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Time for news media companies to take Augmented Reality to the next level

11 August 2013 · By Mark Challinor

As the novelty of Augmented Reality wears off, more and more marketers are using the technology to engage consumers in fun, creative, and purposeful ways. It’s time for news media companies to take the plunge, too.

I am sure we’ve all now heard of it and some have experimented with it, too, both for our own marketing and/for our advertisers. Indeed, we at The Telegraph Media Group in London now offer it as an add-on to advertisers for their campaigns with us.

What is “it”? Augmented Reality (AR), an interactive technology that allows for the integration of computer-generated imagery onto real life, where a mobile phone acts like an “eye” to recognise and instantly unlock content (e.g. print pages/ads).

AR essentially brings a new element to print newspapers. It can be very measurable with rich media analytics and is becoming widely adopted, with hundreds of paying advertisers adopting the pace in the UK alone.

For us, it opens up a new revenue opportunity and a new way to engage readers in our content editorially.

Gimmick or not? Some would regard it as a gimmick, and only time will tell, over the next year or so, if it has longevity. But it is gaining momentum.

In the UK, in addition to the Telegraph, publications such as The London Evening Standard, Metro, Independent, Mail on Sunday, The Sunday Times, Esquire magazine, and BBC Food magazine are a few that have used the technology recently. And The Sun newspaper’s new app even has an AR scanner embedded into it.

I know ad agencies are interested. I speak to them constantly, and they ask about how they can utilise it.

We’re seeing AR being incorporated into ads and we’re getting editorial interest, ranging from “likes” and comments on a story via social media channels to stories earning “votes.”

I was honoured this year to be a judge at the AR industry’s annual awards and saw some amazing creativity. (See links below for some of the winners.)

So how does it work? There’s a simple, four-stage process:

  1. Decide on a “marker” image or page (the real-world you want to be unlocked), e.g. the ad. logo, image.

  2. Think what value it will all offer to the reader or advertiser’s customer.

  3. Pick a base solution or solution range. This could be a link to a URL, such as a Web site, video, virtual fitting room, poll, an instant, buy-now option, a coupon to redeem, opportunity to pose with a celebrity, sweepstake entry form, recipe or product information, online game, etc.

  4. Collate creative assets to make it happen.

So, where is it all going? AR has taken engagement to a whole new level by offering a different and highly creative approach.

But as smartphone penetration has passed 50% in most major world markets, AR campaigns (or add-on campaigns to the multi-media offerings to our advertisers) now allow us to graduate AR from a fun or novelty status to actually being a part of our regular marketing mix.

AR creates a certain magic that allows you to see people’s faces light up when they see it working. And as AR becomes more mainstream and its novelty slowly fades, news media (alongside FMCG brands, et al) must look at how this technology can become a lucrative content investment for its brand.

AR technology can, in fact, be compared to that of a URL. In the early- to mid-’90s, many companies created Web sites for the mere novelty of having one. But that novelty paved the way for a better, more effective, more efficient, and useful Web presence.

AR could well be ready to follow the same course.

For many, AR is more about brand awareness and guerrilla marketing than it is about conversions and click-through rates. Many brands simply add an AR component to existing campaigns to have a toe in the water and it brings added value to brand campaigns.

So, how can (news) brands find mileage in AR beyond its mere sparkle and “magic”? A key element is to avoid the more conventional advertising formats.

Consumers aren’t looking to be further advertised to through AR. Rather, consumers look to AR to be entertained and rewarded with more “experiential” content.

Rather than simply take you to a Web site (as a QR code does), AR leads you to one or more destinations and entertains you along the way (perhaps in the same way many rides at theme parks do these days, with a “pre show” while you wait/queue to experience the main event).

A sort of reward for scanning: That’s where the best brands and the true successes come from.

With AR, readers, advertisers, and brands can — through good creative ideas, rich media analytics, geo-location tools, real-time unique users, and other tracking tools — build a bridge between the physical and digital ad spaces.

Initial AR efforts have, in truth, tended toward its gimmicky nature. But as marketers gain confidence in the technology, their strategies are starting to shift toward greater functionality and interactivity.

AR can really give a campaign that wow factor to engage consumers in a fun and exciting way, but we all need to get away from using the technology without a meaningful purpose for readers or our advertisers’ customers.

For our retail advertisers, for instance, the chance to let consumers try on products virtually is a powerful and engaging tool.

This can feature a 360-degree image that lets consumers immerse themselves in the experience and “virtually” see the products on themselves before clicking to buy them. Great for our print supplements/magazines and a novel yet powerful way to bring print to life!

So, AR is indeed becoming much more prevalent in the marketplace, and consumers are adopting the technology. In turn, this rapid adoption is driving more informed readers and consumers who are beginning to expect more useful and creative experiences.

Are you (virtually) ready?

Links to AR award winners:

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As news increasingly goes mobile, this blog’s mission is to be the worldwide reference guide to growing and engaging news audiences via mobile devices and tablets; attracting mobile revenue via advertising, sponsorship, and subscriptions; and owning the market for mobile news.

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