The Rise of Augmented Reality

We have all probably heard of the term augmented reality. But do we actually know what it is and how it works? More significantly, do we understand its implications for marketing? In this article we will explore both these questions in more detail.

What is augmented reality?
Augmented reality is the act of integrating digital data into an everyday real-time experience. Augmented Reality – or AR – overlays virtual information into your current surroundings. This virtual information can include graphics, sounds, and touch.

This enables consumers to experience an environment where virtual information can be used as a tool to provide assistance in all kinds of everyday activities.

What devices do you need to use AR?
AR differs from virtual reality in that you do not need a special device such as a video headset to use it. AR can be displayed on a wide variety of displays, including screens, monitors, tablets and of course smartphones. New AR smartphone apps are being introduced every day, and we will look at some of these later.

AR can also be used via glasses – such as Google Glass – and other head-up displays (HUD). But it is anticipated that as reality technologies continue to advance, these kind of AR devices could gradually be replaced by smaller items such as contact lenses and virtual retinal displays.

How does augmented reality work?
If this is still sounding a bit too much like science fiction, it may be helpful to have a quick look at how AR works. In most AR displays, a user will see both natural light from their surrounding environment and synthetic light from the AR display. The AR digital images and virtual objects are then layered on top of the user’s view of their real environment to create a realistic combined effect.

AR devices are controlled either by touch or by voice commands. Touch pads – for example on a computer or smartphone – work by responding to pressure changes caused by a user tapping or swiping a specific spot. Voice control works by a tiny microphone on the device picking up your voice and a microprocessor interpreting the commands.

Many dedicated AR devices have a preprogrammed list of commands. For example, Google Glass has a range of commands starting with “OK, Glass,”. This alerts the glasses to wait for a command such as “OK, Glass, take a picture” , which sends a command to the microprocessor to take a photo of whatever is currently in your range of vision.

How is augmented reality being used in marketing?
The potential of AR in marketing is only just beginning to be realised. As recently as five years ago, we knew nothing about AR. But it is fast becoming the digital marketing strategy that businesses need to start using. It creates the kind of effective and interactive experience that consumers are looking for.

AR is so popular at the moment that, according to Forbes, its growth is expected to reach $117.4 billion by 2022.

The main strength of AR is to enable consumers to experience the product in real time. Let’s look at two examples of that.

For those of us who hate trying on clothes, AR is the future! The software house Lemon & Orange creates virtual fitting rooms that enable consumers to try on many products in a simple and time-efficient manner. These fitting rooms work by projecting virtual images of clothes and accessories onto a live recorded image of the user. This creates the illusion of a mirror in which users can see themselves wearing the selected items.

One example of a client who used this is Timberland, which you can see in the video It was used at the launch of their 2014 collection at The Mokotow Gallery in 2014, along with a related iPad app. They also ran a Facebook campaign for users to share some of these images.

Many other retailers are also using AR marketing to influence consumers’ buying decisions. For example, IKEA has long relied on shoppers visiting its flagship stores but is now using AR to enable them to preview how furniture will look in their homes. The smartphone app Ikea Place is one of the first apps to use Apple’s AR technology. It enables customers to view 3D renderings of over 2,000 products. If they like the product they can reserve it in the app then complete the purchase online.

Other uses of AR in marketing

  • But it is not just retailers that are jumping on the AR bandwagon. Here are just a few other ways it is being used – and the list is growing all the time!
  • Architects and interior designers use AR so that consumers can virtually walk through floorplans or rooms to decide if they like the concept created for them.
  • Hotels use AR to enable potential guests to tour properties and get a 360 view of guest rooms, meeting facilities, bars and restaurants and leisure areas.
  • Food and drink manufacturers. For example Lipton Iced Tea’s Magnificent Matcha Tea campaign used AR to take the user inside a cup for an animated experience about the life of a tea bag.
  • Social media platforms such as Snapchat, Instagram and Facebook use AR marketing – and features such as photo filtering – to keep users engaged.

AR is here to stay, and as marketers we need to get on board or we will miss the bus! Consumers will want and expect more interactive experiences and businesses need to understand this.

Not only this, but if brands go one step further and develop AR apps, this can turn into the equivalent of their own social media platform. This is an unrivalled opportunity to steer their marketing into uncharted territory with a captive audience – and without being beholden to any third-party influences.

AR provides the opportunity to combine entertainment and practicality. The businesses that are willing to invest in it and pioneer it will give themselves a tremendous competitive advantage and a bright future.