Augmented Reality Is a Real Marketing Tool

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Once a novel technology found only in sci-fi films, augmented reality (AR) is becoming a valuable asset in the marketing toolbox.

At its core, augmented reality allows smartphone and tablet users to point their mobile devices' camera viewfinders at real objects--not their bar codes--and instantly gain access to information about those objects on their devices. In a supermarket, for example, an AR-enabled mobile device could reveal nutritional information, recipe ideas, and other supplemental resources. While AR software providers offer varied capabilities, most enable this basic function.

According to a report by Juniper Research, AR apps generated approximately $300 million in revenue in 2013. Juniper also predicts that by 2017, more than 2.5 billion AR apps will be downloaded onto mobile and tablet devices every year. From brands in the hospitality industry to those in the oil and gas realm, companies are turning to AR to not only engage their clients in a new way, but also make existing marketing channels more personalized and dynamic.

"Augmented reality is going to change the way people market, because it's going to turn the real world into a presentation platform. Two-dimensional images can be informative, but interactive, dynamic, and animated images deliver that information on a completely different level," says Oliver Diaz, founder and CEO of FuelFX, a B2B digital marketing agency specializing in AR. "This is especially true for brands that work with complex products. If your product is, say, an oil rig, that's very challenging. AR makes it simple," he adds.

FuelFX works with clients in several industries, but many of its customers are oil and gas brands. For energy industry companies and the businesses that work with them, AR presents myriad opportunities. Manufacturers of drilling and downhole equipment, for example, can show the internal components of a tool and demonstrate its inner workings. In a facility tour scenario, a virtual guide can accompany visitors, alerting them to dangerous areas and illustrating what protective equipment they need.

"The beauty of AR is that it can be as elaborate as the work we do with oil and gas companies [or] as simple as taking any old brochure--a traditional marketing method--and making it come to life on someone's phone with interactive features," Diaz says.

Marriott Hotels, for example, is making major changes to its hotel lobbies and work spaces through its Travel Brilliantly campaign, which it is promoting with experiences delivered by Blippar, a mobile AR and image recognition platform. Marriott's ad, which appears in Wired magazine, comes to life when a consumer scans it with the Blippar AR reader app, launching a video that illustrates the hotels' redesign.

"This campaign truly captures the look and feel of the Marriott brand," Lisa Hu, vice president and general manager at Blippar, told the Mobile Marketer Web site. "After engaging with the ad, consumers can more easily envision their next stay at a Marriott property and have a more vivid feeling for the overall Marriott hotel experience," she added.

As demand for AR technology rises, more digital marketing software providers are entering the space.

SevenMedia, a mobile marketing agency based in Toronto, announced its entrance into the AR market in November. "We see the potential of AR as an innovative technology, and we wanted to be able to offer it to our customers," Chris Candy, president and cofounder of SevenMedia, says.

While the technology is already widely available, one of the challenges that remains is educating brands and consumers."Many people still see AR as a gimmick or novelty, but it's so much more than that," Candy says. "Right now, we're devoting a lot of effort to informing our customers about AR, and helping them see how their business can benefit. AR really can add a whole new dimension...to marketing."

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