While QR codes can be embedded almost anywhere to act as a connector between the physical world and the web, augmented reality codes are a lot like QR Codes on steroids. Augmented reality (AR) is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a physical real-world environment whose elements are augmented by virtual computer-generated sensory input such as sound or graphics.
AR codes are gaining traction in direct mail. A case in point is a Colorado skiing destination that used AR to engage and entice young skiers and parents with a special postcard promotion. AR is not virtual reality but it projects existing visual or video information and adds additional layers of computer-generated graphics, pattern recognition, and other visual effects enabling you to see a digital world superimposed on the real one in 3D. A computer or cellphone essentially become your eyes. In the skiing destination’s campaign, the slopes leapt from a printed postcard. Users were directed to a special website and asked to hold the postcard they received in the mail in front of a webcam. With the symbol acting like key, virtual skiers experienced a 3-D ski lift, all surrounded by the sounds of children laughing as they learned the ins and outs of skiing down the mountains.
Imagine the possibilities if you are marketing an action-oriented theme park, a surfing vacation, real estate or even a university that wants to visually entice future students by using the latest technology to promote their engineering and technology curriculum. Insurance agents, financial service providers, legal and medical professionals and other service providers could send out a postcard with their photo along with a graphic image that could change with information, like a billboard, each week using the same postcard. This could extend the postcard’s life.
Augmented reality offers an entirely new avenue for direct mail, an eye-catching and meaningful way to ensure that mail continues as a mainstay in multichannel communications. Recently, a large discount retailer sent out an AR mailer to promote its expanded grocery section. The mailer included a coupon for soda that, when peeled off, revealed an AR code printed on the mailer. Used with a webcam, the code activated a 3-D AR image of the retailers’ new grocery aisles, all stocked with fresh food. A global auto manufacturer has used AR to encourage virtual test drives of its vehicles. A German toymaker has combined AR with its catalog to produce 3-D images of cars racing around tracks. AR captivates and provides consumers with a reason to hold onto printed pieces which has a better chance of leading them to the next step.
You experience a taste of AR when you watch a televised football game. The yellow first down lines aren’t painted on the field itself, but inserted digitally to enhance your viewing experience. A Boeing researcher introduced AR in 1990. The movie Avatar used AR in its integrated marketing campaign to launch with Avatar teamed with Coke Zero. Movie fans could hold their Coke can with the Avatar symbol in front of their webcams and interact with parts of the movie on a “visceral” level.
Tracking isn’t a problem, since wherever a barcode is embedded on a printed piece; it instantly opens the door to targeted tracking. AR creates a real-time opportunity to monitor and adjust to consumer response in a fluid way whereby every time you click; the marketer knows you clicked and can see it. The icing on the AR marketing cake so to speak is clicks originated from a printed piece of mail.
Cost of AR is a caveat for smaller marketers and depends largely on its complexity. Creating the necessary three-dimensional renderings can cost upwards of $10,000 but could cost much less in the future as technology evolves. Cost can be tied to customer engagement, acquisition, and retention thanks to its measurability of the interactivity and technology. If the numbers work and the medium directly align with your target market, then executing an augmented reality campaign can both increase your profits and establish your company as an innovation leader.
AR today is like when e-mail and the internet were just beginning to catch on with the general public. In the past, a lot of AR was done to create something cool and new. More recently, companies began to realize it is more of a visual innovation tool than a fad. While AR may entice consumers, nothing substitutes good old-fashioned marketing principles. Consumers don’t have to buy what you offer, no matter how much effort has gone into a campaign. And that means that AR will not advance if user’s experience isn’t amazing. But if you can promise and more importantly deliver a remarkable experience, AR codes could become a natural progression from QR codes to the next big thing along with higher profits. Think of AR as QR codes on steroids but legal and a creative, eye-catching way to engage with your target market/s.
Are you interested in using AR and/or QR codes in a cross-channel marketing campaign that will be the envy of your competition? Let’s talk.