Augmented reality (AR) firm Blippar, which was founded in 2011, to create a more engaging way for consumers to interact with brands. The company has been winnig accolades in the West for various AR campaigns. It marked its entry to India in 2014 and has since then worked with brands like Tinkle, Digit, Tropicana, ITC, etc.
At its core, is the idea of 'blipping', which the company says is the visual equivalent of 'Googling'. Staying true to this ambition, Blippar, which started off as an 'image recognition' product, has now widened its horizons and wants to become a tool that allows the user to interact with all physical objects around the user.
Having just raised $45 million in funding last year and close to 700,000 users in the country at last count, Blippar has now set its eyes on India. We caught up with Arnav Ghosh, CEO of Blippar India to learn more about the company's plans for the future.
What is the potential for Augmented Reality (AR)?
There is no industry data on AR specific for India. But if you really look at the very concept of innovation that a lot of brands are trying to do beyond the standard media touch-points, then I think augmented reality fills in that gap. The market is huge, close to $300 billion globally. But brands have been a little slow in embracing augmented reality.
Why is that so?
There is something called a reality funnel which we talk about to any brand, client or technology partner. What it means is that you first have Augmented Reality (AR), which is about overlaying virtual data on physical objects, then you have Augmented Virtuality (AV), where real world information is overlayed on virtual world, for example, gaming consoles and then you come to virtual reality, for example the Oculus Rift, which takes you completely in the virtual world.
When you talk about the entire reality funnel, there are a lot of things without a proper chain of command. There is a gap between AR and VR which needs to be filled, but today you have brands that are directly talking about VR.
AR or AV are much more scalable in terms of the devices used to access them, whether that is a gaming console, mobile phone, tablet, etc. Whereas, the scalability of the device or product for virtual reality is still far beyond the reach of masses. So when we talk about AR in India or other markets, it depends on how you define AR.
What is the situation in India?
What has happened, specifically in India, is a perceptual confusion on how to use AR for advertising. What we have seen so far is that AR has been used in a very basic manner, for example, to scan a page and view a video or listen to a song. Now these are extremely low hanging fruits which brands have embraced because there has been no risk attached to it. But this is not what AR is supposed to do. Classical AR is supposed to 'Wow' consumers, create tangible benefits; all the while creating opportunities for the brand and the consumers to further engage with each other.
Right now, there are very few brands that have been able to understand AR. Also, very few platforms have taken AR to the level that it deserves. In India we are still scratching the surface, basically because AR has been commoditized as a business and there has not been any AR specific innovation. I have not heard about any AR-specific creative that has won any award. I think these are the challenges we face in the Indian market.
How are you then evangelizing AR to advertisers?
We are doing two things. Firstly, the basic thing that you need to do to bring a change is to own a behaviour. So, we are trying to own the behaviour of 'blipping'.
To give an example, after Google started off, you don't say you are searching for something online, you will say that you 'google' it. It is not about the philosophy of the behaviour but finding the right business model to make the behaviour count. When Google started out with search, they started Adwords and it was only when Adwords worked that search started making sense for them. We have been very steadfast about making 'blipping' a behaviour----if you want to make the world interactive; we want to convert that activity into 'blipping'.
We also want to educate both the consumer and the brand that we want to do a specific innovation. AR is not a QR code; it is not static. AR has to be a part of the consumer marketing funnel where you are providing information to the consumer when he is in front of the product. The product is the biggest media channel and this is what we communicate to our clients. We focus on making products interactive. Everything that we do in AR has two main ingredients---create a great idea, which makes it interesting for users to interact with and make the interaction measurable.
For example, with Pepsi, during the FIFA World Cup, we made their cans blippable. Users could play games with Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo through their phones. The idea is to make the entire experience inclusive and measurable so that it makes a great case for RoI for the product.
You entered India in October 2014, how has the journey been so far?
While we were launching in India our entire product was changing. We were starting to move away from image recognition to product recognition. For example, the app will now not recognize just the Pepsi logo but it is now able to recognize the Pepsi can. Our entire positioning changed during the time we were entering India. We moved to visual search; which means that when you point your camera to any physical object you will start receiving information about it in real-time.
As I said earlier, there are perceptual problems in India about AR. But we started working with brands who we had partnered with on a global level like Heineken, Kellogg's, Wipro, Fiama di Wills, Tropicana, Britannia, ITC, etc. We also worked with a lot of media publishers where there is a great opportunity to use AR to create compelling content for their audience. So, we were the first ones to work with Tinkle, Digit, Businessworld, Open Magazine, Stardust, Stuff, etc.
The challenges for both are very different but one fundamental thing was the same, AR was used to solve a specific business problem and not as a gimmick.
'Visual search' is what Bippar is now positioning itself as. How do you sell this concept to marketers?
We are completely moving away from image recognition. Globally we are moving towards something called as a visual browser, where when you blip anything around you and you will get information on that. We want to be the Google of the visual world. The idea of driving the same conversation in India means we need to ensure that we build a large behaviour in India. It is not about AR or VR but making the world more interactive by looking at it. That is the larger goal. This is not only limited to brand campaigns or working with publishers. We are also working with schools, education institutes, third party developers, etc. to create a larger impact on how people consume content.
You mentioned about working with publishers. Do you see Blippar or AR as ideal for publishers to create more engaging content?
It is, but you need to have the right content. AR sounds interesting in terms of digitizing the physical world but you have to ensure that relevant content is delivered and you need to get the editorial on board.
Also, you need to understand that any physical content today will have digital versions in some form or the other. So, you need to be very clear on what kind of content you want to bring that creates some value for the audience.
For us, it is critical that we do a lot of research to create stickiness with the reader. It cannot just be static content. For example, a Bollywood piece cannot just use AR to have a 'Watch Trailer' option. Either the trailer has to be exclusive or there should be engagement opportunity like a selfie with the actors. The content has to tailored and personalized. One can also convert the passive content to a transactional content. For example, an e-commerce store can allow users to blip and buy products through print ads or advertorials.
Does the emergence of wearable technology create more opportunities for AR?
Wearables is the next big thing. Mobiles are just a conduit. The form and shape might change but the device will still do the same function. Any wearable that has multiple functionalities to it is an opportunity for us.
We were the first ones to create an app for Google Glass. Google Glass did not work because of hardware problems but we were the first to have AR on Glass. We are talking to various wearable tech creators to integrate our product with theirs.
Any plans to raise more funds this year?
There are no definite plans. Our business has done really well recently and it is pretty much a continuing growth story. But if you look at businesses like ours, to keep up the growth there might be some investment in the future.