Well the short answer is no.  Or at best, certainly not yet.  But Augmented Reality (AR) is starting to offer consumers exciting new ways to interact with brands. Most importantly though, AR is allowing users to interact with brands in the spaces that the users choose, and when they choose to do so.

So What Is Augmented Reality?

AR is generally comprised of images that are displayed by adding a computer-generated layer over a real-time view of the user’s surroundings. For example, seeing a Pokémon in your local park.

Augemented Reality

The first fictional reference to what would later be known as  AR comes from the L. Frank Baum (author of The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz) novel The Master Key: An Electrical Fairy Tale, published in 1901, which included a pair of glasses that could show the wearer details of a person’s character. I can’t help but draw a parallel (albeit a fantastical one) with Google Glass here.

The first true AR experience was devised by Ivan Sutherland in 1968 when he used a head-mounted computer system, suspended from the ceiling, to place simple drawings over the user’s vision.

The term ‘augmented reality’ was only coined in 1990 though, when the US government took an interest in its potential for combat training. The technology eventually entered the mainstream technology and entertainment markets in 2014 with Google Glass.

Where We Are With AR Today

I’m writing this article in the heady days of the first week of the launch of Pokémon Go – the AR game that’s taken the entire world by storm seemingly overnight. Pokémon Go is arguably the first mega-successful augmented reality experience on mobile we’ve seen.

Though there have been other AR games to enjoy for the past few years – Ingress (from the creators of Pokémon Go) and Clandestine Anomaly spring to mind, both combat-style games – they haven’t had nearly as much attention on social media, or as much public uptake.

Apart from being used to make mobile gaming fun again and providing new technologies, AR has already  been used as a marketing tool for the past few years.

Bos Ice Tea, a South African brand, introduced the Bosify Your World app back in 2011, that allowed users to plant virtual trees in the urban spaced they pass through every day.  For every 2000 virtually planted trees, Bos committed to planting an actual tree in (boring unaugmented) reality.

With this campaign they managed to blend the augmented experience with a real-life object, and add a social element to draw users in.

Apparently capitalising on the Pokemon Go phenomenon, (although in truth, they must have been in development for some time already), in the past few days retailer Pick ‘n Pay has also introduced an augmented reality app that runs in conjunction with their follow up to the (hugely and mystifyingly) popular Stikeez campaign, Super Animals.

Shoppers receive 4 Super Animals cards for every R150 spent at their stores, and the app can then be used to bring the cartoon animals to life, and offer some educational information to children.

Why AR Has Become So Popular

Apart from being really cool and a little more accessible than virtual reality apps and games that require headsets, augmented reality also offers users a new type of experience which is:

  • Personal: Users create their own content and choose when and where to interact with a brand.
  • Novel: AR is a fun experience and it still has the allure of being the latest thing.
  • Social: Users can share their AR experiences with others, or create communities in AR spaces.
  • Easy Access: These days most people have access to a smartphone, and AR differs from other apps and games in that it’s easy to understand quickly, because it uses the real world as a base.
  • For marketers, AR presents a way to attract new customers while also offering existing customers new and different ways to interact with their brands.

Where AR Is Going

Right now we’re at the beginning of what might be a genuine explosion in AR popularity. More people than ever have access to smartphones, and they’re constantly looking for content to consume on their mobile devices. AR is also accessible without any other hardware, unlike virtual reality experiences that require headsets and for the user to mentally remove themselves from the corporeal world.

The possibilities with AR are endless – shopping in malls with AR ads outside stores (you could even target the user’s personal preferences to advertise specific items on an individual basis), finding your friends in a crowd, or collaborating on arts projects in the augmented space could all be exciting applications that we may start seeing very soon.

The success of Pokemon Go, and the near doubling of Nintendo share prices as a result, could well prove the catalyst that pushes AR permanently into the mainstream.