Wouldn’t it be amazing if our phones could see the world in the same way we do,” commented Matt Mills, former Head of Innovation and Global Sales at augmented reality platform Aurasma, during a 2012 TED Talk. Lucky for us, with today’s advancements in mobile technology, the what-ifs of connecting our physical and digital spaces have, in many ways, become reality.
AR has taken brand-consumer engagement to a new level through offering startlingly fresh creative. But as smartphone penetration has pased 50% in most major markets and AR-enabled devices like Google Glass hit the market, the augmented reality campaign needs to graduate from novelty status to actually being a part of the marketing mix. The keys to this appear to be scalability and relevant campaign function.
Scaling via Platforms
“It’s such a tangible, physical technology; it happens in your hand,” Jess Butcher, Co-founder and CMO of UK-based augmented reality app-maker and agency Blippar. “ You can never fail to have people’s faces light up – that opening of interest is pretty easy.”
As augmented reality tech becomes more mainstream and its novelty gradually withers away, brands must look beyond the technology’s innovative cache, and towards how augmented reality can become a lucrative content investment for its brand.
Many brands engage in augmented reality campaigns because “they want to tick an innovation box, rather than fully embrace it as a long-term medium,” said Butcher.
Blippar offers brands augmented reality capabilities on popular app platform. With over 3 million users and 500 AR campaigns to date, Blippar gives brands an established audience for their augmented reality efforts.
“We [offer] a single lens, that can be harnessed with a single cumulative audience,” Butcher said.” With a general apathy towards branded apps, Blippar helps brands keep their AR content both fresh and seen.
Eye-popping and noticeable interactive ad campaigns are one thing, but scalability and durability are another. “The big challenge is the leap of faith,” Butcher said. “The [gap] between ‘I want to try it’ [and] ‘I want to invest it.’
For Annie Weinberger, General Manager for Aurasma, there’s a promising future awaiting augmented reality. Weinberger compares the nascent technology’s adolescence to that of the URL. In the early and mid-90s, many companies created websites for the mere novelty of having one, according to Weinberger. But, that novelty paved the way for a better, more efficient and useful Web; and, in Weinberger’s eyes, AR is posed to follow the same trajectory.
“I think [Augmented Reality] is going to be the new way we interact with the world around it,” Weinberger said.
Powered by robust algorithms developed by HP’s Autonomy, Aurasma is able to offer an easy-to-use augmented-reality building platform to advertisers, allowing brands and companies to upload content in a WYSIWYG editor called ‘Aurasma Studio” and quickly create and execute AR campaigns.
This self-service approach to augmented reality may be why Aurasma can claim more than 20,000 clients, and notable consumer and media brands from Nabisco and Gap to Universal and DreamWorks, as well as more than six million app downloads to date.
With a growing market full of augmented reality SDKs and simple platforms, AR technology can be a relatively inexpensive and easy-to-implement component of an ad campaign. And, companies like Blippar and Aurasma, which offer expanding AR measurement tools, including conversion tracking, may be a sign of augmented reality’s eventual viability.
The Right Metrics
“There are essentially two kinds of AR marketing out there: the type that aims to be long-term and platform-supported, and the kind that intends to be a one-off, an earned-media generator, a campaign,” argues Greenhill+Partners founder and CEO Duke Greenhill on Mashable.
For Frank Lipari, Creative Strategist at Fetch, a full-service mobile-marketing and ad agency, augmented reality is more about brand awareness and guerilla marketing than it is about conversions and click-throughs.
Today, many brands simply add an AR component to existing campaigns simply to have a toe in the water, argues Lipari. And, while a foray into augmented reality may not bring about a direct growth in a company’s margins, it’s added value to brand campaigns undoubtedly exists.
So, how can brands find currency in augmented reality beyond its mere allure? A key element, according to Butcher, is to avoid conventional advertising formats. Consumers aren’t looking to be further advertised to through AR tech. Rather, consumers seek out augmented reality campaigns to be entertained and rewarded with experiential content.
“Reward[ing] them for ‘Blipping’, that’s where the best brands and the true success comes from,” Butcher said. To leverage augmented reality successfully, brands have to make a content investment that complements traditional marketing, rather than merely imitating it.
“A lot of advertisers, especially when they work in print, have a hard time tying [together] the perspective-ness of the ads because there’s no connection between the physical and digital world,” Weinberger said. “We offer that link; they’re able to see directly how that printed ad has affected online sales.”
And that cross-dimensional link may be quite valuable. In fact, when Aurasma worked with GQ to add augmented reality to every ad (and some content) of the magazine’s September 2012 issue, advertisers saw an average click-through rate of .14, according to Weinberger.
With augmented reality, advertisers and brands can, for the first time, see how consumers interact with physical offline creative, according to Blippar’s Butcher. Blippar’s platform offers up heat-mapping of creative, geolocating, real-time uniques and other tracking tools, which, in Butcher’s eyes, help bridge the gap between the physical and digital ad spaces. Aurasma’s platform offers similar tracking capabilities, leveraging analytics technologies from its parent company HP, to track views, click-throughs and other interactions.
From the Goal Up
Creative that lends itself to an engaging and useful AR experience can be more challenging than many brands imagine. Those that can offer some sort of consumer utility, i.e., IKEA and its augmented reality catalogue, may be ahead of the pack.
In December 2012, Fetch created a sort of augmented-reality pop-up shop for eBay in London’s Covent Garden, allowing the major online retailer to create a temporary, AR brick-and-mortar in the middle of one of the UK capital’s most bustling shopping districts.
But, for most brands, augmented reality isn’t really about a campaign’s durability.
Fetch, which implemented augmented reality campaigns for eBay and Toyota, takes the media-driving approach to AR. Augmented reality is about measuring innovation and brand awareness, rather than scalability, said Guillaume Lelait, VP, North America at Fetch.
The debate over augmented reality’s place in the arsenal of marketing tools for advertisers and brands roars on. Ultimately, brands should know what they want to get out of a potential AR campaign before jumping on the bandwagon.
“Is the goal to create awareness and to generate innovative cache, or is the goal continued engagement and sales conversions?” Greenhill asks. “In either case, AR is a viable tactic, but a smart marketer must build the AR experience from the goal up.”