Clear view of Augmented Reality benefits needed
There's no shortage of technological fads in the world of media and marketing. And there's no shortage of brands and businesses eager to try and woo audiences with the next big thing. But it's often unclear whether these early adopters are tech-savvy trailblazers or chumps who've been duped into testing something that will deliver PR over profits.
Augmented reality (AR to acronym fans) is one of the hottest topics for tech-obsessed marketeers. This is where images and information are overlaid onto the real world in real time, often using the camera on your smartphone. According to the hype-machine, AR will change how we interact with the world, how we work and how we discover and digest information. Take the headline of a recent Advertising Age article. "Could AR be the unlikely saviour of print?" it asked. The article suggests that declines in newspaper circulation could be reversed by people reading print stories through the cameras of their phones. Why? Because this will allow them to view another layer of digital content, like maps videos and 3D charts. As if struggling print publishers don't have enough on their plates, now some bright spark thinks they need to augment their ink-based output with a load of digital gewgaws.
The poster boy of AR firms is Magic Leap, which wants to be the 'Apple of AR'. It's estimated to be worth $6bn to $8bn, and this is even before it has released details of any product, let alone sold anything. Magic Leap has however, produced some beautiful and intriguing videos of its technology in action, inked a deal with Disney and cannily become one of the most talked about technology companies outside of Silicon Valley.
But unlike many digital fads, there are also plenty of solid examples of AR in action. On the publishing side, the Washington Post has launched a series of stories with AR elements, which will allow its audience to explore architectural wonders. The first instalment features Herzog and de Meuron's stunning Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg. How does the AR work? Read the story on the Post's iOS app, and point your smartphone at the ceiling, and you'll see the Elbphilharmonie's unique acoustic panels appear above you, complete with animations that show how they disperse sound waves to create near-perfect acoustics. There's a commercial upside too. The AR component is sponsored by Audi.
If AR is to flourish, advertising and sponsorship need to be part of the picture. Snap, the parent of Snapchat has been active in monetising AR through its sponsored lenses. The most recent campaign saw Snapchat users turn their heads into tacos with a lens sponsored by Taco Bell. Sure it's silly stuff. But it's a powerful brand marketing tool on a platform that has mass youth appeal. Whether it's cost effective is another question. The filter reportedly racked up about 224 million views, and advertisers pay between $300,000 to $700,000 for this sort of campaign. Did Taco sales increase? Who knows! Undeterred, Snap is launching an augmented reality ad unit that lets marketers add graphics to the front-facing camera. Advertisers like Warner Brothers, Netflix and Dunkin' Donuts are already queueing up to use the new ads.
And other brands are at it too. McDonalds has launched an augmented reality game in Sweden called BeatQuiz. The game, which is part of the McDonald's iOS and Android apps, automatically generates multiple-choice questions based on the music playing in restaurants. Consumers have reportedly responded positively. But, again, whether they buy more Big Macs as a result is yet to be seen.
But not all AR activity is brand new. In 2013 Ikea launched an augmented reality app that lets users see what any item of Ikea furniture will look like in their home. Point your camera at that awkward nook, and you can see what some Swedish-designed, flat-pack units will look like there. This sort of application seems far more likely to be a commercial success as it's providing a valuable step on the customer's path to purchase.
For now AR is probably set to remain the plaything of those with the deepest pockets, as the barriers to entry are high. But this may change, especially as the likes of Facebook try to monetise AR activity at scale. If this happens, the challenge will be to use the technology to create something of value for audiences and customers. Publishers and content creators need to resist the temptation to create content and campaigns that buy into to some technology zeitgeist, but don't result in customers buying their products.
Sunday Indo Business