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Augmenting the reality of your brand’s social agency

In commentating in the Sunday Herald earlier this week on the meteoric international uptake of Niantic’s Pokémon GO app, I predicted that next for augmented reality (AR) would be apps that make virtual communication a little more real. I drew the analogy of R2D2’s playing of Princess Leia’s plea for help to Luke and C3P0 in Star Wars IV. My comments inspired a great Star Wars image and headline in the newspaper, but will communication via augmented reality come about?

Whilst holography (like Leia) is harder to achieve, telepresence is fast progressing, as are virtual venues that host avatar driven social experiences with virtual reality (VR), such as vTime. Whereas VR demands a full headset covering your eyes, AR does not. We know that wearable tech like smart spectacles was invested in for the opportunities of AR. (I wrote about the potential threats and opportunities for Google Glass and AR back in 2014 for Australasian Leisure Management. That prediction did not manifest, as due to people’s fears for privacy – it was not clear if someone wearing them was in fact recording you with their specs, just by looking at you – Google Glass was shelved). But what the Pokémon GO phenomenon of the last few weeks proves is that people are very happy to engage with AR on their mobiles and tablets. Bringing in someone’s visual image captured by a video camera, and blending it with the reality that a smartphone camera is looking at would make virtual communication feel extremely tangible, as if the other person was located in your real space, and could be something we experience soon.

The reality of Pokémon GO’s AR collecting and battling game, with 10m active players a day making in app purchases of virtual products and services, is that it will significantly augment Google-funded Niantic’s bottom line. But a successful platform for AR with millions of users changes the opportunities made available to advertisers via the Google Earth/Maps GIS and GPS landscapes. Enterprises that already understand the attraction to customers of flash special offers, offered digitally when a customer comes to a physical outlet, will make the most of this. Previously available through location-based social media check-ins, and flash offers via i-beacons, now, flash offers can be made through Pokémon GO. Niantic allows retailers and other companies to sponsor locations on Pokémon GO’s virtual maps. For example, visitor attractions and shop chains (e.g. McDonalds in Japan) have already paid Niantic Labs to be enable them to host Pokémon GO gyms at their locations’ GPS. This attracts players to their spaces via the Pokémon GO maps – different audiences with whom social relationships can be built virtually through the game, and physically in venue. These are captive audiences to whom site-specific offers can then be sold (e.g. 20% off a cup of coffee in this shop). Advertisers pay per visit. A survey by the digital ad firm Fluent showed that 57% players have visited a new store or restaurant thanks to the game and 81% of those made a purchase. However to maximise on this opportunity, brands must then build on that relationship initiated with a Pokémon player who has a core interest in Pokémon hunting, rather than the brand itself. In order to build customer loyalty, brands must digitally transform to become social agents, connecting advertising to customers’ social and augmented media experiences.

Some brands are more wary – potential Pokémon GO playing customers are primarily engaged in a game which makes them run about in a manner in which they are not focussed entirely on the physical space, and sometimes that needs to be managed. Attractions with Pokémon already attributed to their GPS (automatically by the game, which arbitrarily sites Pokémon at reviewed on Google Maps Places, such as architectural monuments, and cultural and visitor attractions) are trying to stem the disruption players can make to other non-player (normal) customer visits. For example, Sydney Opera House is advertising hours when Pokémon players are welcome to visit, stopping them potentially spoiling performances or tours for others. Holocaust Museums meanwhile are asking the game’s developers to take away the automatic links of Pokémon at their GPS, finding that the players on site create an inappropriate intrusion when displaying respect matters.

However, for commercial and public services considering enterprise-wise digital transformation, AR has potential when considered more widely. Not many playful game apps match the fun of seeking and capturing Pokémon in interesting places in the real world, but for shoppers, Blippar and Aurasma have been bringing static print advertising of brands to life. Apps like Snapshop Showroom and Inkhunter help you envisage potential purchases in situ so you can try before you buy something expensive for your home or permanent on your body. Layar has been helping tourist destinations and experiences enhance participation. There are also serious apps using AR to help professionals make decisions. Theodolite for example helps engineers, the military, or aid organisations look at location and sites enhanced with many layers of geodata. Sun Seeker supports architects and photographers to work out the path and position of the sun at any point of the day in a specific location.

With the growth of smartphone uptake, AR has seen quick expansion. The massive uptake of Pokémon GO and the media storm around it means that the majority people will now understand what AR is, and some will have experienced the mesmerising tangibility of it.

Now is the time for commercial enterprise and public services to consider too the real life and digital blend of engaging and participatory opportunities of AR. Get in touch if you would like to discuss the potential of AR for your customers and staff in your digital transformation.