Augmented Reality Re-Emerges in Advertising

The cool thing about the world of advertising is how quickly it can change. Augmented reality first appeared in some brand ads as far back as 2012. Disney has experimented with it, as has Toyota. Most of their efforts involved pointing a phone at a real life object to see an extra-real image.

More of an attention-getter than an actual tool, it was soon  put on a back burner in favor of 360 video and, to a lesser extent, virtual reality when appeared as if Facebook was going to own the world with video on mobile and support for 360 video. Then Snapchat decided it was going to take monetization seriously, moving suddenly away from photos that vanished in a matter of seconds to Memories than can be saved forever. Publishers and advertisers have flocked to Snapchat once they figured out how to use the opportunity, because it owns the audience many of them want — the Millennials.

Millennials are difficult to reach because they don’t watch TV and they have a low tolerance for pre-roll video. As a result, apps like Snapchat begin to assume outsized importance.

What do the Millennials like best about Snapchat? Not necessarily the news digests, but rather the filters. There’s great creative going on in sponsored Snapchat “filters.” And what are those filters? They’re really augmented reality.

Then along came Pokemon Go,  which could put Snapchat to shame by becoming the most potentially useful format for advertisers since Foursquare missed the boat on the value of its mobile data. Everyone seems to be playing Pokemon Go;  it is sticky the way games like Angry Birds once were. The difference between Angry Birds and Pokemon Go, however, is that the latter has already become a fertile field for certain advertisers, especially those with a retail presence. Unlike most games, this one has a connection to the real world and to going somewhere, and on our recent trip to London we noticed how many pubs seem to be Pokestops, attracting business from random players out for a walk in the neighborhood and suddenly overcome by thirst.

Other retail locations can also participate by buying “lures,” to attract players to their establishments in similar fashion. Brands will have a more difficult time figuring out how they can play, but I’m sure plenty of creative directors are already noodling on the problem.

Pokemon Go, of course, will have its day and fade the way all fads fade, but before it goes it will have helped to make augmented reality (AR) mainstream, and therein lies its real significance. Some ad agencies are already experimenting with virtual reality, but that technology is limited at present by the dorky glasses people must wear to see virtual reality content and also by the almost anti-social character of the VR experience. We haven’t yet seen media buys for the VR experience. AR, however, can be made social and will have an easier time making it into the ordinary consumer experience.