Augmented reality, or AR, is still perceived by some as a future technology, straight out of science-fiction movies. In truth, AR has been in use for several years, and it is a rapidly growing technology for marketing. As the name implies, AR takes a picture of a real scene, allows the user to add or change elements and then displays the integrated (or augmented) image.
Companies cannot afford to ignore mobile technology when planning a marketing strategy. As AR mobile apps become more flexible, functional and economical, more and more companies are finding innovative ways to use the technology as a marketing tool. Some of them have admittedly shown little creativity in their campaigns, but others have found novel ways to use AR mobile apps. Here are three that got it right.
Stella Artois is a brand of Belgian beer that has been making inroads in the U.S. market. However, the brand is not one that is a staple at every establishment that sells beer. Thanks to the Stella Artois Le Bar Guide, fans of the beer can use their mobile phones to find the nearest location that sells the brand. Users download an app that can use their phone's GPS to determine the user's current location, then overlay locations and display arrows directing their steps.
Visitor's Center of Clearwater/St. Petersburg
The tourism industry in Florida has had problems attracting visitors from younger age groups, such as the generation dubbed "millennials," or those born between 1980 and 2000. The Visitor's Center of Clearwater/St. Petersburg, or the VSPC, found that millennials tend to be highly tech-savvy, that they spend a great deal of time using mobile devices and that they preferred engaging, immersive experiences. The VSPC decided to target this group by using this knowledge to create an AR experience. Users could upload a picture of themselves, which the software would superimpose on a photograph of a local attraction, such as an area beach or museum. Users could also take a guided AR tour to enhance the experience and explore further. These features allowed users to truly "picture" themselves in a setting and (hopefully) fuel the desire to visit in person.
The Airwalk brand was born in the 1980s as a shoe and clothing line for skateboarders. The brand sponsored a number of events and professional skateboarders during the 1980s and 1990s. The company has been through a number of changes over the years, but during its evolution, it has never lost sight of its target customers. Proof of this came in 2010, when Airwalk used AR to sell 600 pairs of limited-edition shoes. Mobile phone users in Venice Beach, California, and Washington Square Park in New York City could snap a photo of the sneaker on-screen and purchase a pair of the shoes.
AR is also being used by a number of merchandisers in more generic ways. Virtual dressing rooms let users upload their image to "try on" everything from eyeglasses to coats -- all from home, work or anywhere they can establish a connection via their mobile devices. AR can make redecorating easier -- users take a photo of their room with their mobile phone, and then they can place furniture and accessories in the room to see how it will look. Users considering a new haircut or color change can use AR to visualize the new style on their own face before they make a difficult-to-fix decision.
The Benefits of AR
As all marketing professionals know, images sell. An effective image can convey nuances and details that are difficult -- if not impossible -- to describe in words. A four-color, full-page ad in a popular magazine with a high circulation will often cost in excess of $100,000; special editions can run four to five times that amount. An AR campaign can be tailored to match the budget, starting at approximately $5,000. This makes it far more economical than print ads.
Furthermore, AR addresses another challenge that marketers face: allowing potential customers to imagine themselves in the product or situation presented. Traditionally, for example, clothing is almost always shown on a live model, and marketers hope that those viewing the ad can imagine themselves wearing the item. AR lets them actually "see" how they would look.
As consumers become increasingly attuned to technology, the use of AR is likely to expand dramatically. This fact is one that marketers catering to a younger, more affluent customer base especially need to consider AR as a viable option for their marketing campaigns.