Bring your mobile campaign to life, virtually: the insiders guide to augmented reality

If you want to inject real wow factor into your mobile campaigns, you want augmented reality (AR). The customer points a camera phone at a barcode image on a billboard or magazine, and they see a 3D image – of your new product, perhaps – appear on the screen, while the real world remains in the background.
The Hyperfactory has developed AR campaigns for Nike in Asia and Fanta in Europe. Howard Hunt spills the beans on the technology that’s got mobile marketers buzzing.
For mobiThinking’s musings on AR, see: Even better than the real thing.

Q1. What is Augmented Reality and where did it come from?
Augmented Reality (AR) is the process of superimposing digitally rendered images onto our real-world surroundings, giving the sense of an illusion or ‘virtual’ reality. The technology has been around for many years, and has been used in everything from CAD programs for aircraft assembly and architecture, to simulation, navigation, even military and medical procedures. It is only recently, however, that marketers have spotted how AR can be used to engage their mobile audience.

Q2. How does AR work? And what does it involve?
To take part, the consumer needs to download the AR application from the brand’s mobile site, perhaps triggered by an SMS containing the URL.
When the phone’s video camera is pointed at a marker – often a black and white barcode image in print or outdoor advertising – the AR application will first recognise it, analyse it, then create a virtual image based upon the data contained in the marker. The consumer sees a 3D object on the screen, superimposed over the real view seen through the camera lens, which can be viewed from any angle.
AR can also be used on online campaigns (the consumer holds a print advert in front of a webcam), with less development effort than with mobile. But there is so much more scope with mobile, as it can be used anywhere: at a coffee shop, standing next to a billboard, at a sports game, on public transport etc. This makes the extra effort with AR mobile campaigns so worthwhile for brand and consumer.

Q3. How can AR be used by mobile marketers or content providers?
AR can be applied to almost any concept – as long as you have a strong creative angle and the support of an integrated media plan, then the sky is the limit. To date, AR has been a hit with brands that want to create high-impact campaigns to generate awareness of new services or product launches. We’ve seen AR used to create 3D models of cars and shoes from markers in adverts; interactive games; and display messages hidden in SMS.

Q4. What do consumers need to do to take part?
Typically consumers need to have a high-end video-capable phone or smart phone. The technology requires a fair amount of processing power, so the best experience is with high-end Symbian (Nokia etc) or Windows mobile devices. As the application is usually downloaded over 3G or GPRS, it helps to have a flat-rate data plan. AR would also work with the Apple iPhone, but as the software development kit (SDK) is not officially released, applications can not make it onto the App Store just yet.

Q5. What sort of consumers does AR appeal to? Is it more popular with certain demographics or in certain geographies?
There have been too few AR campaigns across the world to say for sure which geographies or demographics respond best. However it is fair to assume it will attract a younger tech-savvy audience (people that go for the latest high-spec phones).
Success, as always, depends on the marketing team’s ability to make the campaign appealing. Consumers are more willing to engage if they perceive a sense of ‘value’. The campaign will be more successful if it is tied seamlessly across media and technology platforms.

Q6. What do you need to do to get consumers involved? Do you have to ‘promote’ the campaign?
Promotion is essential: assuming ‘build it and they will come’ is a recipe for disaster. In common with all mobile campaigns, the call to action must be: 1) clear, 2) simple, 3) well-distributed across channels, and 4) communicate real value.
The simplest way to get the technology into people’s hands is to prompt them to send an SMS. The reply message should contain a URL, hyperlinking to the mobile download site with instructions and full promotion details.

Q7. How successful is this with consumers?
Consumers love to be challenged and they love to take control. AR campaigns are about interaction and empowerment. The most common first reaction from consumers, I believe, is “That’s so cool”, closely followed by “How does it do that?”
These campaigns generate a huge viral or word-of-mouth effect, which is great for creating awareness and engagement. One person – typically an influencer – may tell or demonstrate to as many as 10 friends or family members.

Q8. Is this more than just a novelty?
There’s no doubt the first movers in AR have done it for novelty effect. Many brands saw an opportunity to create a buzz with something new. However this technology is set to grow exponentially both as today’s high-end phones become commonplace and as the mobile business develops new interactive elements to AR campaigns. This will keep creative agencies, brands and consumers busy for the foreseeable future.

Q9. Is it expensive to run an AR campaign?
It’s all relative. The cost of innovation and development makes AR above-average for mobile campaign budgets; however, it’s no more expensive than developing a well-executed integrated mobile Website, or an iPhone game/application. But compared to the average budget for traditional media channels, it’s a drop in the ocean.

Q10. What brands have used AR in their campaigns?

  • Nike ‘T90’ football boot launch in Hong Kong, Q3 2008, McCann Erickson Hong Kong and The Hyperfactory. See the mobile site and case study
  • Fanta ‘Play’ tennis game in Europe, Q1 2009, Ogilvy UK and The Hyperfactory. See the mobile site and Website
  • The Ford Ka launch in Europe, Q1 2009, Wunderman. See the mobile site and video
  • WWF China, Q2 2009, BBH China and Qdero. See the video
  • Q11. Where do you see AR going in the future? Is it going to be big?
    I believe there will be a series of revolutions for this technology. Short term, expect it to become increasingly interactive, incorporating more live-information feeds and interactive animations.
    There will be live integration with the mobile Web, exploiting AR’s ability to map to the real world in terms of location. This will revolutionize classrooms with new learning applications, just as much as it will transform the gaming world (as it already doing via PC-based applications).
    AR will open up a truly new, virtual environment around us. Just look at these examples:

  • Sekai Camera from Japan
  • Wikitude Google Android Travel Guide
  • Gizmondo AR Game
  • Q12. What’s the biggest myth about AR?
    People think that it is actually artificial intelligence (AI) and is capable of giving birth to alien babies. Everything is possible… but that might take a few years.

    Further reading:

  • Even better than the real thing: how augmented reality brings the mobile Web to life for brands and consumers
  • What makes teens tick – what you need to know about the cell-phone-obsessed generation
  • Five-minute interview: Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman, Ogilvy Group
  • The insider’s guide to mobile marketing in Spain
  • The Top Ten mobiThinkers 2009
  • mobiThinking’s page of essential links
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