AR is being deployed as a tool foremost to increase productivity, communication and telepresence, all of which lead to advertising. Sure, this industry seeks to influence the masses to buy shit they probably don’t need or fear problems they likely don’t have, but we have to put the brilliant minds and mounds of money to work somehow! So, if you can get over the evils of an industry so readily profiting off of peoples’ pain, and realize the value advertising brings, such as helping people and products find each, then it is time to jump into AR’s place in fast-paced, forward-thinking, thought-provoking world of Advertising!
To start, let’s go back. Back into time. Back to when advertising became an industry. The realization that our creations, may they be carvings on cave wall or sculpted figureheads of deities, that can be used to influence, persuade and convince others of a story, was the start of it all. Advertising is simple at it’s core. Advertising is a story, told on paper, or through the radio, maybe on a TV, but in the end, just the telling of a story. We began telling stories, well, conceivably forever. We’ve told stories since we were apes, in some fashion or another. And one might argue that holding up a banana for others to see tells the story of where the bananas are. But, that of course is not what we are looking at in our journey of AR’s place in advertising. We are looking for the more complex concept of advertising, and the understanding of its building complexities.
Though chimps are of the few animals cognitively able to consciously deceive (as opposed to the lower levels most animals can with mimicry, camouflage, false behaviors, and feigned injury) they cannot organize in scale the way humans can and do. It is actually the collaboration of people that allowed us to rise to be the superior species. And that is what led to the greater complexities of our stories, humans working together. And in the collaborative work, we of course opted to strategize ways to influence others which many centuries later during the industrial days, became the industry of advertising. Now, many other evolutionary reasons have lead to this, but we’re going to keep focused the telling of stories and working together, as they seem the most important.
Nowadays we have so many stories in our heads that ads can refer to a story you likely already know and the marketers find new and creative ways to continue the tale. All they really do is sprinkle in some pop-culture, trendy styles, cool coloring and of course, technology. To clarify, when we think of stories, I want you to think of more than the advertising stories you most definitely know, like “15% can save you” conjuring up a little Cockney-accented gecko selling you insurance. Stories are far bigger and much more powerful than that.
What I mean to address are also the grand, worldwide and indisputably influential stories that eventually took on a life of their own, rather than the ones that are obviously a part of a specific brands’ campaign. Think: “JESUS”. There is a BIG story there. You probably know much of it. You might not believe it, which is perfectly fine, maybe even more within the realm of objective reality, but the point is simply that there is a story there in which you know. When “Jesus” existed, what he is associated with, why (relatively) and so on. Religion for that matter is up there as one of the most widely spread and understood narratives of all time, yielding one of the grandest monetary gains, ever. It’s only really challenged by the stories of money itself, government, and a few others that don’t actually exist anywhere beyond their story and our belief in them – but that is another topic entirely.
So, now that we are all in agreement that advertising is just storytelling, that stories are everywhere and can scale to be massive, and that our ability to tell stories, collaboratively, evolved us to be more complex in our story telling, then we can continue to how we distribute and disseminate stories in a methodical, lucrative and ongoing way.
Starting with ancient civilizations, we know Egyptians used papyrus to make messages that were posted onto walls. These were commercial messages and political messages, naturally, as we all have to get paid, and in order to be paid we need to have the right people in positions of power. These messages were discovered in the ruins of Arabia and Pompeii, to name a couple. But as noted earlier, in some instances advertising is used for good, and in pre-modern society, that “good” was the lost-and-found. Arguably advertising, arguably just community communication, but noteworthy either way.
In ancient China, recorded in the Classic of Poetry somewhere around the ninth century BC was oral advertising. They used bamboo flutes to sell candy. The classic concept of a jingle to sell sweets. Beyond that, calligraphic signboards inked onto paper or copper plates were the first ads that provided cost-benefit considerations, “We buy high quality steel rods and make fine quality needles, to be ready for use at home in no time” This is likely the world’s first printed advert, and definitely addresses its raw nature of tit-for-tat.
Then, as you know, the story (advert) of religion grew so monstrous, we were shunned from our progression and fell into dark-ages. With such regression literacy dropped and the general populace was unable to read signs that would have told them where the miller, blacksmith, town-whore or cobbler kept waiting for your business. For that reason, drawings and symbols were used to indicate the services or products available and thus the dawn of trademark advertising! Lastly, for these middle-aged days, was the local yellers. They were people hired to call out in the middle of the square where they could find “BAG OF FLOUR, COME GET YOUR BAG OF FLOUR, ONLY X DOLLARS FOR Y AMOUNT OF TIME, COME GET YOUR FLOUR!” and they were known as town criers.
