Game changer

Jonathan Burns quite possibly has one of the easiest jobs in the world— convincing people to use Augmented Reality (AR) in their marketing campaigns. “This is a barcode on steroids,” enthused the VP of sales and marketing with AR-specialist company Ad-Dispatch as he demonstrated the technology using only an iPad, an app and a Muppets t-shirt. “The QR code (square matrix barcode) was really good at recognizing an image and then finding an URL to go with it. This is one step past that.” Although putting the technology into words proved to be challenging, his enthusiasm was infectious as he demonstrated its “wow factor”.

Tucked away in a non-descript building in a hidden corner of Dartmouth’s Burnside Industrial Park, Burns hung the shirt on the back of his closed office door (which he prefers to leave open so that people feel free to poke their heads in) and launched Boostar, an AR merchandising app owned by Ad- Dispatch’s CEO and president, Nathan Kroll. Burns used his tablet’s camera to focus on the shirt’s graphic: an image of Animal playing drums. Within seconds of recognizing the image, the app launched an interactive game that allowed him to play the drums on his iPad.

Over the years, marketing has demonstrated an astounding ability not only to survive, but also thrive on today’s constant technological advances. Augmented Reality, a technology that adds a digital element to an everyday experience, is the perfect example of how new technology can redefine boundaries. Although it has been around since the ’70s, it’s only been recently that AR has really taken off. Dartmouth’s Ad- Dispatch, launched about 12 years ago as an advertising distributor, has been a driving force behind many of the recent advancements. “It’s funny because we were seen as an overnight success, but it’s been a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get here. We’ve really been positioned as grandfathers in the industry.”

Only four years ago, a client approached Kroll and the Ad-Dispatch team for help with a project that used existing AR technology. They accepted the challenge and never looked back. “We were astounded by it,” says Burns. “We educated ourselves on everything AR and went to market.” Ad-Dispatch’s client list now includes Disney, Sony, 20th Century Fox and the Cartoon Network, proving that Ad-Dispatch is not the only company to see the incredible marketing potential in AR technology.

While the idea of a value-add is not necessarily new to marketing, more and more advertisers are offering interactive experiences rather than simply an additional product. In the case of the Muppets t-shirt, the experience has the potential to provide the buyer with a feeling of exclusivity. Not only does the customer now own the t-shirt, they’re also given the unique opportunity to play a game that they wouldn’t have had access to if they hadn’t bought the shirt. But providing this experience doesn’t exempt companies from creating a quality product. “People buy the shirt first and the experience second,” explains Burns. “We have to make sure that the shirt looks good, so that people will buy it.” A couple of years ago, they considered launching a campaign that would add an exclusive element to sports tickets. By adding an image to the ticket, fans would have the ability to use their smartphones to play a game. “If you’re lucky enough to get a playoff ticket, that ticket now not only has the value of a seat,” says Burns, “but it also has the added value of an Augmented Reality experience.”

These immersive experience add-ons are bringing customer engagement to a new level. Technology like AR and social media are giving marketers new ways to interact with consumers. Ad-Dispatch was involved with an ad campaign for Drambuie called “Experience the Extraordinary”. When their bus shelter ads were viewed through a smartphone, the viewer was drawn into an immersive experience where a Drambuie bottle rolled through the screen, spilling its contents as it went. The project proved itself when they realized how long people were viewing the site and staying engaged with their product: just over seven minutes. “It’s an amazing way to get someone to remember your product,” says San Mathews, Ad-Dispatch’s lead 3D artist. “Normally a poster is just a poster—you see so many. But once you add AR to the image in that poster, you’ve got people thinking about your product. It’s all about getting people to remember your advertisement.”

Augmented Reality can also be used to reach out to customers by drawing them in from other forms of media. Ad-Dispatch is currently working on a project that incorporates AR images into the content of a TV broadcast. This type of marketing not only provides an incentive to watch the show, it also encourages the viewers to continue engaging with the brand after the show is over because they’ve already got the additional AR content loaded on their device. Burns describes using the technology to create a trail of breadcrumbs that leads viewers to make a purchase. “I’ve gotten you off the TV, led you to connect with our app and brought you into the retail space to close the loop,” explains Burns. “All the apps are free, because if people have to pay for a marketing experience they’re probably not going to do it.”

Modern consumers are becoming jaded and resistant to traditional advertising methods. When an AR trigger leads a viewer from TV, to tablet, to online store, that viewer is going willingly, taking each step out of a sense of adventure and discovery. “By design, AR is a real human interaction in a virtual world,” explains Burns. “We empower people to do something in our space.” Because they’re actively participating, consumers remember their Augmented Reality experiences. And they’re not just remembering, they’re sharing. “We’re trying to create the viral app,” says Burns. The next time these consumers have a purchasing choice to make, they’ll go for the name that resonates with them. By using Augmented Reality to make the sale, marketers are making sure that their brand name is the one that consumers remember.|

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