AKQA Aims to Make Augmented Reality Deliver for USPS

As is often the case with new technologies, it may be a while before advertisers find practical applications en masse for augmented reality — or “AR.” But digital agency AKQA may have found an early one for the U.S. Postal Service.

Consumers can now go to PriorityMail.com and use the AR technology to determine what size box they need to ship an item. All they need to do is print a logo available on the site, hold it up to a Web cam and then compare the size of the item to be shipped with the holographic image of the box that appears on the screen. They can then have the appropriate box shipped to them.

The Web site is part of a wide-ranging campaign from USPS promoting its new flat-rate shipping service (tag line: A Simpler Way to Ship). Campbell Ewald designed the creative for the TV and print campaign, with Draft FCB chipping in on the retail material.

The Web site “helps reiterate the fact that the flat rate box is the same rate no matter where it goes,” Garry Pessia, AKQA’s senior account director for USPS, said. All the offline creative directs consumers to the site, which is also featured prominently on USPS.gov.

The AR technology allows users to manipulate holographic images that appear on their computer screen when a predetermined image is held in front of their Web cam. The technology is Flash-based, said Pessia, and should work with the large majority of computers in people’s homes.

AKQA, which launched the site on May 19, is not the first to make use of the AR technology. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month about an AR promotion from Papa John’s that allows customers to play with a hologram of a sports car when they hold a specially designed pizza box in front of their computer, and GE is using it to let people see 3D images of the company’s “Smart Grid.”

But AKQA claims to be the first using it for a practical application. “Some people are using it a lot of times just for pure wow effect, just like to render and play with a car, but we thought it was pretty good to actually have a useful effect,” Pessia said.

The technology does take some getting used to, however. The size of the box holograms grow or shrink depending on how closely to the screen one holds the paper with the logo printed on it. Hence holding the paper far away and holding the item to be shipped close to the Web cam makes it appear as though even the tiniest item is too big for even the largest box. Pessia said it’s important to hold the item as close as possible to the paper — instructions that don’t appear on the site — but also added, “It’s not meant to be the exact authority on size. It’s just to give you a general idea.”

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