In the eighteenth century English newspapers began carrying advertisements. With advancements in the printing press, these ads mostly sold books, but also medicines. This lead to two other industry concepts, advertorial and “quackery” which is more generally, and commonly, considered false advertising. Soon after, in Liverpool, advertising was furthered by Cope Bros and Co, a tobacco company that had enough cash from the crop to bring the industry to another level. They innovated concepts like brand names, market segmentation by class and the consideration of strategy-by-numbers, as in the frequency and reach of each message published.
Not long later, still in London, came “The father of modern advertising” Thomas Barratt, who worked for a soap company made additional tactics like phrases, slogans and images commonplace. Around this same time in the United States, a man by the name of Volney Palmer bought a large amount of space in various newspapers for a discounted rate and created an advertising agency. By the 1900s advertising was solidified as a profession, full-service agencies were popping up and newspapers modeled their business around the sales of space, with publications like The Boston Globe having more than 200,000 ad spaces to sell per year, just after the turn of the century.
Then Marconi came around and invented a way to telecommunicate audio long distances and the radio was the new platform for spreading the word. Advertising was a major source of funding for radio right from the get-go, and still is today, with nearly 20 billion dollars per year in the US alone. This was the beginning of interactive media, as the audience and the DJ could go forth and back with messages, at least to a minimal extent.
Television added moving images to the mix, and grew to be the most lucrative of ad-business for a long while, but only kind-of still is today. TV missed the boat on the internet being important and as of this year, Deloitte says “Flat is the new up” for TV. But prior, in the 1980s and 1990s with cable there was a big shift, as Bob Pitman (prior to his Time-Warner/AOL bloodbath) invented music television, known as MTV. Here, people tuned in for the advertising instead of just having it as an afterthought. (He was selling music, record labels backed the programming to sell more CDs. Yeah, still not realized by many folks to this day). He’s trying to do it again with iHeartRadio, but being rejected from restructuring the $20 billion in debt iHeart holds suggests it might not be going as smoothly. But interactivity, social engagement and multiplatform marketing lives on. And this idea of seeking out the ads is very prevalent today with social media “influencers” and what we call “content creation”. Most brands think of themselves as content-creators, even though their marketing divisions aren’t competent enough to produce quality so they mostly hire independent studios, which are just a morphed version of the adverting agency, to content create for them.
A lot of this overlaps, we we must rewind a few years as we jump over to the interwebs. The internet came along and before long DotCom boomed, bubbled and burst. The ones that got rich got rich on the prospect of advertising. They had built networks and communities of people that could be targeted and communicated with for reasons of selling them stuff. Strangely however, digital advertising didn’t really take off until about five years ago. Much of this has to do with old dogs not wanting to learn new tricks, but also because the benefits of the medium were not fully understood, and integrating the medium into their current campaigns proved too confusing. This is the same challenge AR advertising will face. Ad technology came and shook things up, also it came with the erosion of privacy. Now we passively pass on the details of who we are, what we like, what we think about, how often, how frequently and why with corporations that have a very systematic approach to obtaining our dollars but leveraging these details, though not with overt extortion, but psychological and subtle extortion. We find ourselves gravely overwhelmed by ads. We pay for almost everything with our attention. It costs us time… this is particularly a new level of imposition ads impose as our time is not only the most valuable possession we have, but one of the only possessions we have that has true value. We are all limited, relatively to the same extent, how much time we have to live. And now, we trade some of that time, in exchange for information, or content. This idea gives rise to the idea of micro-transactions and its convergence with the content we seek is where Augmented Reality enters the mix.
We will not be able to understand Augmented Reality’s place as part of the new paradigm of advertising until we can see things from our twenty-twenty hindsight. However, we can make assumptions based on the information we have at hand.
With Augmented Reality, we have an entirely new canvas in which we can use to promote – everywhere! The combination of smart-phone app, outdoor, and digital content all come together and give us an interactive environment that can be used to share information and extend the stories brands want us to understand. The story-telling has been propelled by the power of the pen, the intrusive abilities of audio, and the catchy display of visuals. Further, it is jazzed up with interactivity and strategic influence that is applied newly decade after decade. All that is really changing from the pattern is who hosts the content, and in actuality, there is nothing new there either!. Where the contents was once only hosted by a flier, or a paper, or the radio waves, a television set, a website, a smartphone app, or some other designated and defined location, it is now everywhere.
Or, at least it will be soon. Who will advertise with augmented reality is simple and uninteresting. It is whoever chooses to invest their budgets into the innovation of the space and those tend to be the more progressive thinkers. They are the ones trying to keep ahead of the trend. The ones “re-inventing” absolutely nothing, but paying to be a part of the next wave and claiming to be “re-imagining” it all. With that jab, we also have to give props where props are due and that is to those who are fueling the industry through notoriety and money.
