A new augmented reality site from Hotels.com aims to drive bookings by offering 3D virtual views of 10 U.S. cities, supported by a print media buy.
Visitors to the site are greeted by a 3D model of "Smart," a claymation spokes-character that first appeared last year in television advertising for Hotels.com. To experience the augmented reality experience, visitors use a sheet of paper with a marker - called a "glyph" - on it. They can hold the glyph up to their Webcams to display scenes from the cities and take part in local activities, from riding a mechanical bull in Denver to seeing fireworks explode in San Francisco.
"The goal was to distill each city into a couple of elements and allow visitors to zoom down to a micro-level of the city and interact with it," said Jason Zada, director of Tool, which produced the site in cooperation with Hotels.com agency Y&R/Chicago.
The site, conceived last year, also includes live feeds from weather.com and metromix.com that offer real time information about the weather and ongoing events in the ten cities.
"Augmented reality is new for us, but it's part of an integrated campaign that's taking TV into the digital world with the familiar character who represents Hotels.com," said Vic Walia, Hotel.com's senior director of brand marketing.
While Hotels.com TV ads do not mention VirtualVacay.com, a series of print ads include the panel or glyph that is needed for users to unlock the AR content. Last Tuesday, an ad ran at the bottom of the front page of USA Today, and future ads will appear in consumer and tech publications including American Way, the American Airlines magazine, and Macworld.
Ken Erke, chief creative officer at Y&R/Chicago, said print is the best medium to support AR executions. "We're trying to remove the barriers to the experience," he said. "If a minor barrier is having to print the glyph why not put it in front of people to inspire them to take action?"
The campaign of which the AR site is a part started last year with a series of three TV ads starring Smart. Hotels.com made a large broadcast and cable buy on network news and late night shows, cable sports and travel channels. Radio and outdoor ads were also included.
The glyph can also be downloaded into smart phones to play the AR content. The smart phone application is mentioned in the print ads, but no mobile advertising has been used yet, Erke said. Likewise, Hotels.com did not buy any online advertising to promote the AR site.
Since the site just launched, there are no visitor numbers available. While responses from individual print ads can't be measured, Hotels.com plans to record site visits, time spent, number of cities viewed, number of e-cards sent, and the click-throughs those cards generate. It will also monitor social activity on Facebook and Twitter. The site will stay up as long as it's popular, Walia said.
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