Volkswagen Canada is using a large-scale augmented reality campaign to introduce the latest incarnation of its Beetle to Canada. The campaign represents one of the more ambitious implementations of augmented reality for an advertising campaign in that country - or any other - to date.
The campaign consists of several gigantic billboards in Toronto's Dundas Square (think Time Square but smaller) plus posters on transit shelters throughout Toronto and Vancouver. Once passersby download a free app, they can hold their iPhone or iPad up to the billboard to watch the cars come to life.
The animations in Dundas Square show the car leaping from one billboard to the next. In the transit shelters, the posters drop away to reveal the car racing along a tunnel, then crashing through the shelter itself.
The idea is to emphasize the performance aspect of the new Beetle, said Nicole Milette, VW account director at Red Urban, the digital shop in Toronto that created the augmented reality aspect of the campaign.
VW wanted to "reposition it from the last version" of the car, she said, which was more feminine and design-focused. "They wanted to hearken it back to the original Beetle, to bring out innovation which is the hallmark and personality of the brand."
“Previous Beetles have been kind of cute and friendly," said Bruce Rosen, director of marketing and communications for Volkswagen Canada, in a press release, "but this one has a lot more attitude, so we thought the advertising better live up to that."
There is no television component to the campaign, though VW did use its social media outlets to alert people to the billboards. For example, a YouTube video shows bits of the augmented reality animation and directs people to the site to download the app.
For now, the app is only available for Apple products, and Milette was unable to say just how many times it's been downloaded so far. She did note that agency observers had seen multiple passersby looking at the billboards through a single device, suggesting that the download stats would ultimately represent only a fraction of those who'd actually seen the augmented reality components.
The out-of-home campaign launched on September 26 and will run through October 30. A digital campaign will follow, running through November 26. Palm + Havas, a Montreal agency, was brought in for aspects of the campaign appearing in French.
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Douglas Quenqua is a journalist based in Brooklyn, NY who writes about culture and technology. His work has appeared in The New York Times, Wired, The New York Observer, and Fortune.
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