Commentary

Augmented Reality: A New View Of The World

Although the technology called "augmented reality" (AR) is still in its infancy, its potential is enormous, for it can help marketers change the way consumers see the world -- literally.

AR can digitally enhance the real world, enriching what consumers see every day with more meaningful, relevant, and timely content. Powered by the camera and sensors in a smartphone or tablet, AR places digital information such as copy, images, and video directly on top of what consumers are looking at in real-time, in the real world.

A handful of companies have started to leverage AR to directly affect consumer shopping behaviors and drive sales. Here are a few of my favorite campaigns that have been shaped by AR.

IKEA

Ikea took the risk out of buying furniture with their AR app and catalogue, which debuted last fall. Consumers were able to point their smartphone or tablet camera at the physical catalog and then see an image of selected Ikea items inserted into any room in their home. Ikea launched the app with the intent to increase sales and cut down on returns.

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The AR app, SnapShop, uses a similar platform that enables consumers to test-drive furniture from multiple retailers. Users capture an image of the room that they wish to decorate and then use the app to superimpose furnishings from retailers like IKEA, Pier 1 Imports, Crate & Barrel, or Horchow. The furniture can even be purchased directly within the app, providing a level of ease and speed not previously available to shoppers.

Seventeen Magazine

Last September's issue of Seventeen magazine enabled consumers to scan more than 220 pages of content using their mobile device and then instantly purchase items that they liked from those pages. They were also able to access discounts and videos, and create "mood boards" featuring their favorite clothes and accessories.

Volvo

Volvo demonstrated its commitment to digital marketing by aggressively using YouTube to promote an AR-enhanced ad, which allowed consumers to test drive Volvo's new sports sedan without having to visit a showroom. On March 12, the Augmented Reality game let consumers drive the sedan on an obstacle-ridden test track super-imposed onto their real surroundings.

Kellogg's

Kellogg's brought cereal boxes to life last summer with a Man of Steel AR app. Millions of Kellogg's packages were super-powered using AR, giving consumers the virtual reality of super-strength, X-ray and heat vision, and even the ability to fly. The app was downloaded more than one million times and more than 166,000 videos were created.

The Future of AR

AR still has challenges to overcome. Privacy and security issues need to be considered when using AR. In addition, GPS is only accurate to within 30 feet and doesn't work well indoors. People also may not want to rely on the small screens of their cellphones for superimposing detailed visual information.

For that reason, wearable devices like AR-compatible contact lenses and glasses currently are being developed. Critics of AR also worry that the proliferation of AR -- and especially AR apps for children --  could hamper interactions with other people and the real world.

Despite these concerns, the future of Augmented Reality remains bright, with a growing number of advertisers and agencies developing new and innovative ways that leverage this technology to deliver more engaging and customized content.

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