There was a time in 2016 when it was impossible to escape Pokémon GO. It was everywhere, from the constant coverage in the press to the crowds of people on street corners trying to catch invisible Jigglypuffs with imaginary Poké Balls. If you have no idea what any of that means, try this: over 1 billion users have downloaded Pokémon GO, and it continues to be one the most popular uses of augmented reality to date.
Augmented reality, sometimes called “mixed reality,” is the less immersive but vastly more portable cousin of virtual reality that blends the world we see in front of us with layers of digital content. It has been proclaimed to be the next big thing every year since we all started having smartphones with cameras in our pockets. The potential for using augmented reality in experiential marketing still seems sky-high. Yet, outside of gaming, it might seem that augmented reality’s promise remains more virtual than reality.
The challenge is less about technology, and more about application. As Daniel Newman, writing for Forbes, recently observed, “In the past, we’ve seen a whole lot of augmented and virtual reality tech that is fancy and immersive and exciting, but fairly useless from any practical standpoint.”
Augmented Reality Hits The Real World
This year, however, Newman attended Mobile World Congress (MWC) in Barcelona and witnessed practical applications of mixed reality that he foresees saving companies time and money.
“It’s about real-life applications, not video-game style experiential immersion—at least for now,” says Newman. “And I think it could finally be the thing that pushes mixed reality into the mainstream.”
In fact, real-life applications have already slipped into the mainstream, and it’s possible we simply haven’t noticed. Google Translate can do live translation using your phone’s camera, apps like Star Chart and Sky Guide help stargazers spot their favorite constellations, and — on the less useful but fun end of the spectrum — Snapchat filters can turn you into a dog or let you vomit rainbows at the tap of a button.
Augmented Reality for Experiential Marketing
Currently, retail is leading the way when it comes to integrating augmented reality into marketing. Some brick-and-mortar stores have already added new dimensions to the customer experience, with the ability to virtually try on clothes, new hair colors, or customize your new car. The success in this space builds on what we know from Pokémon GO: people like it because it’s fun.
In a recent London pop-up, partners Snapchat and Lego Wear (an emerging fashion concept by the Danish plastic brick juggernaut) created what amounts to the Emperor’s New Clothes boutique. The pop-up featured nary a thread in it but rather a bevy of Snapcodes so that “plucky users scan on their phones to conjure an augmented reality Lego model,” writes George Roberts for The Drum. Once activated, Lego-branded apparel appeared on virtual mannequins and presumably sales were snapped.
For event marketers, there’s considerable promise in the areas of design and collaboration. Imagine designing a trade show or pop-up experience and being able to explore and perfect the concept as if it were right in front of you in three dimensions.
Freed from the physical constraints (and costs) of exhibition space, a manufacturer of large goods — e.g., Airstream trailers — could allow customers to explore their entire product line in a fraction of the space normally required.
Navigating the Market
Do large trade shows and museums (or IKEAs) ever feel like they’re designed to get you lost? Experiential marketers can use mixed reality as a means to provide wayfinding to and within their exhibits. At this year’s Adobe Summit, the company plans to unveil some accelerated mixed reality offerings. Among them, Adobe will share ways to create zones within an interactive map so that customers “can walk up to a bookstore and see custom promotional offers as AR objects,” which can be redeemed on the spot through a digital wallet according.
These smart uses aside, there is still a sense that augmented reality is lagging behind predictions. One simple reason: cost. Budget is one of the biggest barriers to entry for companies going into experiential marketing, and the startup costs for AR can seem prohibitive. However, factoring in the potential savings in drayage and storage, as well as the ability to update content on the fly, the investment may in fact prove to be a cost saver.
Does augmented reality make sense for your experiential marketing campaigns? Ask yourself these two questions: 1. Does it provide true utility to your customer? And, perhaps even more importantly, 2. Is it fun? If you don’t yet see the value in part two, try joining the 1 billion people out there stalking the wild Jigglypuff.