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Augmented Reality. How to move beyond the hype

Augmented Reality. How to move beyond the hype

By Stephen Beasley, head of digital strategy at marketing communications agency, KLP.

For those in the creative industries augmented reality took off in 2009. That was the year when brands got on board and consumers urged to engage with AR apps and opportunities.

AR mixes real and virtual worlds together in real time, by integrating, or “augmenting” 3D objects into live video.

Much of the initial activity has been around computer-based applications, such as Stella Artois’ digital Christmas card. Other initiatives have included a limited edition Red Bull pack in the States that offers customers access to exclusive video content starring US Olympic Gold skier Lindsey Vonn.

Last year the energy drink brand also gave readers of “The Red Bulletin” a taste of AR, prompting users to place the cover of the magazine and nine other pages in front of a web cam to instantly see things come to life.

Meanwhile Sony made much of the potential of AR in the gaming space with launches such as Invisimals for the PSP, and titles for PlayStation.

Yet, perhaps inevitably, the buzz is fading for AR in 2010. The question is now: how to move beyond the hype? Why and how will AR move squarely into the mainstream?

I believe that the future for AR is about it becoming more useful and useable rather than a gimmick or PR-able development. There are still some interesting developments with traditional uses, with more and more complexity being introduced into games for example, but for me the most interesting area of development is around creating real world social networks in a real world environment through mobile devices such as smart phones.

Much of today’s innovation lies in the mobile arena. Already, the iPhone has allowed developers to explore the potential of mobile uses and other handset manufacturers are getting on board.

Handset manufacturers such as Nokia and LG are developing devices with augmented reality to improve the user experience on mobile phones. For Nokia, the thinking is that AR will enhance current Nokia offerings like Ovi Maps and other location specific applications. LG has announced plans to launch the LG LU2300 (which will also run the Android operating system) within months.

Brands will use AR around smart phones to view anything in the sales environment. Developers will make use of GPS and other mobile technology, to overlay data, attach specific content to objects, buildings, products and so on.
It enables users an extension of having a tube map or a bus route or a product review, for instance. They can do it at the location, wherever and when they want it.

AR should become more useful and useable: where brands have been criticised in the past, or their AR efforts have failed, has been when they have created for creation’s sake without either core idea or relevance behind it. It’s like when brands dive on to the ‘next big thing’ – be it Twitter, Facebook or Second Life for no reason other than ‘being there’.

Yet with all technology as it evolves and simulates in to every day consumer lifestyle people will use it differently. Brands must be aware and beware: we live in social times and surrounded by social communities, one in which consumers expect to be co-collaborators and creators.

So it is vital that the industry does not simply ‘push’ technology to consumers in the way it wants and expects them to use. The adoption of technology it is always a learning curve. What’s behind success is if people adopt and start to use it for different things: it’s about whether it is relevant or useful.

That can be scary because it makes it difficult for a supposed expert to say what will work. Ultimately it is about learning from how people are using it – getting feedback and so on.

The more successful brands are taking that on board, rather than acting as a small group or cabal dictating what they think is right or relevant.
Marketers should adopt a pilot phase before rolling out AR launches, supporting initial users and learning from how, when and why they are connecting: it’s all about collaboration with consumers.

Brands can instigate something but it doesn’t end there: they must embrace the intelligence side of thing rather than rolling out technology for modernity’s sake and letting it rot.

To summarise: AR is moving from information symmetry where content and technology components are scarce and consumers ill-informed. We are moving away from ‘monologues’ uttered by a marketing command control. It shares similarities with where the web has been going in terms of becoming more democratic.

As AR gets more exposed and consumers are better informed, as we get over the PR-ability factor, we should hope to reach a place where it’s a case of connecting and collaborating with our consumers.

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