Don’t let yourself be surprised by the Wizards of Augmented Reality (AR)

Another act of revolution in communications is taking place in front of your eyes. 87% of us haven’t noticed it yet and that’s perfectly normal. Before television became a global medium, it was approached with scepticism. If we had believed an industry guru 40 years ago, we would not have computers at home now, but today we all have them in our pockets and can use them to expand the reality around us.

Aug­ment­ed Real­i­ty (AR) is an exten­sion of phys­i­cal real­i­ty with addi­tion­al dig­i­tal con­tent that can be seen using spe­cial glass­es or your smart­phone. The phone enables you to look at the world from a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive and see a view of not one, but two real­i­ties over­lap­ping each oth­er and instead of ordi­nary adver­tis­ing see for exam­ple this:

Phot. Good Works Lab

Snow­board, as a con­cept of the 80’s, met with con­sid­er­able scep­ti­cism from ski equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers and skiers. It was sup­posed to be only a niche alter­na­tive for the rebel­lious youth. The Bur­ton brand flour­ished on this mis­tak­en assess­ment, but in the ear­ly 1980s Jake Bur­ton him­self had to “beg” for per­mis­sion from the first ski resorts to enter the slope.

Pre­dict­ing the future — not only in sport and enter­tain­ment, but also in the case of break­through prod­ucts and tech­nolo­gies — is not easy, regard­less of the posi­tion from which it is made. A good exam­ple is the for­mer IBM CEO Thomas Wat­son, who said in 1943: “I think there is a world mar­ket for maybe five com­put­ers”. This was the begin­ning of the IT indus­try, with barn-sized machines, wars and com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent needs dom­i­nat­ing the mar­ket. Nat­u­ral­ly, IBM did not give up on pro­duc­tion, but then, in the mid-20th cen­tu­ry, the indus­try’s bold­est futur­ists did not expect such com­put­er devel­op­ment.

Opin­ion lead­ers often fail to notice rev­o­lu­tion­ary devices or tech­nolo­gies. Accord­ing to the prin­ci­ple “the clos­er to the sun, the cold­er”, Dar­ryl Zanuck, a mem­ber of the 20th Cen­tu­ry Fox board, pre­dict­ed the col­lapse of tele­vi­sion as a medi­um. “Tele­vi­sion won’t be able to hold on to any mar­ket it cap­tures after the first six months. Peo­ple will soon get tired of star­ing at a ply­wood box every night,” he said in 1946. Dar­ryl Zanuck was the pro­duc­er of over 100 films and the undis­put­ed author­i­ty of the indus­try.

While Woz­ni­ak and Jobs were launch­ing Apple II, Ken Olsen, a vision­ary from the elec­tron­ics indus­try and founder of Dig­i­tal
Equip­ment Cor­po­ra­tion (bought by Com­paq in 1998), pre­dict­ed that “there is no rea­son any­one would want a com­put­er in their home”. At that time DEC pro­duced proces­sors and com­put­ers for the indus­try. They had been devel­op­ing tech­nol­o­gy and capa­bil­i­ties for years and they were a dynam­ic com­pa­ny, con­fi­dent in their own assess­ment of the sit­u­a­tion. Four years lat­er IBM launched its first PC on the mar­ket.

Today, as nev­er before, we are deal­ing with extreme­ly fast and dynam­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tion and over­whelm­ing, often aggres­sive­ly imposed, infor­ma­tion. It seems obvi­ous that such a sit­u­a­tion requires a change of the com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nel to one that will make it pos­si­ble to con­vey the con­tent, but only when it is wel­come by the recip­i­ent.

This may seem unlike­ly, but we already have a break­through tech­nol­o­gy that uses Aug­ment­ed Real­i­ty (AR) to build a com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent kind of cus­tomer rela­tion­ship. This is an extreme­ly pop­u­lar tool because it sat­is­fies human curios­i­ty and enables us to read seem­ing­ly hid­den con­tent.

Each of us is a user of some tech­nol­o­gy – it suf­fices to have a smart­phone and a desire to dis­cov­er what is not vis­i­ble to the naked eye and to see what is “on the oth­er side of the mir­ror”. Aug­ment­ed Real­i­ty is not a com­plete­ly new idea; its begin­nings go back to the 1980s. Like any oth­er break­through tech­nol­o­gy, it need­ed to be refined and devel­oped. It is now mature, and the fact that each of us has a smart­phone with Inter­net access allows us to use it as a new com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nel.

This tech­nol­o­gy has been avail­able for the past few months to any­one who uses Face­book or Snapchat. But it’s all about fun.

Why do we like using AR so much? Prob­a­bly because it refers to the basic emo­tions that dri­ve human­i­ty in its devel­op­ment — hap­pi­ness and sur­prise. Our cog­ni­tive nature of the explor­er moti­vates us to act. The unknown amazes us because we like sur­pris­es.

What is hid­den behind the poster at the bus stop? An inter­est­ing video, a vouch­er or maybe a game? It may be some­thing else every day. Thanks to AR, the mes­sage reach­es only those recip­i­ents who, in cer­tain cir­cum­stances, want to see more than what is vis­i­ble to the naked eye. What does the label of your favourite drink hide? A video show­ing its pro­duc­tion, a match­ing musi­cal hit, or maybe an invi­ta­tion to go club­bing with a lim­it­ed num­ber of seats? Thou­sands of ideas…

In con­trast to tele­vi­sion, pub­li­ca­tion results are easy to analyse, mar­ket­ing effects are mea­sur­able and cor­rec­tions can be made in real time.

The use of AR by rec­og­nized brands is a ful­fil­ment of the dream of con­vey­ing a secret, but only to the ini­ti­at­ed, where addi­tion­al con­tent is vis­i­ble only to those who want to read it. Each of us knows sto­ries about mys­te­ri­ous mis­sions and con­fi­den­tial mes­sages con­veyed on seem­ing­ly blank pages. Chil­dren still use lemon juice or vine­gar for this pur­pose, which only appears when heat­ed over a can­dle.

Sat­is­fy­ing curios­i­ty is not the only moti­va­tion. As well as pos­i­tive stim­uli, we need rest, which in an urban jun­gle full of infor­ma­tion­al noise is quite a chal­lenge.

There is now talk of hav­ing to reg­u­late the amount of time spent in front of a com­put­er or on the Inter­net. In this con­text, a non-inva­sive mes­sage appears to hit the bull’s eye. The AR mes­sage is dor­mant and wait­ing to be trig­gered, and apart from the audi­ence will­ing to dis­cov­er it, no one will ever see it again. Thanks to such tools, it is pos­si­ble to sup­port social­ly impor­tant cam­paigns in a tar­get­ed way or to pro­mote a spe­cif­ic dic­tio­nary of val­ues that is under­stand­able for the recip­i­ent we are inter­est­ed in.

It is a tool to democ­ra­tize the mar­ket and enables direct inter­ac­tion: the recip­i­ent has access to the enter­tain­ment he or she is inter­est­ed in, has the oppor­tu­ni­ty to ben­e­fit from a pro­mo­tion or take part in a social event, like it or com­ment on it.

In the world of the glob­al mar­ket, pos­i­tive expe­ri­ences of buy­ers, the so-called Cus­tomer Jour­ney, are the basis for strate­gic deci­sions of com­pa­nies that pos­i­tive­ly shape their rela­tions with cus­tomers. How­ev­er, the use of AR as a com­mu­ni­ca­tion chan­nel has a sig­nif­i­cant impact on the audi­ence and, just like tra­di­tion­al mass media, is a tool requir­ing respon­si­ble use.

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