Tuesday 27 October 2009

When reality bytes – a view into Augmented Reality

AR Augmented reality is one of the hottest topics around at the moment – it holds out much promise, but also the potential for much hype.

Unlike Virtual Reality – one of the last hot topics - Augmented Reality or AR uses the real world as a base to overlay additional detail and information. Also unlike the more niche Virtual Reality, AR has the prospect of engaging a much wider audience.

The challenge for AR however is to move from a interesting but currently niche technology to a useful, desired and mass marketing tool.

The challenge for brands is how to utilise this technology to engage and connect with consumers, providing additional ways to interact.

What’s great is that solving the second challenge will ultimately solve the first.

When I first started writing this blog my initial thoughts were to discuss how brands could use AR to create interesting interactions with consumers. However in researching it and finding some great pioneering examples this blog is about how brands are using AR and what we can learn.

Bringing it to life

GE have utilised AR to create a deeper emotional experience for their Plug Into the Smart Grid campaign. Consumers can print off an AR marker and then when viewed via their webcam, the sheet of paper comes to life showing a 3D representation of the smart grid.

The same technology could be used to view a a car brochure for example, showing the car in full 3D on top of a 2D brochure.

Better still, rather than bringing the car brochure to life, why not bring the car itself to life. Place the marker on the floor outside and you could see the car sitting virtually on your drive outside your house.

Want a new plasma TV, not sure how it will look on your wall – why not simply view it in place virtually.

The US postal service is using this technique to allow customers to see if the item they want to send will fit within a given box – showing the box actually overlaid on the item.

Lego are also using a similar approach, allowing consumers to pickup a box of unassembled Lego and view it through AR to see the fully assembled model sitting on top of the box in full 3D, allowing you to view it at all angles.

Many of these applications however fit the “pre-purchase validation” model. They allow you to virtually try before you buy, seeing the product in a real world scenario.

This is great for helping with more complex purchases or those that require a little extra reassurance, but what about everyday purchases. How could AR work for example with FMCG brands?

Many brands are looking to build longevity and increased interaction into the purchase process, using on-pack codes for example to create and foster loyalty. Whether it’s BudBucks from Budweiser, Brit Trips from Walkers or Coke Zone from Coca-Cola.

However the issue with all of these solutions is ongoing usage – stemming in part from the process required for code entry. Using AR and existing solutions could provide a more engaging experience.

Imagine viewing your can of drink through your phone’s camera and whilst it logs your purchase (through a marker such as a shotcode) it simultaneously shows your current balance and a selection of available rewards, all overlaid in real time on the drink that is sitting in front of you - in fact the can itself could evolve into the different rewards as you look at it.

In essence the combination of your phone and a can of drink becomes your loyalty card, your loyalty statement and your rewards catalogue.

Metaio, a pioneer in the area of augmented reality technology provides a view into how AR can be overlaid on a consumer product – showing how a packet of cereal can be brought to life.

With younger and younger kids having mobile phones, you can see how this could replace the “purchase with gift” sales promotion.

I’m really excited by the prospects of this technology and how it can be utilised not just for fun short term sales promotions but to actually provide value in the longer term - supporting consumers through the buying process and ongoing reward and recognition.

This is a fast moving technology and as phones get quicker and more feature rich it’s only going to grow.

PS. Can’t think of a marketing application – but AR allowing you see through walls – now that’s an interesting development. ;o)