From Cheez Doodles to cars, marketers are increasingly trying out the new technology in an effort to make deeper connections with consumers
Wise Foods wanted to make its Cheez Doodle brand appealing to a broader market. The snack food is typically purchased by parents for kids, but Wise Foods set about capturing a younger demographic. "We wanted to stretch that market to the tween and teen audience," says Kevin Foltz, the brand manager. So the company embarked on a new marketing campaign that included an animated alternative rock band called the Cheez Dudes. What really set the campaign apart is a contest, using a cutting-edge technology that merges virtual reality with real-world images, that challenges consumers to build their own music video with the Cheez Dudes. The technology is known as augmented reality, and it's taking hold across the marketing world as consumer brands as varied as Kia Motors, Nestlé, and Frito-Lay look for newfangled ways to push snack foods, cereal, and automobiles to a younger demographic. The hope for marketers is that augmented reality will engage an audience more deeply than other forms of social media, such as viral videos, fan pages on Facebook, or Twitter followings. The total market for augmented reality is expected to hit $350 million in 2014, up from about $6 million in 2008, according to ABI Research. Of the total five years from now, almost $170 million will come from mobile augmented reality advertising. How exactly does augmented reality marketing work? Many campaigns require consumers to use computers and Webcams. For Wise, digital marketing firm Zemoga created a contest called Rock the Cheez! that requires consumers to print and cut out small square patterns from the Web site and then place them in front of the computer's Webcam. When viewed on screen, each square becomes an animated character set in whatever real-world background or stage the consumer chooses to create. The contestant who can create the most popular video by Dec. 31 will win the makings of his or her own garage rock band, including a Fender Stratocaster guitar, a Fender Precision Bass, a complete drum set, and other items valued at more than $2,600. Kia Motors wanted to create an engaging marketing and branding initiative for its 2010 Soul automobile, which is designed for the twentysomething demographic. So it went with an augmented reality game created for Facebook featuring the same animated hamsters that appear in Kia's television commercial. In Kia's game, the player sits in front of a Webcam and controls on-screen action—grabbing and inserting a hamster into a Kia Soul, for example—by a virtual magnet connected to his or her forehead. It may sound crazy but it's oddly compelling to watch. The game uses augmented reality technology created by Total Immersion. Just a Passing Ad Fad?
AR holds potential for a wide range of industrial and consumer uses, but marketing projects are one of the few areas where augmented reality tech companies are doing steady business today. "It has grown so quickly because it can fit within a Web site, it's fairly inexpensive, and it's a new thing," says Greg Davis, U.S. general manager at Total Immersion. Some experts say mobile augmented reality technology will have to become a lot more user friendly before it will catch on. "The experience may improve sooner than we think, but it may take a very long time to mainstream," says David Armano, a principal at social business design firm Dachis Group. Other experts fret that the novelty of augmented reality marketing and advertising will wear off quickly. Total Immersion is working to keep that from happening in part by branching out to augmented reality in toys for kids, working with Mattel (MAT) to create a line of action figures for the new James Cameron action adventure film Avatar that hits theaters on Dec. 18. The action figures come with a digital accessory called an i-TAG that lets them interact with a 3-D animated image on a computer screen when the tag is waved in front of a Web cam. In France, Nestlé worked with Dassault Systèmes (DAST.PA) to create an augmented reality game to promote the film Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard, due to be released in Europe and the U.S. in December. The game appears on the side of a cereal box, that when held up to a Web cam becomes a game console with a motion sensor akin to a Nintendo Wii. The player then uses the box to play a game on the computer screen. Foltz at Wise says the ability to play with the technology helps consumers foster a deeper emotional connection to a product. Says Foltz: "That's what we want to do, create moments with consumers and our brand."