3-D technology is seeing a resurgance in theaters, with new films trying to improve the technology and bring more viewers into theaters, and online marketers are starting to experiment as well. A new technology called augmented reality (or AR) lets consumers play with hologram-like images through their web cameras. Brands are beginning to integrate the technology into their online marketing campaigns.

And the companies are not all cutting edge new media brands. Those
testing out AR include Papa John’s, General Electric, and The Postal
Service.

According to the Wall Street Journal:

“This week, the Postal Service will start running an ad campaign that
touts a flat-rate shipping fee for its Priority Mail service. The
online portion of the ad effort includes a “virtual box simulator” on
the prioritymail.com site. The simulator allows consumers to hold an
object, such as a cup or a book, in front of a Webcam and use the
resulting 3-D image to determine the right size box for shipping the
object.”

The new technology is certainly fun. But it has more than a few trappings of fad about it. Papa John’s for instance, is putting AR images on 30 million pizza boxes starting in June. Customers can go to a dedicated Web site, hold the image up to a Webcam
and view an animated, 3-D 1972 Camaro on screen. The Camaro is relevant to Papa John’s because it is the car that the company’s CEO, John Schnatter, sold in 1984 to start his first pizza place. It also coincides with a cross-country trip Mr. Schnatter is incorporating into the company’s larger marketing strategy.

The technology is sure to impress a few pizza customers, but once they use it, are they going to come back for more pizza? It depends on how well companies integrate AR into their marketing strategy.

USPS’s strategy has the benefit of being useful. And promoting the company’s tech savy in a market that is increasingly being squeezed by companies like FedEx and UPS.

And GE has seen a boost from their AR attempts. Their campaign focused on finding new forms of energy. Their AR image showed a 3-D wind farm with three wind turbines that viewers could interact with. More than one million visitors have gone to GE’s Eco Smart Grid site since it launched in February, and over 25% of them spend more than five minutes on the site.

Papa John’s hopes to integrate coupons and special discounts into its AR campaign, and its success there depends on how useful consumers find their attempts.

AR allows for a new level of engagement that brands are craving. While only about 18% of the nation’s 68.5 million broadband households have web cams according to Parks Associates research firm, that number is quickly rising. If brands use AR in smart ways, the usability will get there.

Photo: WSJ