AR: The New Reality of Advertising

Augmented Reality - sounds a little bit like a plot point in a B-grade Sci-Fi flick, which isn’t actually too far off how the term was coined.

AR has begun to catch up with our imagination and is maturing fast, with huge implications for how we interact with the world around us. Let’s define it.

AR is basically the superimposition of digital elements onto a person’s view of the real world to create a composite or ‘mixed’ reality. Where Virtual Reality (VR) replaces your physical surroundings with a simulated world, AR just adds to (or subtracts from) what’s already around you. It’s usually done through a smartphone camera or with wearable tech, such as eyewear. No headset that cuts you off from the real world.

Chances are you’ve already had an encounter with a piece of AR technology - Pokemon GO and Snapchat filters are the usual go-to examples. AR, however, has a lot more uses beyond catching Zubats in the park and face-swapping with your dog. But before we get to that, let’s backtrack for a moment and hurl the cat amongst the pigeons.

Digital advertising is dying.

It sucks to admit, but it just is. Gone are the days when sidebar ads were effective and pre-rolls tolerable. Ad-blockers exist. The internet is loud. People are sick and tired of all the saturation.

We’re past the point of one-to-many advertising cutting the mustard. Brands have long known that, in order to succeed in such a cluttered market, their advertising needs to be more personalized. Their message needs to stand out from the pack and emotionally engage with consumers. The million-dollar question is: how?

One answer is experiential advertising - offering consumers experiences that invite participation without being intrusive. We live in a time where audiences choose which ads they want to engage with, and before they do that, their trust has to be earned. To connect with their audiences, brands have to tailor experiences that offer them something memorable, to go beyond hawking their product by slapping a celebrity face or catchy jingle behind it. The bright side is: if they get it right, the consumer will do the rest of the work; remembering, sharing and adding to the campaign on behalf of the brand.

Here’s where AR comes back into the picture - it offers these experiences. And if executed right, these experiences can be both more immersive and cheaper than the alternatives which we’ve all learned to filter out. An AR experience allows consumers to interact with and play a part in a campaign, which in turn makes them more likely to engage with the brand than if they were advertised to passively. Interactivity is the key - it builds an emotional connection between brand and consumer.

So what does a successful AR campaign look like? Currently, there are two major types of AR: Marker-based and Location-based.

Marker-based AR requires a ‘marker’ or target image, such as a sticker or billboard, that consumers scan to bring digital content to life. Absolut Vodka recently used this technology on their labelling, which offers a 3D tour of where (and how) their product is made.

Location-based AR, on the other hand, doesn’t require a marker. It uses your smartphone’s GPS location and/or camera to map digital content onto the space around you. A great example of this is IKEA’s app that lets you try out their furniture in the world around you, digitally.

Keep in mind that AR technology is still pretty much limited to the latest smartphones and wearables in their early stages. There’s also the extra hurdle of having to download an app to use AR, so there needs to be particular incentive to get consumers involved.

But these problems won’t last long. Apple is about to release native AR development software in newer model phones (as are Google), and Microsoft’s HoloLens is shaping up to create some very promising possibilities for wearables. Smartphone AR will definitely be the first to boom, but seeing how quickly other wearable trends have taken off lately it’s likely that eyewear will be quick to follow.

AR is now just a question of when, not if. Studies reckon that the AR market is set to explode as soon as 2022, and is already well on its way in 2018, with advertising playing a sizeable role in that growth. This is partly due to the tech advancing, and partly because users are starting to find practical applications for it. As GrowthEnabler put it in a recent market report, “VR is the hare, AR is the tortoise and we all know who wins the race”. They also include that “commercial advertising will have the best use case adoption from an enterprise point-of-view [for AR]”. Time to get developing?

The near future holds some exciting possibilities for innovation - soon we’ll be trying out new haircuts and clothes, furnishing houses and finding the perfect wine to pair with dinner, all through simulations. And who knows: maybe here at TMU we’ll end up delivering AR-capable treatments as our standard?

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