In a field that is otherwise steeped in creativity, advertising often stands the risk of finding itself in a rut where time and again agencies start following a "formula" for marketing their clients' brands. But then again, there comes a time when there's this one idea, one concept that breaks all the stereotypes, smashes all the existing modules and notions and comes out like a wild horse and takes everyone by surprise, and the best thing about it is, it works. It just works. Today, in advertising, that new revolutionary concept could very well be the use of augmented reality as a marketing tool.
The reason why this technology is so important at this very moment is that this is a period in the history of advertising where there are two types of agencies - those who have understood and utilized augmented reality as a decisive marketing tool and those who have not. It's almost like comparing two warring medieval factions and saying how one of them has the upper hand because it has unlocked the deadly power of the gunpowder. Augmented reality marketing basically opens up brands to a whole new playing field of customer base, so, clearly, not embracing it would be tantamount to giving up on a lot.
So what exactly is Augmented Reality?
Letting go of all the technical jargon, let us just stick to the simplest definition of augmented reality. It is just a digital layer over the real world that cannot be seen by the naked eye but by viewing it through the camera of your Smartphone or computer. Although, from a marketing perspective it might seem like a very recent phenomena, the term augmented reality' was actually coined way back in 1990 by Tom Caudell, a researcher working for Boeing, to describe the digital display used by aircraft engineers that blended virtual graphics into physical reality.
Presence in everyday life
If you've been wondering whether augmented reality just popped out of thin air, think again. All those football matches you have seen on TV where a yellow arrow points towards the direction of play, the cricket leg-before-wicket replays where they show if the ball would have hit the ball are all examples of early stages of augmented reality.
The Targeted Demographic.
Technically anybody with a Smartphone with a camera can be considered part of the targeted demographic. However, when media planners and brand marketing experts consider augmented reality as an option, they generally use it to rope in the "millenials" - people who were born in the eighties. This is the group that is peaking right now and perhaps has the highest purchasing power when it comes to modern electronic gadgets that can support technologies like augmented reality and enhanced social media. With the frequent use of Smartphone like iPhones, Blackberrys and Galaxy Notes, the millenials are ushering in a new medium which marketers need to tap. The agencies and companies that are doing so right now have clearly got an edge over the rest.
Some definitive AR campaigns
Nivea Creme has the hugely popular Rihanna as its spokesperson. Hence it is no surprise that one of the best AR campaigns was designed around their product. While the campaign lasted, if you were to place a Nivea Creme tin box in front of your Smartphone camera or webcam after downloading the required app, a digital projection of the artist would pop up singing "California King Bed". While most brands and agencies were jumping on the augmented reality bandwagon, some brands knew that using AR simply as a gimmick would not make the 'wow' factor last. Nike knew this and combined two of the trendiest things of its time - augmented reality and free-running (also known as parkour) for its unique campaign in Vienna. It announced that there would be fifty runners all around the city who would be running for ninety minutes. These runners would be wearing "flash" jackets which could only be viewed through a Smartphone camera. Those who would click the most number of photos of these runners would be given a prize. This was crowd engagement through technology at its best.
The creativity and technology correlation
In the history of advertising in the last hundred years, there have been three genuine points where the evolution of creativity showed its face. We have already discussed the last one on that list, which is augmented reality, but where did it all start? Some might agree that a man named Leo Burnett could be considered the father of creative advertising campaigns. Burnett worked during an era when advertising was simply 'art and copy'. A writer created a piece of text to market the product and an illustrator visualized it on print. Then, the TV arrived in American homes and this was the Holy Grail that the advertisers were waiting for. But most of them continued with their art and copy routine. Burnett, on the other hand, realized that this was the chance for advertisers to tap into the inner desires of the consumers through visual imagery. Back when filter cigarettes were considered effeminate, Burnett created the visual imagery of the rugged cowboy smoking a filtered cigarette who we now know as the iconic 'Marlboro Man'. The feeling of bouncy friendliness that was triggered by the thought of home baked food was immortalized through Burnett's creation of the Pillsburry Boy. Advertising was not the same anymore. The second stage of evolution was the nineties when the computer became personal. The internet became the new television and also the new newspaper. Print ads have already given way to digital ads and AR campaigns are the cavalry units of the digital communication age.
Scope of AR Campaigns
As people in the advertising field today, it is our job to ensure that we don't end up using Augmented Reality as a plain gimmick. There needs to be some substance behind it. A real ad man knows that something like AR cannot be the whole backbone of a brand's identity but it can only be one of the many tools that a brand uses to market itself. If every brand or agency would just leap on to the AR bandwagon and start screaming "Look, we are using it too!" then the whole idea of standing out from the crowd would be defeated. The idea of visual imagery stems from what a brand symbolizes to the consumer's subconscious mind, and that is what the campaign should be built around. A slight technical improvement such as not having to download a separate AR app for every brand would definitely be helpful too. In conclusion, right now, augmented reality is the "in thing" and we can only hope that it is used in clever and non-redundant ways. As consumers, let us be open to such creative campaigns and not dismiss them all as gimmicks. The next time we see a person on the street making seemingly absurd hand gestures as if he's interacting with thin air, just remember, he could very well be in the new campaign for a Nokia Lumia Smartphone.