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Augmented Reality: Enhanced Engagement, Increased Results


Earlier this year, the Queen B was asked to write a story for DMAW's magazine AdVents. With their permission, we're reposting it here ...


Augmented Reality: Enhanced Engagement, Increased Results

The late great John Lennon once said that "Reality leaves a lot to the imagination."

Today, some of the most creative people in the direct marketing business are adding a lot of imagination to reality — by augmenting traditional print material with a digital experience.

There's some confusion between the terms virtual reality and augmented reality, so let's start with definitions:

Virtual reality refers to computer-generated objects or environments with which users can interact in a seemingly real or physical way via headset goggles or gloves.

Augmented reality superimposes computer-generated images onto the user's view of the real world via a smart phone or other device so it becomes a composite experience.

Virtual reality is the sexier of the two, and, to date, it's probably best known for its use in gaming. But, it has other less frivolous applications. There are training programs for ER doctors that include virtual emergencies and measure the doctor's stress level as he responds. Before a surgeon operates on a real brain, she can operate on a virtual one. Virtual reality is also improving quality of life for disabled, memory-loss and dementia patients.

Augmented reality has gaming possibilities too. The most famous (or infamous) application of augmented reality was the Pokémon GO craze that made headlines all over the world a couple of years ago. Users hunted and captured animated characters, superimposed over the real environment when viewed through smart phone cameras. Despite controversy and calls for regulation, the game was downloaded more than 500 million times in 2016. As of Q3 2018, it has grossed more than $2 billion.

Broadcasters use augmented reality for weather and sports reporting. When a meteorologist stands "next to" an animated tornado or flood projections, or a football play is reviewed with animated diagrams on the field, you're watching augmented reality.

These technologies become especially exciting when applied to marketing campaigns.

Four years ago, Pepsi created an enormously successful promotional experience for its Pepsi Max product. Using augmented reality, they turned the side of a bus shelter on London's popular Oxford Street into a window, revealing a view of the actual road and any real activity. They then superimposed a series of disasters: a tiger, UFOs, a meteorite, and a giant tentacle rising from a manhole. People were startled, then entertained. Some got up and interacted with the animation as friends recorded videos. The campaign, tying into Max's branding message "Unbelievable," generated massive amounts of social activity. The official YouTube video (LINK: has more than 8 million hits, and the promotion was picked up by CNN, BBC, Time and others.

Of course, as marketers, we rarely have access to Pepsi-sized budgets. Fortunately, augmented reality can be used quite successfully in less extravagant ways.

For example, furniture retailers Wayfair and Ikea have built augmented reality into their mobile apps. You can select an item from their catalog, then view it in place, in 3D, in a room in your home. This application has real benefits: you don't need to measure your space or worry about the measurements of the item. You can see firsthand how the item coordinates with your rug, curtains, or other furnishings. And, you can "walk around" the item, viewing it from every angle.

Perhaps more importantly, apps like these are endlessly engaging, meaning that customers feel better about the vendor, and end up buying more. Similar applications are being used for real estate, as well as online shopping for things like clothes and eyeglasses.

In a recent study by ISACA, the Information Systems Audit and Control Association, 61% of consumers preferred shopping at stores with augmented reality; 62% saw a benefit to it; and 40% were willing to pay more for it.

Nonprofits are just beginning to explore the opportunities that augmented reality offers. Options as simple as Snapchat filters and Facebook frames allow supporters to promote the causes and organizations that mean the most to them. Museums and other institutions have offered 360-degree tours of current exhibits or proposed renovations. These video experiences can be launched through the use of a QR code or more recent technologies such as Blippar or Zappar. The latest versions of iPhones and Androids have smart readers that will make launching an augmented reality experience even more seamless.

Of course, the sweetest spot for augmented reality for nonprofits will be its enhanced ability to tug heartstrings. Using first-person accounts (of patients, refugees, soldiers, or myriad others helped by nonprofit donations) has been a proven strategy of fundraising for decades. Imagine how much more powerful it would be to point your phone at a picture and launch a moving, talking image instead.

Augmented reality adds the emotional power of video to the promotional power of traditional paper formats, like ads and direct mail. With it, you can enhance engagement and increase results.


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