Microsoft's HoloLens and augmented reality explained for marketers

Watch Campaign's technology editor Shona Ghosh and AKQA's Andy Hood try out Microsoft's HoloLens, an augmented reality headset.

Following the success of Pokémon Go, augmented reality has received another boost after Apple chief executive Tim Cook predicted the technology would be "huge". 

While the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive virtual reality headsets have dominated headlines, Microsoft has been working on something different with its augmented reality device. 

What are the key takeaways for brands?

There's an important difference between AR and VR

Brands experimenting with virtual reality can expect to lock in a consumer's attention. They escape to an entirely different world of the brand's making, and can't see or hear anything outside of that world.

The ability to keep a consumer's attention, in this increasingly multitask world, is valuable, but it's also expensive.

To give a consumer a full virtual reality experience, brands have to build an entire virtual world - and that needs budget and planning.

Augmented reality serves a different function, most notably that it keeps the user in the real world. A person wearing the HoloLens can still see the real world through a screen, but with individual virtual objects laid on top. With the background environment taken care of, brands can instead focus on these individual objects. In the end, that might make augmented reality cheaper and more relevant for brands than virtual reality.

Apple's interested in AR

The HoloLens trialled by Campaign is a developer version, and not intended for consumer use. An AR headset is still some way off becoming mainstream,but the fact that major technology brands are investing in the platform means it's something brands ought to keep on top of. Brands' slowness to understand the importance of mobile is a relevant lesson here.

In an earnings call yesterday (26 July), Apple chief Tim Cook confirmed for the first time that the brand was investing in AR technology, describing the Pokémon Go phenomenon as "incredible". Given Apple's history of taking niche innovations mainstream (such as tablets),  it might be worth paying attention.

Brands are using AR successfully

While the technology has been around for more than a decade, brands are seeing some success with augmented reality marketing, thanks to Pokémon Go.

Part of this, of course, is the cachet of allying your brand to the current fad, as McDonald's is finding with its sponsorship of Pokémon Go. 

But experimental cases, such as the Huge cafe in Atlanta and the French furniture retailer But, are finding that augmented reality combined with location data are powerful drivers of footfall. 

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