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Writer: Twishy - Tuesday, Nov 20,2012 8:45 PM

Augmented Reality: Ad gimmickry or mktg technology

Imagine just sitting at home and trying out from the latest collection of Ray-Ban shades? Or grabbing some secret offers from Shoppers Stop by downloading an app? How is the idea of polling for the greatest Indian by scanning the cover page of the Outlook magazine through a mobile device? Welcome to the world of AR (Augmented Reality) that brings interactivity to the real world, maintaining a viral loop. All one has to do is download an app on a smartphone or sit in front of a web-cam to experience AR magic. From automotives to luxury brands to FMCG industry, every sector has started integrating AR into its marketing strategies. The fast-food category has also started doing well with AR enabled delivery or ordering application.

AR can bring a clear disruption for a marketer in his quest of communicating with relevant target audience. But India is yet not seeing the depth of work that some of the international markets have done on the back of AR. Axe’s very successful ‘Fallen Angels’ campaign impressed people where holographic fallen angels appear to drop on people in London. GE plugging into the smart grid campaign and Green Giant helping parents and kids take ‘One Giant Pledge’ to eat more veggies is another iconic work created on the AR platform to encourage interactivity in a unique manner.

For many industry observers, a key question is: are marketers in India using AR as an effective tool to create disruption or are they seeing it as a “cool” gimmick?

Navin Kansal, Group Creative Director at Grey Digital pointed out, “Marketers have recognised the potential of AR; the automotive category for instance has embraced it well and retailer will adopt it in a bigger way. Those marketers who merely use AR to unlock a TV spot are underutilising it.”

Is AR at a pre-takeoff stage in India?
Experts feel that India is still at a nascent stage though the country has witnessed Mahindra using the technology at the Auto Expo to launch its Mahindra XUV500. McDonald’s tried out AR when it launched McFlurry in India and Lakme Fashion Week experienced the launch of Godrej Interio's latest furniture on the ramp through AR. Not only brands but movies such as ‘Ferrari Ki Sawaari’ also did an AR stunt that witnessed participation of about a lakh people in just two days.

In India, AR has just scratched the surface and the country is still three years behind the global standards.  At present though, there is much hype about the new tool and with increasing access to better technology, it will be a clear choice for marketers. According to experts, out of the total 10 per cent of the urban population, 1 percent actually use AR. Hence, the reach is very limited and it makes sense for the marketers to invest in a medium that has a wider reach than AR.  There are developers who claim phone dependent and GPRS dependent apps but the effectiveness is still to be tested. The perceived notion of AR being expensive is a deterrent to the growth.

Carlton D'Silva, Chief Creative Officer at Hungama Digital Media Entertainment believes that if one observes the engagement level AR offers, then the cost factor becomes negligible. He said, “Many people don’t understand AR and hence, the current level of engagement is rudimentary.” He is of the opinion that appropriate usage of a platform is also very necessary while using AR because it creates a certain word of mouth which is supreme to marketing.

Max Hegerman Senior VP & Digital Head, JWT India Group added, “The role of online is creating engagement. However, the main challenge is to make the clients think about the bigger role of social media or a bigger role for an event or activity that can then be fed into the social media and enhance the activity.”

It is a general perception that AR needs a much sophisticated user base and the lack of its presence in India has prevented the medium from taking off. Quite contrary to this, Hegerman believes that in a live AR campaign, the users do not need any kind of technology and in many examples there are kids participating in AR so it doesn’t need a heightened technology sense.

How to leverage AR better?
Industry experts such as Kansal stated that AR should be used intelligently, effectively and it should seriously augment information as is seen in Ikea catalogues and Band-Aid’s way of magically healing a child’s wound through a Muppet character.  He added that unlocking content via smartphones might see greater traction than web-based AR.

Saugata Bagchi, Vice President at Tribal DDB India noted, “AR is yet to be established as a proper communication vehicle, as most AR experiences are delivered through applications and most applications work on smartphones with strong internet connectivity. Given that smartphone penetration in India is just at 10-12 per cent, the RoI (return on investment) of an AR campaign is not appealing. From a marketer’s perspective, AR hence becomes a tech-novelty restricted to the upper end of the consumer population. To increase the effectiveness, we have to figure out whether AR apps can work on feature phones because feature phone penetration is at 70 per cent.”

He proposed that if an AR app that is able to work on more than one campaign is created, it will increase effectiveness and if a brand launches a print campaign over a period of three months and the same AR app is used for all the three months, then the RoI for the campaign becomes significant.

Hegerman believes that a simple and compelling story that is relevant to the brand will definitely work and the future is going to be either events specific or it will be very personal on a hand-held device.

The future holds promise for AR in market such as India, albeit the delivery mechanism needs to improve. Bagchi feels that in order to make AR successful, the agencies, advertisers and developers have to come together and create a platform which increases the reach of this technology. “Since the laptop penetration is rising, it becomes easy for the user to use web cams and motion sensor technology and it makes sense for the marketers to leverage that aspect of delivering the AR campaigns.”

It would be right to say that AR is still niche and a costly medium, which is at a very early stage in emerging markets. But what marketers and agencies do today will shape its future. One thing that cannot be denied is that if efficiently implemented, AR can be clutter-breaking, engaging and provide good value for money to marketers.

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