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Augmented Reality: A Primer

  |  July 2, 2012   |  Comments

Five+ ways that marketers can use augmented reality to engage with audiences.

Augmented reality (AR) presents a significant opportunity for marketers to engage with their audiences in a new and meaningful way, taking the idea of an interactive and immersive brand experience to another level.

For those looking for a quick understanding of what it is and options for employing this technology, I put together a quick primer on AR. As per usual, I've leveraged the research and insights of others to help simplify this for all of you in two pages or less.

Defining Augmented Reality

According to Wikipedia, augmented reality (AR) "is a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data."

OK, so that sounds sort of cryptic. To simplify, AR makes things that usually appear flat on a computer or mobile screen appear as if they do in the real-world - in full three-dimensional glory - and enables users to interact with these objects as if they were really there. Sometimes AR gets confused with virtual reality (VR), and for good reason. Erick Schonfeld from TechCrunch puts it quite nicely:

"If virtual reality is a complete immersion in a digital world, augmented reality (AR) is more a digital overlay onto the real world. It enhances the real world with digital data, and therefore it is much more interesting than a completely fabricated environment."

Think the computer-generated universe of SecondLife (VR) versus an online fitting room where users with a web cam can actually "try on" clothes virtually (AR). The Microsoft Xbox with Kinect game console ("your body is the controller") is a well-known example that uses AR technology (motion-sensing technology to be precise).

According to Ronald Azuma, who is referenced on Wikipedia, three elements define augmented reality:

  1. Combination of the real and virtual
  2. Interactive in real time
  3. Having the scenes registered in 3D

Types of Augmented Reality

According to Michele Perras, VP strategy of mobile at Klick Health, there are five main types of AR:

1. Geolocated/positioning. Calculating a user's position or location via Wi-Fi, GPS, compass, or other technology and delivering context-specific services or content.

Example: The Layar digital platform that enables developers to create location and camera-based AR experiences.

2. Marker. Using a smartphone's camera to read a visual code that initiates a screen-based experience, usually an interactive visual or media overlay on the physical world.

Example: GE Ecomagination, which allows people to use a camera to capture a visual marker that delivers a custom experience.

3. Markerless. Using a smartphone camera and object recognition software to identify custom visual patterns or graphics to create an experience similar to that of marker AR.

Example: Google Goggles, which is image and object recognition software that creates a context-driven experience, interaction, or transaction.

Example: Word Lens, which is text-recognition software that provides real-time, real-world translation.

4. Motion capture. A system that uses a camera and/or infrared sensors to capture a user's movement and deliver an appropriate, interactive experience overlay on a screen.

Example: Fitnect, a 3D virtual fitting room fashion app with augmented reality, cloth physics, and motion capture.

5. Contactless. Using near-field communications (or other technology) to create an experience through device proximity or contact like tapping a smartphone to an enabled object.

Example: Foursquare, NFC-enabled check-in.

Benefits of Augmented Reality for Marketers

While AR is beginning to become "mainstream," it's still not a standard tool in the marketing toolkit. That presents an amazing opportunity for brands to become the first in their category to leverage this technology. If the competitive advantage alone isn't enough to compel you to use AR, there are many benefits for marketers, including these cited by Perras:

  • Demonstrate and increase brand equity through unique, innovative content experiences that complement or improve existing channels.
  • Provide relevant, personalized information by integrating context and location into the experience.
  • Create more engaging learning experiences through high-touch, active response interactivity.
  • Close the CRM loop within the experience through data collection and downstream activity.

Some of you may be thinking, "So how much is this going to cost me?" Yes, AR applications can be expensive to design and implement. But a smartly developed AR application that provides customer value and engenders brand affinity has the potential to be, well, priceless.


Julie Batten

Julie is a member of the senior strategy team at Klick Health, focused on online media and digital. Julie initially established and led the media practice at Klick for several years, relinquishing leadership to expand beyond media into additional digital tactics. She brings a wealth of experience in search marketing, digital media, and all facets of digital strategy to bear, helping Klick's clients develop innovative digital solutions. As her role has evolved, so have her contributions to ClickZ, which she has been writing for since 2007.

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