Claire Beale On Advertising: Faraway galaxy comes to street near you

Now, I know that describing something as the latest hot thing in marketing
will have cynics assuming this is just another bit of commercial candy
floss, all hype and no stamina. History, dear cynics, is on your side (does
anyone remember Second Life?). But AR will literally change your world.
Think Minority Report meets Star Wars, but not in a galaxy far, far away. In
your street, at the shops, certainly at work.

First, though, the basics. Really, this whole Augmented Reality thing is
pretty straightforward as long as you try not to think about how it actually
works. AR is a way of combining real-time images with computer-generated
ones to create a new version of reality in full 3D. So you can sit in front
of a webcam and watch yourself on your PC screen, playing with objects that
only exist as computer graphics. And computer graphics can be projected out
to appear in the real world, just like Princess Leia 30 years ago.

Lego is already at it. In some of its toy shops you can now pick up one of the
special Lego boxes and hold it up to an interactive kiosk to see yourself
holding a 3D animation of what the fully constructed toy will look like.
Point of sale promos have never been sexier. But AR sits comfortably with
advertising too.

I’ve written before in this column about the AR campaign created for BMW’s Z4
by Dare. It’s probably the best example yet of using AR to get consumers
closer to brands. It’s easy to take part: you print out a 3D pattern
recognition symbol from the BMW website. Then, using your computer’s webcam
(which interprets the 3D symbol as an image of the car itself), you can
create an AR that allows you to drive the car around your desk.

If all this AR activity seems a little playful when set against the harsh
realities of recessionary marketing, with its focus on price and special
offers, then don’t underestimate the seductive power of allowing consumers
to actually interact with ads and brands in a virtual-real world. It’s a
fantastic way to engage people and engagement is the first step to a sale.
It is particularly potent for brands targeting a youth audience hooked on
gaming, but its marketing potential goes much deeper than play appeal.
Combining AR with GPS location technology on your mobile opens up a whole
new highway of possibilities for marketers. Web-based interactive
communications can be overlaid with real-world data and tailored to where
you are in space and time.

Nokia is already working on applications that allow you to point your mobile
phone camera at a building to see information about what’s inside, overlaid
on the image of the building itself, so AR can let you know when a store has
special offers or sales and where to find the bargains.

The time will come, too, when you won’t need a cumbersome screen to converge
all this real and virtual information and imagery; it will be projected
directly before our eyes by special visors or contact lenses, or even (don’t
imagine it’s not a possibility) wired directly into our brains so that the
web becomes to all intents and purposes a part of the real world as we
experience it. Who needs RD2?

Best in Show: Evian (BETC Euro RSCG)

There’s some pretty nifty computer work on display in Evian’s timely new ad
from the French agency BETC Euro RSCG, to rather eerie effect.

Remember the gorgeous Evian synchronised swimming babies? It was
terrifically cute. Well, this time they’ve gone for roller-skating babes to
persuade us to “live young”. Cute, it ain’t, but it is wonderfully
mesmeric. Babies in nappies do skating stunts to a hip-hop beat and it’s at
once both hilarious and disturbing. The CGI isn’t perfect but the ad is
actually more weird and engaging for that. I defy you to not watch this
campaign over and over and over.

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