Augmented Reality and Print

Too often we look at digital technology tools and say, “Uh oh, this will be another nail in the coffin for print.” Some of these tools clearly create alternatives to print, but other emerging technologies are creating exciting opportunities for print.

One such technology is augmented reality (AR), and it is fast becoming one of the more exciting digital technologies used to enhance printed communications. AR is best thought of as an overlay technology used to enhance reality. Computer-generated images and data are used to augment the reality of what you see––often through mobile devices.

There are two types of AR: geolocation-based and vision-based. Geolocation-based AR uses GPS and compass-based tools to point out particular areas of interest. Vision-based AR uses similar tools to create an interactive experience connected to the image or data. Both can powerfully enhance an experience.

How does this relate to print, you ask? Think about a publication where the person on the cover begins to talk to you. Think about a photo of a boat advertisement that begins to sail off into the sunset. Or how about that steak ad that begins to sizzle in front of your eyes?

Strong words and images have long carried very high advertising value. Just imagine what value AR would add. If a picture tells a thousand words, an AR experience increases that value tenfold.

The marketing and branding opportunities are endless, but what about operational solutions? Have you ever had trouble reading the instruction booklet for assembling a barbecue grill? Wouldn’t it be nice to scan that booklet with your phone and see a 3-D animated display of the grill coming together? Or in retail, wouldn’t it be nice to have a sales clerk scan a box to animate what the contents look like once they are assembled? How about using language translations to help non-English-speaking citizens complete an important form or document that qualifies them for some benefit?

Using geolocation-based technology, marketers are exploring how they can make AR a “personal” experience that targets individual preferences. Just as no two Google search results are alike, each AR experience could be unique. Google analyzes your searches and interests to the point where it provides search results that are targeted to you. Geolocation-based AR can provide targeted AR to you in a similar way.

If you’re using Foursquare to track your interests and movements, a geolocated AR experience can use that data to provide you with an experience that lives within your Foursquare data. For instance, if you are a music enthusiast who frequents jazz clubs in NYC, your AR scan of an entertainment magazine might point you to the upcoming jazz schedules at your favorite spots.

The vehicles most used to link AR to print are mobile devices, and it’s important for marketers to embrace mobile technology in a way that supports user preferences. Mobile devices have become the de facto curators of digital assets across a spectrum including business, communications, and entertainment.

Marketers who adopt this technology and find creative uses for it will emerge as thought leaders and create points of distinction for themselves. They will continue to add value to the marketing communications equation and avoid commoditizing themselves. The printed product should no longer be thought of as a “product” but rather as an integrated solution to a communication challenge.

Author: Robert O’Connell


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