The mainstream only started to care about Augmented and Virtual Reality technologies with the infectious move-about game of PokemonGo. This game is the poster child for new era content creation as advertising. The buzz around it added more than $7 billion US dollars in market value to Nintendo’s stock. This became a jump off platform for everyone to get involved with anything related. This advertised the brands of Pokemon and Nintendo but also the technologies of mobile gaming and geo-based content (basically just global positioning being a trigger for info). With Nintendo Switch released several months after, a lot of hype swirled about it’s potential to revolutionize mobile gaming within the inner conversations of tech-junkies (not the old fat guys who read the trades and buy an Apple watch to be “on the edge of tech” but the nerdy gamers who code for fun and participate in hackathons because why the hell not?.)
Esquire’s new print campaign really straddles the dichotomy of the industry as one of their recent prints also enabled users to watch MacCallan whisky in “3-D augmented reality” via a free app called Aurasma. Personally, I am sure why you would want to do much with whisky other than drink it, but whatever.
Lowes, the home improvement giant, is actually utilizing the technology rather than reducing it to some new trick everyone should have a ride on, by what they are cleverly calling “Lowe’s Vision”. It is of the first applications to use Tango, the Google technology that inside out tracks using computer vision software on your phone for augmented the surroundings. Customers can visualize home furnishings and fixtures in their actual spaces. They say “Lowe’s Vision and Tango bring our customers one step closer toward eliminating the challenge of visualizing a completed home improvement project,”
This is much like Ikea, who sends you their catalog, and then through the app, you can envision your home but with… well, pretty much the same thing I just told you about Lowe’s, where you can visualize home furnishings in the places in which they will be placed. However, Ikea isn’t using Tango, which means that the device needs to see a tracking image, hence the catalogue.
These simple yet useful applications lead us to believe that future of interactive media is the addition of this tool we’re calling “AR”. But, keep in mind this does not eliminate the other tools in our war-chest. Like all new advertising frontiers, it is the combination, a multi-platform approach that can be most impactful. WE HAVE TO WORK TOGETHER.
Imagine your concept of a QR code that triggers 3D content to fly around your environment and invite you onto a journey you can hardly refuse. Yes, QR codes didn’t do so well in recent efforts, but triggering 2-D content that required the internet was lame and bulky. Once the advertisers realized that they were buying billboards outside of wifi-hotspots and that a 6-step process for 10% off was three steps more than it took to learn it was 50% overpriced wasn’t a homerun, they decided QR codes don’t work. But the idea of a physical world code triggering digital world content isn’t a failed idea, they just didn’t know how t use it. And maybe it is not their fault as the other tools they needed weren’t on their radar yet. With big data and artificial intelligence to custom create messaging that will be visualized through AR eyewear, we will see the rebirth of QR codes, whether they call them something different or not will be seen when it happens.
There will be another app race as there was over these last five to ten years. It is the combination of technologies, creativity and platforms that will win. An app on it’s own is worthless, as no one will know about it. A brilliant advertising campaign isn’t worth armpit hair if the app itself sucks. It is both, and every other tool we choose to deploy that needs to work together.
Humans working together to tell the story is the basis of all advertising, and AR is another communication tool. The way in which we measure results and the way in which advertising intrudes on our lives however are yet to be seen. For the former, you can expect many of the same digital metrics, from views to engagements, but also the introduction of biometrics, and soon to follow neurobiological metrics. We’re closer than you think and Coca-Cola as been on this for like ten years now.
For the latter, we have the conundrum of ads costing too much (time). This is not totally inflated et, but only because people (mostly the youth) haven’t come into their own yet and put their foot down. What we are predicting is that micro-transactions will eliminate a lot of ads we currently get pelted with today. If sending an email cost a fraction of a penny, do you think we would still be spammed? We will pay for things with small amount of money instead of time, because advertising has overstepped its boundaries. When and how that will happen isn’t so clear yet, but it will come with this augmented age.
While thousands of brands became content creators in the age of social media, they will now “become” software developers and build applications not just for smartphones as they already are, but in game engines for eyewear (head mounted displays). As we can see from the evolution of advertising in the highlights pointed out, it is just a game of storytelling and the way in which we tell the story evolves. We’ve had new canvases and tactics through the centuries and none of that ends here or now. Augmented reality will be a tool to deploy, but we will still apply what ancient China taught us about jingles, and entering through the right side of the brain. We will still target specific segments as 1800s England improvised, and we will still need to apply our effort with strategic effort and recognition of limitations that QR codes showed.
Though the obvious and sexiest application of AR advertising is “seeing the products in front of us” like Volvo is doing with HoloLens on their showroom, this is deceitful (like most stories) because the technology is not good enough yet. What you see is not what the user sees. The field of view is much smaller, too small for real application, the navigation is clunky to say the least, and the cost of building and deploying this is out of range for any market approach, unless you are simply looking for PR.
AR in advertising is coming, and it will be interesting. Just not this year.