It’s a strange position, being a software engineer for an interactive marketing agency at the dawn of augmented reality. I paid my initial dues in the traditional software and web markets, where the products I helped create were made to be the focus of the type of online campaigns that I now take part in developing. From an engineering standpoint, both worlds have their mannerisms (good and bad), but specifically with augmented reality and marketing there exists a peculiar situation that brands, looking to implement an emerging technology, would be wise to take into account.
I love the excitement over augmented reality. This is not to be confused with the hype over augmented reality, but the general feeling, among those that follow the tech, that we are entering a new chapter in human/computer interfaces. This feeling is spreading to brands who, having the right mindset about marketing, always want to show themselves as being on the cutting edge of new interactive user experiences. This is one of the good effects that the marketing world is having on AR, because the advertising dollars are funding research and development.
With the pro of major brand interest and funding, though, comes the con of many in the marketing world misunderstanding the technology, due to its hype and those riding it. Couple this with the fact that a large number of interactive agencies are selling AR (read: riding the hype), when in reality, only a handful of companies are actually producing the product. Rather than be any more didactic with this, I’ll break down the situation to a metaphor.
Imagine that you want a filet mignon. You’ve never had a filet mignon, and you have a general idea of what it actually is, but no idea how it’s made. Yet, you know that everyone is raving about it, so you decide to go out to a restaurant and get one.
The Production/Tech Company
You drive by a fast food place with a big sign that says “Home of the Original Filet Mignon.” Thinking that, if they have the “original” filet mignon, this should be the place to go, you step inside. No one greets you at the door and you have to walk up to the counter to order. You place your order for one filet mignon and the cook gets started. While this restaurant has the right steak in stock, they’re just a fast food place and have no knowledge of how to present it, so they just grind it up, grill it, and put it in a bun. If you didn’t know any better, you might think this was pretty good, but someone who had a filet mignon before would look at you with contempt if you said so.
This, from a marketing perspective, is what happens when a brand goes directly to a production/tech company for an AR execution. The brand has an AR product in the end, but it winds up completely lacking in presentation and preparation. It doesn’t tell a story, and therefore, doesn’t sell the product.
The Traditional Interactive Agency
You drive by one of the most popular restaurants in town. You’ve received good food there in the past, so you think that they might have good filet mignon as well. Stepping inside you’re taken to your seat by a pleasant hostess and handed your menus. You notice that filet mignon isn’t actually on the menu, but when the waiter comes, you ask him if they make it. He says, “of course we do. One filet mignon coming up!” What he didn’t tell you is they actually don’t make filet mignon, the restaurant down the street does. He runs down to the other restaurant, in a frenzy, to act as a middleman between you and their filet mignon. When you ask questions about how the steak is prepared, he doesn’t know and takes fifteen minutes to run down the street, get the answer and come back. Eventually he brings you a filet mignon, properly prepared, if not a little cold. Also, since his restaurant needs to make a profit, he jacked the price up twenty five percent.
So it goes with most interactive agencies, which have plenty of people on site to do traditional online campaigns, but not much R&D. Times are tough and they don’t want to lose your business, so often, even though they don’t have anyone on staff that fully understands the tech, they will sell a complete AR campaign to a brand. In many, if not most cases, the AR execution is either obsolete or, oppositely, pitched with functionality that won’t be technically possible for years.
The Interactive Agency specializing in Emerging Technology
You go to an online restaurant review site and get directed to the restaurant that, in the last example, actually made the filet mignon. Upon entering, you find that their hosting staff is just as pleasant as the other restaurant and that it functions on standard fine restaurant procedures. Filet mignon is on the menu and your waiter is knowledgeable in its preparation and presentation. If he isn’t sure about something, there’s no worry, because the chef is fifteen feet away. You receive a filet mignon exactly as it was meant to be at the price it should cost.
An interactive media agency specializing in emerging technology not only understands how to tell a brand’s story through successful, traditional online campaigns, but also has in-house staff that can create the cutting edge interactive experiences brands want to give to their customers. In the end, that means a more effective overall execution that actually sells the product.
Augmented reality is such a new technology that, when looking for an agency, it’s easy to separate the wheat from the chaff. Just ask detailed, project specific questions, from the beginning, to determine off hand knowledge. Most importantly, don’t trust agencies that say anything is technically possible. Some day we might be able to all have Terminator vision, but right now, we’re just playing with wooden blocks.
Metaphors aside, what I hope to get across is that, when it comes to augmented reality for marketing purposes, it pays to make the right friends.