Is Augmented Reality the Future of Advertising?

Augmented Reality - "AR" for short - is nothing new, but with products like Google Glass set to launch soon, it's garnering a lot more attention than usual. In fact, at least where advertising is concerned, analyst Juniper Research predicts that AR advertising will become a $1.5 billion market by 2015 - up from a $2 million one in 2010. That's some serious growth, but where's the appeal?

Most people I've ever talked to about advertising have been quick to admit that they don't care for it. It's the reason so many people block ads on the Internet without a second thought, or click "Skip" on any ad that prefaces their video online. But it's a sad reality that places that have ads need the support, and from a business perspective, you need to let consumers know your product exists somehow. Picture, for a moment, that advertising simply didn't exist. I think our world would be a far different one. iPhone? What's that?

To meet consumers halfway, some advertisers try to be creative - they try to deliver an ad that doesn't actually feel like an ad. Therefore, we see gimmicks, and many of them. Recently, AR has become a rather popular target, but it's still in its infancy.

One example of a cool campaign comes from General Mills, which held a Lucky Charms contest on St. Patrick's Day. You downloaded an app, chased virtual marshmallows, and then were entered to win a prize. Gold Streetwear also had an interesting idea. Whenever you spotted a specific logo in public, you could download an app, scan it, and part of the logo would turn into... sperm, effectively, which you'd then control on your phone. The better you scored at this game, the better the discount you received at the store.

This all sounds pretty creative, and neat, but CNET's Russell Horowitz asks the perfect question: "All of this is well and good. But what happens once the novelty of AR inevitably wears off? How inclined will we be to hold up our smartphones and wait as yet another product-pushing optical overlay appears?"

With that sentiment, I can't help but think back to the day I bought my Nintendo Wii. At first, it was a bit of fun... I liked it. But then the requirement to wave my hands in the air just because Nintendo wanted me to grew old, and I basically never played the console again. Would we see the same thing happen with AR?

In order for AR advertising to take off at all, it seems likely that a generic API would need to be created that all AR advertisers used. Requiring the customer to first download an app to take advantage of the AR fun is a little too much to ask, especially if they're meant to stand in the same location to take advantage of it.

That all said, there is definitely some potential here, and if Juniper Research is correct, we're bound to see a lot more of this going forward.

Tags:  Advertising