What is Augmented Reality?
Augmented Reality (or AR) is a technology that allows a camera on a webcam or mobile phone to overlay a picture or piece of other digital content (twitter feed, video etc.) onto the camera display.
So, for example, it’s possible with Augmented Reality to point your mobile phone camera (or a camera on any internet-connected device) at a shop and for the AR application to overlay a menu or price list or special offer onto the display.
We’ve a couple of cool video examples towards the bottom of the article:
So how does it work?
There are a variety of ways. The first AR applications seemed to appear mainly for the iPhone. Activating the app would start the camera which the user would point at their environment and the camera would stream in digital content. For example, point the camera to the East and it would display any Twitter feeds from users tweeting in that direction and show their distance away from you.
Some of these early AR apps require a digital compass in the mobile phone to work so don’t expect them on your Blackberry any time soon (it doesn’t have one)!
How is this relevant for print and print marketing?
It’s increasingly common for marketers to print codes or icons or pictures which readers can scan with their webcam or mobile phone camera to trigger an AR data feed. A first step along this path is the QR code (see Measuring ROI on your Print Marketing article) which, while not actually an augmented reality application, uses a similar technology to scan the code then take customers to relevant webpages. QR codes are scanned by a QR code reader on the smart phone which then opens the browser and displays the relevant page (or other similar action).
With AR, the AR icon or image can be scanned by the camera on your smart phone and the feed is then integrated into the camera picture to display the content, pulling it through into the camera picture rather than diverting the viewer somewhere else.
On a laptop, the reader may be asked to visit a website page where the page will ask for permission to use the webcam. The camera view will then be displayed and the reader holds up the page to the camera, which then triggers the data feed. This data can be more or less anything that can be digitally created.
Movie Trailers, 3D models that dance around and interact with the scene, simple games, enhanced photographs that move and speak – they can all enhance the printed material, add to the reader’s experience and drive targeted and measurable direct traffic.
Will it catch on?
It is doing. There are 4 issues here:
- Is the technology cheap enough for marketers to have a go without haemorrhaging money from the marketing budget? In basic forms, Yes.
- Are marketers eager to drive this sort of cross-media technology? Sure are. Cross-channel marketing is all the rage and print is a key component in this.
- Will consumers want it? Some will lap it up quickly but much is dependent on useful content being available. Once it is, we can probably expect a gradual uptake of enhanced content.
- Does it encourage customers to interact with the brand more? Yep. Interact to what end is still being worked out by marketers across the globe to a broad degree – but brand interaction becomes brand endorsement which can, it’s hoped, result in positive interaction with the company balance sheet!
We’re increasingly living in a cross-media age where new and old technologies cross-fertilise to enhance and broaden the impact of each other. It’s very early days but with marketers under pressure to keep on the cutting-edge of technological developments, with a low-cost entry point and with consumers increasingly happy to use and interact with brands through the latest online and mobile technology, AR in print may be about to come of age.