Close-Up: Advertisers test augmented reality's durability

Augmented reality has cultivated a flurry of interest from advertisers in the past year, but can it last? Matt Williams reports.

So you've been creating a new integrated campaign. You've made the TV ad, designed some print work, created a website, sorted out a DM pack, launched a Facebook group, set up a Twitter feed and produced a mobile app.

What next? Well, fashion dictates that now you need to think about creating an augmented-reality campaign as well.

Augmented reality isn't a completely new concept. Some would argue that the notion has been around for years, ever since elements were used in sci-fi films such as The Terminator and Star Wars.

The idea effectively incorporates the combination of real world and computer-generated data, allowing consumers to "interact" more effectively with digital graphics. Over the past 12 months, there's been an explosion in advertisers using the concept in an effort to better interact with consumers.

New campaigns have enabled users to hold a Mini Cooper in the palm of their hands, control a BMW with just an A4 piece of paper and fulfil every man's dream by lifting the FA Cup. In the main, the work has been well received, but the key question to ask is whether the campaigns have been embraced by the public because they're relevant, or simply because it's a new and exciting technology.

Of course, the technology is impressive now, but the novelty factor will soon wear off and what will you be left with? A number of uninspiring campaigns, that's what.

Take TBWA's augmented-reality campaign for E.ON, which allowed users to appear to lift the FA Cup by holding up a piece of paper in front of their webcam.

The campaign was clever and exciting, but wouldn't necessarily encourage users to keep returning to the site and build up a long-running relationship with the brand.

"It was a bit of fun for people and allowed people to do something a little bit special," Al Young, a creative director at TBWA, says. "But it only worked because it was a new and exciting concept, making people more keen to interact with the campaign."

Young also raises a second potential problem here. As good as the recent augmented-reality campaigns have been, in order to interact with them, consumers have had to go to a lot of effort. At the very least, a coded piece of paper has to be printed out, or a piece of software installed on to a computer.

It is only when this changes (and industry experts assure us that it will) that augmented reality will become more desirable.

"Exposing augmented reality to many different areas will help it explode as a medium," Myles Peyton, the UK director of the augmented-reality agency Total Immersion, says.

"Soon you'll see augmented-reality campaigns on bus stops, in newspapers, on the TV and on your mobile phone. But that still doesn't mean that brands should use the concept just because they can. It's how the campaigns appeal to the consumer that is important."

Dave Birss, the digital creative head at OgilvyOne, argues that augmented-reality campaigns must serve a purpose in enhancing a consumer's life. To illustrate this, he cites a piece of work created by his agency recently for IBM that allowed users to download an application which superimposed content and data associated with various points of interest around the Wimbledon tennis championship grounds into a video stream on a mobile phone.

The campaign wasn't only an impressive example of the technology, but could genuinely enhance the consumer's Wimbledon experience - exactly what IBM, a tournament sponsor, was aiming to do.

Similarly, Poke's augmented- reality campaign for Oasis worked because the campaign was truly aligned with the brand ideals.

Mother's "Rubberduckzilla" campaign brought with it a sense of fun, and so a series of games, in which a player's head would be transformed via a webcam into a duck head, were well received.

"The campaign allowed people to get even more involved with the brand," Simon Waterfall, a co-founder of Poke, says. "It was fun and interactive, which is what works for a client like Oasis."

Indeed, if advertisers try to get involved in augmented-reality campaigns without fully understanding the concept, then there will only be problems, and Peyton worries that he's already seen a number of cases where clients are getting involved "just for the sake of it, because everyone else is doing so".

It's fair to say that augmented reality is currently at a tipping point. So far it has been a gimmick, with only the technologically savvy becoming familiar with its offering.

However, as more and more people become comfortable with the idea, as seems likely when a smartphone is found in every pocket, and provided agencies produce brand-relevant and informative campaigns, then don't be surprised if this concept ends up being so much more than just a fad.


Dare - BMW Z4

Asked to complement WCRS's TV activity, Dare wanted to give users the opportunity to physically interact with the new BMW Z4, without needing to set foot in a showroom.

The agency used augmented reality to allow users to hold up a piece of paper to the webcam, which could give the illusion that there was a three-dimensional car in front of the viewer.

Users could then take a look around the car and, mimicking the TV ad, could use the vehicle to "paint" their desk through their webcam, before uploading the results to YouTube.

The application was made available through BMW's website and was promoted using direct marketing, press activity, a Facebook fan page and a YouTube channel.

OgilvyOne - IBM Wimbledon

In order to promote IBM's association with Wimbledon, OgilvyOne created an augmented-reality application that could provide visitors with real-time information about the All England Lawn Tennis Club.

Users could point their phone at just about anything in the grounds, and the application would give them information about it, while giving a live update about what was happening there.

This meant users could find out everything from the location of various courts and real-time scores to the length of the queue for the toilets. Users could also see through the images captured on their screen exactly where the nearest exits were, with the application notifying users of up-to-date travel information.

"By exploring new technologies such as augmented reality, we were able to bring information to life by making it more useful and accessible," Alan Flack, the client executive for IBM, says.