Posted on November 27, 2013 in Archive

Augmented reality technology is here to stay


Most likely, if you’ve been in a major city in the last five years and viewed a billboard or read a magazine, you’ve encountered an augmented reality campaign. Thanks to the emergence of smartphones the popularity in AR has exploded across the advertising and media industries – but how often are these campaigns successful or effective on consumers?

Basically, augmented reality uses technology to enhance one’s perception of reality, with sound, video, graphics, imagery or GPS data. Usually this is accomplished by using a smartphone or tablet’s camera to access a QR code, which then launches applications relating to media or a high-tech advertising campaign. Though it started off slowly, Juniper Research claims that the AR market is set to go from 60 million users globally in 2013, to 200 million users five years from now.

Metro, a daily newspaper, recently launched an interactive newspaper in order to connect readers with materials like coupons and online videos. By hovering their device over the newspaper while using the Blippar mobile application, they gain access to online stores, interactive content and other experiences not usually available from a daily newspaper. This is a great way to bring together print and digital in a way that works, and isn’t necessarily forced – you don’t have to take part in the AR parts of the newspaper, but I’m sure you’ll have more fun if you do.

There have been some good and some tragic attempts over the last few years that are worth mentioning here. One good, but somewhat ludicrous, campaign came from the Canadian clothing chain Penningtons, who used AR to have virtual firemen visit customers in the dressing room mirror. The reactions of the startled customers were turned into a viral YouTube video that created attention for the Penningtons “Styled to Surprise” campaign that was also giving out spending sprees to readers. The original premise is just plain weird for a clothing store, but the ensuing social media use really helped to create impact for the whole campaign.

Another decent, though admittedly more high-end, attempt at AR advertising came when Disney went all out and displayed their efforts in Time Square, New York. Considering that Disney now has Pixar in their back pocket, it’s no surprise that this turned out so well. Check out the video below:



Not all AR is for sales or print media, though. The UK’s Site Gallery is a great project that has successfully experimented with augmented reality. Using markers placed inside, around the gallery and in the surrounding city, triggers viewed through a smartphone camera presented virtual rendering of sculptures. According to the gallery, the aim of the project is to explore questions about the effects of virtual elements on physical art. AR was also used in 2011 by the Moscow Ministry of Internal Affairs to create a mobile application and website to create awareness and remind drivers and pedestrians of road safety in Russian streets.

Some of the worst kinds of augmented reality are to be found in advertising and marketing. I came across one a few years ago in Brisbane in the form of an ad campaign for a new ice cream – using a camera installed in the ad stand, passersby were encouraged to “eat the ice cream” on the screen by licking and biting air around the virtual ice cream presented on screen. Photos of the participants were then plastered all over the screen for everyone to enjoy. It was amusing for the tipsy people barhopping around the city for the evening, but the novelty was short-lived for everyone else. A testament to it’s effectiveness is that to this day I cannot for the life of me remember the ice cream being advertised, only the AR camera set up next to a traffic light where people have to stop. The technology made more of an impression on me than the actual ad campaign.

This article on Future Conscience discusses the possible negative repercussions of augmented reality technologies, the most concerning being privacy concerns. Facial recognition combined with location recognition and geolocation services could pose a massive threat to those worried about invasions of privacy or stalkers. We already reveal too much on Facebook, and this might push social media over into the ‘I know so much about you without ever meeting you it’s creepy’ territory.

So overall, there are good, bad and ugly aspects of augmented reality that will only magnify in the years to come. Metro Newspaper’s attempt at integrating offerings of the digital world with their print newspaper is a great example of the synthesis possible between these two mediums. Hopefully major newspapers will catch onto this too, and make reading the newspaper a trans-media experience. (Coincidentally, I took advantage of this post to make the custom QR code at the top of this page – it links back to the Liquid State blogs. Read some more stuff!)