Hotels.com looks to make virtual vacations a little more "real" via the use of augmented reality technology to extend its television advertising campaign.
Beginning this week, the company has set up a microsite, www.virtualvacay.com, through which people can use their Web cameras and computer microphone to convert a special "glyph" on print and e-mail advertisements into scaled-down, 3D-animated versions of 10 U.S. cities including New York City, Denver, New Orleans and Las Vegas.
"We wanted to create an experience that is warranted in that kind of space, and we felt augmented reality and vacation was the right fit," Vic Walia, senior director of brand marketing for Hotels.com, tells Marketing Daily. "The augmented reality that has been done in the past -- the majority has been very gimmicky. We wanted to take it and apply some utility and functional reality to it."
The augmented reality program uses Hotels.com's claymation mascot character "Smart" (voiced by actor Ed Helms) to guide people through these cities. While touring, users can take part in various unique activities, like getting married in Vegas, riding a bull in Denver or attending Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
"We're an online travel site. People are experiencing our brand online, anyway," Walia says. "We're giving people a deeper experience. We're providing a useful tool here, which is a way to experience a city without actually going there and understanding what's happening there."
In addition to the virtual activities, the augmented reality also taps into Weather.com and Metromix.com to include real-time weather and activity updates for people planning their vacations to one of the 10 cities. Users can also take a picture of themselves in the virtual cities to share on social networking sites.
"It's not the entire city, but the major landmarks are prominent," Walia says. "It looks very similar to what you would expect the city to look like. We went painstakingly through them in detail."
Hotels.com will begin promoting the augmented reality technology through a print advertising campaign aimed at the technical market (e.g., Wired and Macworld) and travel markets (e.g., USA Today and American Way magazines) this week, Walia says. The company will also use PR and social media to inform consumers about the site as well. The company intends to spread the message -- and the AR glyph -- as the effort develops, Walia says.
"If consumers are engaged with this offering, this will have legs of its own," he says. "We'll develop more [domestic] cities and international cities."