to preview an item of furniture in your living room, bedroom or anywhere else you might want to put it. Useful if you don’t have a tape measure handy! But, more than this, such a use of AR genuinely enhances the buying process. People often put off purchasing items because ‘they can’t visualise’ the end result. This application solves that problem very effectively.
It’s also an early example of augmented reality being used as a Wikipedia for 3D objects. Want to use your phone, tablet or a headset to get a view of a plant, guitar or even a car from every feasible angle? It may be possible sooner than you think.
AR also has some exciting applications when it comes to education. Imagine taking a trip to some Roman ruins and strapping on a headset like the Microsoft HoloLens that allows you to superimpose images of how it would have looked hundreds of years ago. Similarly, ‘smart windscreens’ in cars could be used to display directions, information about traffic and so on.
In some respects a future where augmented reality is the norm is a playground for brands and marketers, but AR is elsewhere being used to block intrusive ads and logos altogether. BrandKiller touts itself as AdBlock for real life, and can be used to ‘debrand’ surroundings in order to (in their words) ‘opt out of corporate influence’. BrandKiller was only an entry in a University hackathon, so further development may not be commercially viable or even possible on the scale that its creators envision, but it’s still worth bearing in mind that anti-consumerism represents a possible application of augmented reality.
For the most part, AR remains a novelty. Google Glass, an early attempt at an AR headset designed for everyday use, was shelved in January 2015. Google insists that Glass was nothing more than an open beta to gauge interest in AR, but others have cited underwhelming sales figures as the real reason for its withdrawal.
When it’s done well, augmented reality can be interesting and genuinely useful. But if it’s rushed or done on the cheap it can look glitchy or tacky. Whether it turns out to be ‘the next big thing’ or just a passing fad, AR definitely has some exciting possibilities. It’s never too early to start thinking about how you might use it for your business or brand, but you may want to take baby steps until you see how widely augmented reality is adopted in the future.