AR offers a means to put value back into printed products

Pamela Mardle
Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Exploding labels, barking magazines, personal catwalks in your living room... Until now this level of interaction through the traditional medium of print has been a fantasy, but now the printed page is literally being brought to life through the use of augmented reality (AR).

The boom of smartphone use, projected to grow to 34% in the UK by 2015 according to ZenithOptimedia, provides growing opportunities for digital media, with social networking and websites becoming readily available, but AR is giving physical media a slice of the pie too.

Using apps such as Blippar or Aurasma, consumers can capture inactive images on their smartphone or tablet and transform it into video, games or even e-commerce sites driving readers directly to the virtual point of purchase.

At last month’s Hunkeler Innovationdays in Lucerne, HP used Aurasma, the AR development division of Autonomy, which the manufacturer bought in 2011, to allow visitors to virtually view its digital product portfolio.

"There is a discussion about how print engages more senses, because of the physical aspects, and what AR enables vendors to do is to drive value back into print, and pull brands back towards print as an effective marketing medium," says HP EMEA market development manager, mail and publishing segment Paul Randall.

"This technology bridges the gap between offline and online and stops people seeing separate media as standalone entities.

"This is a pretty simple means for printers to start driving incremental response rates through print to put themselves back into the position of being valued service providers rather than commoditised print providers," he adds.

Healeys Print Group managing director Philip Dodd agrees: "Gone are the days of just putting ink onto paper; you need to be able to do something that separates you from the competition now."

He cited a pitch that the company recently put to a local high school with the help of marketing agency White Space Design, involving an AR brochure that brought the headmaster to life in a pre-recorded presentation, personally addressing potential students.

Generation gap
When you consider that younger audiences are still, by an overwhelming majority, the largest group of users of mobile technologies, this was a well-targeted proposal.

Publishing house Egmont tapped into this trend when it teamed up with Aurasma last year to release its first AR version of Toxic magazine, aimed at pre-teen boys.

Lauren Offers, Aurasma head of marketing, explains of the rationale behind the project: "Those in the 9-to-12 age bracket are natural adopters of new technologies and this was evident in the strong uptake of users who interacted with the AR experience."

Also tapping into a younger audience is print broker, set up by Chris Healey while he studying at Oxford University, which offers AR capabilities on all of its printed products through an in-house development team.

Healey says that his key customers continue to be students, with the most popular format for AR being flyers, as audiences can explore the virtual side of the content in their own time, unlike content found on posters and banners.

Another reason for movable reading materials proving successful could be due to smartphone users moving in and out of service black-spots, Healey explains.

"AR hasn’t yet been taken up to the level that we would expect because the technology is being held back by bad connections – AR in a blackspot is worthless – and the processing power of smartphones, although the introduction of 4G internet access is alleviating this."

He adds that the lack of awareness surrounding AR has also slowed its uptake, and believes that the technology is still mainly used by big businesses with large advertising budgets.

Solopress online marketing manager Rik Haynes agrees, saying that although the company is very excited about the possibilities of AR, financial backing is needed.

"Examples like the Ikea catalogue and McLaren P1 Concept car have already showcased some great new ways to interact with print.

"Ideally, today’s commercial printer will be fully geared up for cross-media work and have all the resources in place to help clients produce an AR project from start to finish," he adds. "But that requires a big investment in app development and social media marketing services."

HP’s Randall suggests that printers should be offering a ‘try-before-you-buy’ service, charging by click-through rates rather than adding a substantial one-off amount to the invoice due to the infancy of the technology and its current restraints.

He adds: "It is definitely at the collaboration stage as printers need to work with creative agencies to get more customers to take a leap of faith and try something new.

"AR is an enabler for printers rather than their core expertise, allowing them to offer print services at a higher level of value."

So while it has great potential and is indeed driving sales back to print, it will be a while before AR will be lucrative enough for smaller businesses to justify investing in an in-house team of developers.

What sort of impact will AR technology have on print?

Aaron Griggs, account manager, VR Print

"Having recently produced an interactive direct mail piece, I saw the added value that AR can bring to the table. It means that the end-user holds onto the printed piece for a few more seconds, which is what marketing is all about. But people are still using the ‘wow’ factor on this, when really that went a year ago. We are waiting for it to get better and easier to use, for example, having a smartphone camera that detects AR triggers, instead of having to use an app to read them."

Paul Roscoe, managing director, Berkshire Labels
"I believe AR will take off. Clients can forge a closer connection with your consumer, and link to videos you have produced, your Facebook page, your Twitter handle – your brand comes to life. There is a gimmick factor about it and so you need to keep it current to have a point of difference. It is all about having the relationship with the AR developer and having the time and dedication to work with customers and help deliver what they’re trying to achieve. It depends on the target audience and how innovative the client is as a brand."

Christie O’Brien, director, Hobs Reprographic
"AR is relevant to Hobs because we do a lot of high-quality presentations and customers are always looking to make that impact. If you’re just doing high-volume, low-quality runs, then AR doesn’t come into that bracket. You need to listen to what your customers want, but you also need to have the money to invest and the expertise. At the moment, it is all about collaborating with developers because it is still a relatively new service and we are still on a learning curve trying to figure out what the best uses are."

Content is the key to print’s future in cross-media world

Ambarish Mitra, chief executive, Blippar

No one consumes information from one just one source anymore. We read papers, tablets, phones and e-readers and consume images, videos and community-sourced social content.

This variety of media feeds a hunger to know more and know better and the reports of the death of print have been greatly exaggerated; while it might be dwindling – and certainly is changing – it still remains a popular and trusted medium for both advertisers and consumers.

Augmented reality (AR) applications such as Blippar enable print to become an exciting, media-rich experience. For instance, instead of simply telling a reader to visit a website to watch a specific video, you could enable the reader to access the video directly ‘off’ or even ‘on’ the page in their hand through the camera of their phone. There is so much potential for AR in the print industry and many advertisers have begun to realise that.

Unlike the dull, unsightly and outdated QR codes, AR is a creative, interactive content medium encouraging imaginative content applications and experimentation.  

We created the world’s first playable magazine cover page for ShortList, where consumers could play a video game on a magazine cover and with a simple tap on their phone screens could purchase products on the shopping pages.

The results were great:10% of ShortList readers ‘blipped’ the magazine, resulting in 229,178 ‘blipps’, 51,451 unique users. The front page by itself got 78,288 blipps.

Critically, AR puts the power into the hands of the print and creative industries – rather being a tool for techies – and there are a huge number of applications for AR and print that are still untapped. For example, an advert for a ski resort can be enabled to show readers the actual topography of the resort in 3D.

Furthermore, the data capture capabilities of a this technology can be fed back to publications. This extremely valuable information on the behaviour and habits of readers can then be used to improve distribution and/or targeted marketing.

We’re often asked if print publications should feel threatened by cross-media technology. Our response is that there is no threat to a company that is serious about its content and maintaining its relevance in the 21st century. Good content will always be required and will always command a premium, but any print platform that ignores web and mobile is doing so at their peril. AR offers a bridge between different media – and also potential new channels for content distribution.

As long as the content is strong, companies shouldn’t worry about cross-media technology eclipsing their media; it complements it and could even present new revenue opportunities.

At Blippar, we see our technology as more of a behaviour than a specific app or hardware technology. We absolutely envisage a near future where mobile image recognition will become an instinctive, intuitive, everyday consumer behaviour.

Consumers will know (and expect) to hold their phone up to real-world objects and communications to unlock further interactive or engaging information from them."

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