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Is augmented reality a gimmick or a godsend?

Is augmented reality a gimmick or a godsend?

By Chad Cribbins, associate creative director, SapientNitro

As one of the most intriguing technologies to emerge from the smartphone revolution, augmented reality (AR) is tipped to take off in 2011 with its progression into the tablet market. The first AR business cards have launched, AR billboards have sprung up in Times Square and magazines are publishing fully fledged AR editions. So what is it that has suddenly made AR so popular?

A relatively new technology, AR super-imposes computer generated content over a live view of the world. Some developers and brand marketers have already written it off as nothing more than a gimmick, remaining unconvinced of its feasibility as a customer engagement tool.  AR campaigns that do nothing more than encourage people to use a webcam to project a 3D image onto a screen fail to provide any value to consumers apart from the novelty factor which will quickly fade. However, in recent years, AR has taken a significant step forward in availability and application, opening the door to plenty of innovative marketing and media experiments.

One of ARs main advantages is that it gives consumers the opportunity to virtually experience products or services in the comfort of their own home. This is particularly useful for expensive purchases like a television which involve a longer decision making process. For example, we developed an augmented reality campaign for Samsung, ‘Take the Samsung LED TV home’.  It  gave consumers the opportunity to ‘see’ how a new flat screen LED TV would look in their homes and make a purchasing decision while creating a new way for consumers to engage with the brand.

Simple yet effective examples of AR can be seen during various sporting events. The adverts that can be seen on top of rugby and cricket pitches give the impression that they have been painted directly onto the playing surface. When watching swimming live on TV, a moving line can be drawn across the pool to show how close the swimmers are to the world record time. AR can also remove the clutter of scoreboards from the TV screen, providing a purer viewing experience.

Other AR campaigns have employed the technology in a more light-hearted way to bring excitement and an additional dimension to integrated marketing campaigns. Projects like Lego’s augmented reality kiosks are interesting from a consumer point of view. The campaign offers a high level of interaction and engagement with Lego and definitely paves the way for greater things to come by showing parents and children how the finished Lego construction they are considering buying will look before they make the purchase. The Lego Digital Box can be held up to a screen in store and the finished product is displayed sitting on top of it. Lego is using AR to convert potential customers into paying customers.

Another great example of doing this successfully is the Share Happy ice cream vending machine, developed for Unilever by SapientNitro, which combines augmented reality, facial recognition and social media. An entertaining “attractor screen” uses gesture recognition to playfully immerse passersby into the world of augmented reality. Once drawn closer to the machine, the person’s face is overlayed with big moustaches, funny hats and bow ties which prompt the customer to smile.

The ‘smile-o-meter’ measures the size of their smile using facial recognition technology, a photo is taken and with permission uploaded onto Facebook. The consumer can then pick out their free ice cream by using the touch-screen interface on the vending machine. This creative use of AR enables Unilever to offer a revolutionary new way for consumers to buy ice cream, and a revolutionary brand experience.

When the novelty surrounding AR technology fades, it will be judged on the value it offers brands and how successful it is in terms of customer engagement. If developed correctly, AR can be used to enhance our everyday lives, presenting brands and marketers with unlimited potential to create game changing marketing campaigns.

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