By Ben Davis
I’m going to nail my colours to the mast. I think augmented reality (AR) technology is already big and can be massive.
The only thing is, I don’t think its best use is in augmenting reality, per se.
Where AR apps have a big future is the creation of a ‘physical world domain’. That’s a phrase used by Ambarish Mitra, CEO of Blippar. It essentially means using objects as the physical keys to information or rewards online.
Blippar signed up with Pepsi and Coca Cola recently and this feels like a game changer. With QR codes failing to be implemented properly in many cases (with bad placement, instructions, URLs, or landing pages), the company could be well-placed to own the discovery and reward space.
FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) feels like a proving ground for this technology (and all reports of the number of scans are good, so far), with immense numbers of units providing marketing real estate to rival any other ‘channel’.
So why might it be so powerful as a tag or key, but not as augmenter?
Why AR tech can unlock the physical
The experience is slick
QR never was. Blippar and others are. Look at the CTA on the side of this Pepsi product. It is simple but effective.
QR was often fouled up by the marketing department because of the slightly disjointed tech stack involved. The QR scanning apps aren’t standardised. No one app prevails. Most free apps launch advertising and aren’t invested in the serving of good or standardised content.
Add to that the generic ‘scan and share’ CTA that didn’t inform users how to download a QR scanner (not bundled with iOS).
Add to this, the fact that marketers create their own landing pages on their own websites for a lot of QR code destinations and it’s no surprise the experience is bad.
Of course, with AR, consumers still have to go through the app download process, but at least there’s instruction to do so here.
Global smartphone penetration is going great guns
What with manufacturers trying to focus on developing markets and some developing markets like China having a populace that ascribe considerable value to a good phone, smartphone penetration is high.
This simply means more and more can scan and won’t be daunted by the tech.
A branded app works
It’s natural that the tech should be standardised to increase adoption. Blippar signing such big partners with such wide distribution as Coca Cola and Pepsi is a coup because it may help the platform cement a place as the best known AR app.
This prominence is arguably needed for the user to be comfortable with repeat scanning.
A familiar concept for FMCG
The price point of FMCG is low enough to make unlockable content actually a value-add. In other sectors where AR might be used for branding, such as automotive for example, the tech can feel a little gimmicky.
But FMCG is absolutely the right sector for this technology.
The uses are myriad
One example Ambarish gave me: imagine adding educational or instructional content to sanitary towel packaging. It could launch video or audio content for many products with common FAQs.
Why ‘augmented reality’ should be retired
An experience is often not really a reward
What would you prefer, a can of Coca Cola that uncovers a new track from your favourite artists on Spotify or a can that, when your camera points at it, produces an animation on your phone that appears to overlay reality?
FMCG has history with the free gift, whether in packets of cereal, the Happy Meal, packets of crisps. Giving away something tangible ‘for free’ is effective.
Consumers simply instantly understand and value the premise. In this instance, streamed media created by known artists can be thought of as tangible.
The ‘see a cool animation’ call-to-action is still compelling, but perhaps not to all audiences unless a star is used creatively. Yes, augmented animations that convey information might be better, but the user might prefer this simply to be served to the phone and not dependent on pointing at a trigger the whole time.
There are still conceptual wrinkles to iron out here. ‘Ownership’ of a reward isn’t really possible unless the activator is concealed from the mere browser i.e. secret Spotify playlists are a good reward as Coca Cola doesn’t lose anything if they are accessed by none-buyers.
However, media with a social element is highly valued by consumers and something that they are accustomed to no longer owning, rather sharing. That’s why Coca-Cola’s Spotify playlists are locally curated by users, lending more authenticity and hopefully hitting the mark.
The experiences aren’t that great
I can go and watch the new Planet of the Apes in 3D or play Grand Theft Auto on the PS3. These experiences far-and-away trump the animations AR is capable of. In the world of Oculus VR, a pic on a phone is relatively underwhelming.
Glass and others probably won’t work
I know this is a tad presumptuous, but the latest Glass prototype gets very hot, is very slow when running apps like Blippar that require quite a bit of processing power and doesn’t quite feel right when used with gestures (Blippar has some nascent gaming content that uses gesture but again isn’t reliably responsive).
Anything using gestural interfaces is going to find it difficult as users discover how easy false positives are to input, along with the inaccuracy of the input (as opposed to a mouse or even voice).
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