As marketers push the envelope of brand recollection in the online realm, the line between virtual and real is thinning thanks to the phrase ‘Augmented Reality’. Billed as the one of the 10 Tech Trends for 2010 by TIME Magazine, Augmented Reality (AR) is fast coming out of technological obscurity thanks to burgeoning marketing budgets and the necessity to influence the customer on a level of simple imagination powered by complex technology.
It all started with the two-dimensional matrix barcode created by Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave in 1994 called the Quick Response Code or QR Code. Readable by QR scanners, mobile phones with a camera, and smartphones, QR codes consist of black modules arranged in a square pattern on white background. The information encoded can be text, URL or other data.
QR codes were initially made to track parts in vehicle manufacturing but over time, the technology saw various commercial uses including commercial tracking and convenience-oriented mobile applications.
Information such as addresses and URLs can be stored in QR codes. Many such codes make an appearance as marketing tools in magazines, on signs, buses, business cards, or on just about any object about which users might need information.
Users with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader application can scan the image of the QR Code to display text, contact information, connect to a wireless network, or open a web page in the phone’s browser. This act of linking from physical world objects is known as a hardlink or physical world hyperlinks.
Augmented reality takes the basic code-identifier interaction of the QR codes to the next level by supplementing the reality we see with real-time additional information. Having said this, it doesn’t mean that the concept of Augmented Reality was conceived only after the QR revolution. The history of Augmented Reality can be traced back to 1957 when cinematographer Morton Heilig devised the Sensorama – the first attempt at virtual reality.
The term Augmented Reality was coined by Boeing’s Tom Caudell to help workers assemble cables into aircraft. From there on, the possibilities of Augmented Reality exploded resulting in applications ranging from the F-35 Lightning II pilot’s helmet mounted display system to AR-enhanced business cards.
While some argue that the technology is more gimmicky than worthy, the growing ubiquity of webcams and smartphones were an opportunity of interest to trendy marketers who see this as interesting brand awareness and value addition avenues. An example of AR being used for adding value is the U.S. Postal Service who uses AR to help customers determine what size box to use by holding the item they are shipping up their webcam!
Of late, a large number of graphic and digital design and media houses have incorporated AR into their business cards as a showcase of their capabilities.
In India, a significant number of brands are showing growing interest in multi-channel direct marketing solutions. Some such avenues include the digital coupons. With an estimated market of RS. 25 crore, digital coupons mix the well established strategy of ‘coupons’ with the growing internet strength in the country. Augmented reality is also not far behind with brands such as Adidas, Nike and more recently Pepsico taking to going the digital way. The thought process is that the approach attracts the group of youngsters and young adults to the brand; a sizeable portion of which will govern the market tomorrow.
On the international arena, AR has already seen inception in many campaigns such as the Quantum Code challenge by Euro RSCG 4D. With Wikitude and Layar gaining steam and with technologies like Pranav Mistry’s Sixth Sense finally making sense, a leaner, more affordable Augmented Reality is in the making to make it more accessible to everyone thus giving brands more scope to believe in this amazing piece of technology.