Augmented reality is becoming a common feature in marketing campaigns, yet there’s little evidence to suggest that it is catching on with consumers.
AR app Aurasma is making a huge effort to build awareness of the technology, and now works with more than 5,000 partners ranging from advertisers to schools.
One of its most successful partnerships is with Top Gear Magazine, which now embeds digital content in every monthly issue.
It has also worked with Universal to promote the new Jurassic Park DVD, and David Cameron is even said to have the app on his smartphone.
To find out more about how AR works, I spoke to head of partnerships and innovation Matt Mills…
One of the most well known uses of Aurasma is your partnership with Top Gear Magazine. Is that set to continue long-term?
We have quite a good partnership with BBC worldwide now, which should cover a lot of the other properties later this year. What they do is really simple, such as take the front cover of their magazines and embed various animations which are quite good fun.
The thing they really liked is that we are relatively open as a platform so they can use their own content designers to produce the animation on their covers.
And what was really interesting was that in the third month they didn’t use AR on the cover, then they got a whole load of complaints on Twitter from people asking why it didn’t work as they had got so used to seeing it.
Do you find that a lot of brands are buying into it long-term, or are most campaigns just a one-off to test how it works?
Once you’ve got over doing it for the first time, it’s actually very easy to use again and consumer interest grows from month-to-month. Take ASOS for example, they are now going into their third month of using AR in their magazine.
It started off with 20 items and they are now up to 150 to 200 items.
You said your platform is quite open. How much would you be involved in creating the AR content for ASOS?
Our involvement is mainly guidance – once we get a partner up and running they can go off and do it themselves.
We give a partner like ASOS access to a content management system where they can bulk upload all the pages from their magazine. Then they can use the same call to actions across all the different products.
For us its about building a scalable technology platform, so we want to put as much power in our partners hands as possible, as we never want to be the person that’s slowing it down.
We want to be pushing brands and making them do more. We couldn’t physically do all that our partners want to do, so we let them go off and do it.
Do you quality check all the campaigns?
Yes, we check everything before it goes live to make sure that it works.
Because you do get some ridiculous things, like people trying to track off reflective surfaces such as glass buildings, or even a mirror in one case. That obviously won’t work, as there’s no consistent image for the app to track.
So there’s a few things that you have to explain to a customer because they see this and think it’s magic and assume they can do magical things with it.
But in reality there is science here and sometimes you have to rein them in a little bit.
How easy is it to set a campaign live?
It’s a very quick process. One of the reasons it’s worked very well in editorial is we can turn stuff around in about half an hour.
In the case of London Fashion Week they were putting stuff live at 1am for newspapers that were published at 5am, and that’s more than enough time.
How do you charge businesses that want to use the technology?
At the moment, for someone like ASOS and other selected partners it’s completely free. We let them go away and use it, as we are trying to find out what is working with customers and what’s not working.
We generally set live around 10 ad campaigns every week in the UK and that’s just in print and poster ads but in time we’ll have a PPC model, as the theory is that if you are looking at editorial content in a magazine there will never be any cost for anyone.
But if you are viewing an advert and you click through to buy something then there will be a cost to that advertiser.
Are there certain types of campaigns that perform better than others?
Yes. I think the content is really important - things like the M&S Valentine’s Day campaign perform very well.
It was a massive poster in Waterloo Station, and we had people there explaining how to make it come alive. The idea was to remind men that it was Valentine’s Day and get them to buy their girlfriends underwear.
It was one of the top ten Valentine’s Day campaigns of the year, which is pretty good considering it cost M&S pretty much nothing.
The brand itself also has a big impact, because if it’s a brand that people don’t like or find interesting then it’s unlikely that they are going to engage with the content in the first place.
When you launch a campaign, how do you set the marketer's expectations in terms of engagement and the number of users?
I think the first time we work with a partner, in reality they are using it for PR. What this is really good at is getting interest from press, and if you use that as a metric then normally you will be happy.
In terms of numbers, we normally say it’s low, but we’re free. So it doesn’t cost anything, which means the return on investment is pretty good. And we can see awareness and user numbers slowly growing over time.
In terms of the travel stuff, there was one travel ad we put live that only had one phone call come off the back of it, but that one phone call was for quite an expensive holiday so it justified the campaign.
It’s difficult sometimes to find out what the metrics might be, but for something like the M&S campaign, you would expect to see around 15,000 views.
And that’s really quite a lot, as it works out to be around two to three times per minute.