Commentary

AR Raises The Stakes On Brand Responsibility

Augmented reality creates the opportunity for brands to be more intrusive than ever because it’s more a filter for living than a medium for accessing content. As wearers literally experience life through the lens of their smartphones, glasses or headsets, brands are invited into a more personal, subjective, sensitive relationship than marketers could have imagined a generation ago.

How we honor that relationship can make or break our brands. We need to summon a humility that doesn’t come naturally to marketers. We’re audacious when we think we’re going to tell somebody who we are. We’re humble when we understand who they are, and let them define what we mean to them.

We need to shift from talking at people to enabling their experiences, or risk alienating them in an instant. This can prove to be a giant step forward for a marketing world that’s endured consumer tune out for years. We can learn essential things about interaction in a world where people define brands.

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To do it requires thinking of augmented reality as a tool to help people get more information, form a perspective, and access and do more of what they need and want. It’s not advertising real estate that we own, the way we do a TV screen when the ad’s playing; and wearers aren’t making the conventional audience tradeoff of entertainment in exchange for solicitation.

This is their reality. It’s their story. We’re invited to enhance it, not entitled to distort it. If we seize on user data to bombard the wearer with messaging — or worse, use it to alter their perception — at best, AR turns into a noisy, distracting experience. At worst, the wearer’s benchmark understanding of reality is unsettled.

For example, if an Audi conquesting AR experience were to beckon you to the nearest dealership every time it detected a Mercedes driving by, it’s interfering with your reality. But if an ad gives you access to all the information regarding the engine, suspension, interior, sound system, and color choices whenever you look at an Audi, that’s enabling your interest. 

AR will force us into a greater appreciation of the people we court as consumers. Already, winning marketers embrace the idea that people determine who brands are for them. And winning marketers develop a vocabulary for their own transparency in the products they sell, in the services that they offer, in the way they conduct their business. 

AR takes this to another level in that it’s literally about transparency. Brands can achieve levels of engagement that were impossible in advertising as we’ve known it. But the payoff requires an unprecedented detachment — respecting, empowering and complimenting a person’s innate sense of reality. That’s both a higher responsibility and a dramatic shift for marketers.

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