The expansion of the “real world” using virtual computer-generated imagery is by no means a new idea – this once was the stuff of science fiction. Now, with developments in imaging, location-based applications and mobile data transfer, augmented reality has become a hot topic among marketers as brands struggle to cope with changing media and marketing rules. Augmented reality combines the real and the virtual to create a 3D interactive environment that appears in real-time. In the next year, there are predictions of great strides in augmented reality – Juniper Research has predicted $2 million in spending on AR in 2020, and growing to $714 million by 2020.
There are several different tracks of augmented reality currently being used or in development, but the retailer’s main concerns should be the use of AR in annotation and visualization.
Annotation: Annotate objects and environments with information: these could be public annotations whereby information was drawn from public databases, or private whereby private notes could be attached to objects and environments. For example, a mobile could display information about the products on the shelves as the user walks through a store.
Visualization: Visualization can be used to preview objects in the real world or to gain x-ray vision into real objects using a database containing information about the structure of the object. For example, a user could preview on their computer how different glasses would look on their face (this has been done, Ray-ban).
Likely the most authentic augmented reality experience would come from the use of a see-through HMD, much like the stereotypical virtual reality goggles but instead these are transparent in that the real world can still be seen with superimposed virtual objects and environments. This is not a very feasible format for marketers – instead the best way of building an augmented reality marketing piece would be to use a monitor-based configuration to be viewed in the browser or, better yet, go mobile. Mobile phones are increasingly intuitive and the GPS and imaging capabilities of modern phones is particularly conducive to augmented reality applications.
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Augmented reality marketing campaigns have been employed lately by a number of big brands and while many of these approaches are no more than gimmicks, there are many viable uses for augmented reality that should make retailers sit up and pay attention. A few notable examples of augmented reality include the Esquire AR edition which included extra content when certain pages were captured by one’s webcam, Adidas shoes has introduced a new line of shoes that will double as game controllers, as well as more functional uses such as that by US Postal Service that allows users to compare the size of the object they want to send with boxes available.
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The challenge here is weeding out the gimmicky uses of this technology to find pertinent, practical uses that could genuinely save consumers time and energy, and coincidentally shortening the sales cycle. Augmented reality allows the user to see the real world with with virtual objects superimposed upon it, which enhances the user’s perception of and interaction with the real world. Virtual objects can be made to display information that cannot directly be detected by the senses and this information can be made to help with real world tasks and aiding in the pre-shopping experience.
There is no doubt that augmented reality has several applicable uses that will only grow as the technology develops, but do you see any lasting value in using augmented reality as a marketing tactic or is it a gimmick that will quickly fade away?