I’m going to nail my colours to the mast. I think augmented reality (AR) technology is already big and can be massive.

The only thing is, I don’t think its best use is in augmenting reality, per se.

Where AR apps have a big future is the creation of a ‘physical world domain’. That’s a phrase used by Ambarish Mitra, CEO of Blippar. It essentially means using objects as the physical keys to information or rewards online.

Blippar signed up with Pepsi and Coca Cola recently and this feels like a game changer. With QR codes failing to be implemented properly in many cases (with bad placement, instructions, URLs, or landing pages), the company could be well-placed to own the discovery and reward space.

FMCG (fast moving consumer goods) feels like a proving ground for this technology (and all reports of the number of scans are good, so far), with immense numbers of units providing marketing real estate to rival any other ‘channel’.

So why might it be so powerful as a tag or key, but not as augmenter?

Why AR tech can unlock the physical

The experience is slick

QR never was. Blippar and others are. Look at the CTA on the side of this Pepsi product. It is simple but effective. 

pepsi blippar 

QR was often fouled up by the marketing department because of the slightly disjointed tech stack involved. The QR scanning apps aren’t standardised. No one app prevails. Most free apps launch advertising and aren’t invested in the serving of good or standardised content.

Add to that the generic ‘scan and share’ CTA that didn’t inform users how to download a QR scanner (not bundled with iOS). 

Add to this, the fact that marketers create their own landing pages on their own websites for a lot of QR code destinations and it’s no surprise the experience is bad.

Of course, with AR, consumers still have to go through the app download process, but at least there's instruction to do so here.

Global smartphone penetration is going great guns

What with manufacturers trying to focus on developing markets and some developing markets like China having a populace that ascribe considerable value to a good phone, smartphone penetration is high. 

This simply means more and more can scan and won’t be daunted by the tech. 

A branded app works

It’s natural that the tech should be standardised to increase adoption. Blippar signing such big partners with such wide distribution as Coca Cola and Pepsi is a coup because it may help the platform cement a place as the best known AR app.

This prominence is arguably needed for the user to be comfortable with repeat scanning.

A familiar concept for FMCG

The price point of FMCG is low enough to make unlockable content actually a value-add. In other sectors where AR might be used for branding, such as automotive for example, the tech can feel a little gimmicky. 

But FMCG is absolutely the right sector for this technology.

The uses are myriad

One example Ambarish gave me: imagine adding educational or instructional content to sanitary towel packaging. It could launch video or audio content for many products with common FAQs.

Why ‘augmented reality’ should be retired

An experience is often not really a reward

What would you prefer, a can of Coca Cola that uncovers a new track from your favourite artists on Spotify or a can that, when your camera points at it, produces an animation on your phone that appears to overlay reality?

FMCG has history with the free gift, whether in packets of cereal, the Happy Meal, packets of crisps. Giving away something tangible ‘for free’ is effective.

Consumers simply instantly understand and value the premise. In this instance, streamed media created by known artists can be thought of as tangible.

The ‘see a cool animation’ call-to-action is still compelling, but perhaps not to all audiences unless a star is used creatively. Yes, augmented animations that convey information might be better, but the user might prefer this simply to be served to the phone and not dependent on pointing at a trigger the whole time.

augmented reality 

There are still conceptual wrinkles to iron out here. ‘Ownership’ of a reward isn’t really possible unless the activator is concealed from the mere browser i.e. secret Spotify playlists are a good reward as Coca Cola doesn’t lose anything if they are accessed by none-buyers. 

However, media with a social element is highly valued by consumers and something that they are accustomed to no longer owning, rather sharing. That's why Coca-Cola's Spotify playlists are locally curated by users, lending more authenticity and hopefully hitting the mark.

The experiences aren’t that great

I can go and watch the new Planet of the Apes in 3D or play Grand Theft Auto on the PS3. These experiences far-and-away trump the animations AR is capable of. In the world of Oculus VR, a pic on a phone is relatively underwhelming. 

Glass and others probably won’t work

I know this is a tad presumptuous, but the latest Glass prototype gets very hot, is very slow when running apps like Blippar that require quite a bit of processing power and doesn’t quite feel right when used with gestures (Blippar has some nascent gaming content that uses gesture but again isn’t reliably responsive).

Anything using gestural interfaces is going to find it difficult as users discover how easy false positives are to input, along with the inaccuracy of the input (as opposed to a mouse or even voice). 

For more information on mobile, check out our mobile topic page.

Ben Davis

Published 22 July, 2014 by Ben Davis @ Econsultancy

Ben Davis is Editor at Econsultancy. He lives in Manchester, England. You can contact him at ben.davis@econsultancy.com, follow at @herrhuld or connect via LinkedIn.

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Comments (7)

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Ted Richardson

The AR is nothing but a fad, interesting for a mere 2 minutes....


1) nobody wants to watch adverts/ read interact with mediums where they will be sold to.
2) interacting with a can ??? Get a life!
3) the brand Blippar has been mentioned 6 times in the article?
4) Ben Davis

about 4 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff


1) I agree with you, that's why I'm making the argument that it's useful for rewarding a customer.

2) Again, ideally a smooth interaction to collect a reward.

3) Blippar is arguably the market leader, the deals with Coca Cola and Pepsi are of note - yes other AR apps are available. I made the point that one brand of AR may have to out, if the customer is not to be fatigued. Perhaps though, in the end, this reward tech will be branded up as the FMCG company i.e. download the Coke app and scan.

4) Nice.

about 4 years ago


Michael Johns

I agree that the term Augmented Reality should be replaced with a better term. Do you have a suggestion?

Probably the author has been paid by Blippar, there are far better Augmented Reality software available in the market, such as Vuforia, Metaio etc..

about 4 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff


I like you way you switch from asking me a question to an aside where you question my integrity.

There's no commercial undercurrent here, I simply went to a Blippar briefing that kickstarted my thinking.

I've written about Aurasma here:

Zappar here:

And Gamar here:

As for an alternative phrase. I think augmented reality works fine, but for the more limited use of the technology.

A phrase that brings to mind content discovery and the physical domain would be ideal. I'll put my mind to it. Something a bit catchier than '3D content discovery'.

about 4 years ago

Ben Davis

Ben Davis, Editor at EconsultancyStaff


p.s. I see your IP address is registered to Metaio.

Transparency is the way forward.

about 4 years ago


Zach Shearer

It's a shame that Michael forgot to respond on this thread. Well I know who I won't be doing business with. It's a shame, Michael doesn't appear to have used his real name.

almost 4 years ago


Sophia Driver, Writer at Freelance

This is exactly how I feel when introduced to a tablet PC. I was so used to using mouse and keyboards. I said to myself, there is no way I would use my favorite software or games on a touchscreen tablet.
Well, it turns out it's easier to use tablets as a platform for my favorite games. And besides, AR has still lots of rooms to develop. It's too early to make reviews. Also, it's use is not only limited to advertising. It can also be used in gaming, as a training (http://goo.gl/iWFxkF) tool, an educational aid and lots of other things which we can't know by now.

over 3 years ago

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