Augmented Reality is one of those cool technologies that still seeks a compelling purpose in the marketing mix. In one form or another it has been around for six or seven years, whether it was the early experiments with enhanced Lego boxes or superimposed buy buttons on magazine pages. They are all imaginative and make for good press releases, but I have not seen evidence of AR catching on in any routinized way in people’s media or retail habits. In fact, it is the routine that makes AR bothersome. Magazine readers, for instance, are in a certain mode, I think, when they are thumbing through their monthlies. Falling from thumbing mode, pulling out a smartphone, and getting the calibration right with the page may have a fun payoff now and then, but it is just too cumbersome a behavior to become a media ritual.
Which is not to say AR doesn’t have a place in media and marketing. Office Depot Senior Director of Digital Marketing Emery Skolfield tells me that their back-to-school AR program with One Direction last summer netted “150,000 users tapping into that functionality in our app.” He adds: “It tripled our active usage of the Office Depot app over that time period.” The campaign used the Aurasma platform to trigger video assets when the app was aimed at select products.
This summer they are tweaking the program with yet another teen band sensation, R5. Retail locations have an enormous “empty stage” background that triggers the band members walking in and surrounding your teen fans in the scene. They also used AR to activate more media from a band photo awarded to purchases over $75.
“We have learned the purpose of an app is beyond a commercial tool,” he says. “It is something people can use to help them research or find a store. And there are lots of opportunities at retail to use it as a tool to increase engagement and interactivity with customers at the retail level.
In some ways this makes everything old new again, especially when it comes to getting the kids to drag their parents into a specific venue. Long before the burger franchises took hold, some of us can still remember being kids in the Howard Johnson era of casual dining. The big orange roof didn’t suggest a restaurant so much as a playhouse, and the company offered few experiential lures as simple as placemats with puzzles and coloring.
Now that we have gotten past facile discussions of showrooming, it is clear that mobile devices open up opportunities for retailers to enhance the in-store experience and even lace it with some entertainment value. The beauty of mobile is that it doesn’t require much in the way of reorganizing or disrupting the store itself. The device can bring the virtual fun. While AR continues to be mainly an interesting tchotchke creator, it has that capacity to enhance and even transform the mundane into fleeting moments of interest.