Even better than the real thing: how augmented reality will bring the mobile Web to life for brands, publishers and consumers

Mobile marketers tend to fall into two camps: entertainment and utility. The revolutionary technology known as augmented reality (AR) should get both camps equally excited.

What is it? AR superimposes computer-generated image or text, while the real world remains in the background. Read all about it in this handy brief from The Hyperfactory. Nike and Ford have used AR to launch new products, where consumers hunt for markers – black and white barcode-type images around town – then point their phone’s camera at them and watch a 3D image appear. Fanta has created a free AR tennis game to play with your friends.

AR campaigns tick a lot of boxes: appealing, innovative, interactive, cool, fun, engaging, viral, plus getting the important message across. This campaign from WWF China illustrates this particularly well. Consumers point their mobile phone at any scene to see a virtual bear coping with the environment – the message to young people: help protect wildlife habitat.

So that’s the entertainment crowd happy, now for the utilitarian… If AR in mobile entertainment is nascent, then on the utility side it’s still in nappies. But there are excellent examples of how AR can literally bring all that terribly useful information on the mobile Web to life. Using image recognition or mapping (or location-based services), AR can tap the mobile Web for more information on what’s around you:

  • Help tourists find out more about the place of interest in front of them – see Wikitude demo part one and part two (for Android phones).
  • Find a great deal on a show or restaurant – see Lastminute demo (for Android phones).
  • Tell you more about the movie advertised on a billboard (and where it’s on locally) – see Nokia Point and Find.
  • It’s immediately clear from these examples how AR is a perfect fit for a travel guide or a local business looking for a new way to entice in passing trade for example. Now consider how useful it would be for a visitor to an exhibition, sports event, car showroom or even shopping centre (especially if it is delivered over WIFI or Bluetooth). The IBM Seer application for Wimbledon 2009 (again for Android) is a good indication of how this works in practice – see this Wimbledon demo.

    And what a great tool for consumer empowerment… there is an abundance of mobile sites that help consumers, such as Wines.mobi to check the fair price for a bottle of wine, Safetoy.mobi to check a toy hasn’t been recalled or Drugs.mobi to find out more about pharmaceuticals. How handy if all you had to do was point your camera phone at the product to search for the latest data. AR has the potential to make the mobile Web even easier, quicker, useful and accessible.

    Which brings us to branded utility: what marketer wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to sponsor the commentary at a relevant trade show, sports event or guide visitors around town? If there’s any doubt, check out the publicity IBM (and AR, for that matter) has received in the mainstream press with the Wimbledon app. What’s branded utility? Read THIS INTERVIEW with Ogilvy VP Rory Sutherland to find out more.

    What would a branding consultant call augmented reality? The name may make perfect sense, but it isn’t exactly a jazzy moniker for such a transformational technology. Comment below or email editor (at) mobiThinking.com.

    Further reading:

  • Bring your mobile campaign to life, virtually: the insider’s guide to augmented reality
  • What makes teens tick – what you need to know about the cell-phone-obsessed generation
  • Five-minute interview: Rory Sutherland, vice-chairman, Ogilvy Group
  • Do traditional creative agencies get mobile? Does it matter?
  • The Insider’s Guide to Mobile Marketing in Spain
  • The Top Ten mobiThinkers 2009
  • mobiThinking’s page of essential links
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