Why Augmented Reality Deserves a New, Improved Name

Earlier this year, I was fortunate to be selected as a blogger on the topic of online marketing and social media for a new blogging initiative sponsored by the Marketing Executives Networking Group. The following post appeared on the MENG Blend site on August 5 and, after an acceptable amount of time, I've been given clearance to re-publish it here.

Years ago, when driving my young nieces home, I was struck by the number of kids they spotted playing on their block that I didn’t see (none in the street, fortunately). They had Special Kid Vision, I joked. We still drive around together but nowadays it’s the Cute Boys! on the streets they see that I don’t.

And that’s my starting point for thinking about the concept of reality that has layers of additional information that can be seen by those who are enabled—what’s called augmented reality.

There is a difference, of course. My nieces are naturally hyperaware of the kids and the cute boys, and what they see is in the physical world. The information in augmented reality applications as viewed on a desktop computer or mobile phone is added digitally. (This is a really cool, emergent technology…but “augmented reality”? It’s obvious that no marketer named it.)

Check out what an iPhone user can see using this augmented reality application from Stella Artois introduced last December.

We’re intrigued with what we’re learning about augmented reality not because we see our financial services clients embracing it in the next 12-18 months. We don’t. But we believe that more mainstream awareness and discussion will lead to the steps that precede plans and implementations: the imagining.

Watch the first two minutes of the video below to get an idea of how a tool called Hoppala! Augmentation can be used to add content that can then be linked to a physical location. (After the 2-minute mark, the video gets a tad more detailed than the average MENGer might want to know.) Using Hoppala! anyone, any brand can upload their logo or icon, a message, audio and video files that will then be accessed by users of the Layar augmented reality browser, available for iPhone and Androids.

We love the idea. It’s an easy way for brands to stake their claim on a map. And it hits many of our social media buttons. It democratizes augmented reality—as Hoppala! says, “non-technical creatives” can use it. The Layar browser is enriched by content uploaded by users as co-creators. Brands and individuals are equals in the conversation.

Ah, but you might ask, who could possibly be in this conversation? Well, National Geographic mobile and National Geographic Traveler (the most read traveler magazine in the world) for one, as you’ll hear below. The early adopters are in the process of adopting.

Augmented reality technology is cool. But, as we all know by now, implementation and adoption is rarely about technology. It’s about all the other work required to leverage the technology. How does augmented reality advance a business objective or relate to a social media or marketing strategy? Are appropriate digital assets available? Who will identify, organize and manage them? How will this be evaluated? Are there copyright issues? Privacy concerns?

Of course, it’s early but thinking about augmented reality now can get the wheels in motion. Spend enough time with augmented apps and demos and then look at what the communications we deliver today. Some of it looks rudimentary, first generation and begging for another dimension.

We read about an Adidas campaign in which an augmented reality application showed shoppers what they looked like in multiple T-shirts. By eliminating the hassle of trying clothes on, the app drove trial and ultimately more purchases. Hmm, what other products would benefit if the barrier to trial were lowered or eliminated?

goofy video about trying different Ray Ban sunglasses on leads us to think of other product fit questions that augmentation could help with. Our financial services clients have the challenge of marketing intangibles (investment products) and yet they too need to help financial advisors and self-directed investors make fit decisions. The decision aids available today—print and Web-based risk tolerance assessments, for example—are serviceable, but how could augmentation communicate more or better? We don’t know, but we think that’s ahead for the industry to figure out.