Augmented Reality and Print: Gimmick or Game Changer?

According to Juniper Research, the mobile Augmented Reality (AR) market is set to increase from 60 million users this year to nearly 200 million in 2018.  By providing an interactive dimension to print, can AR technology breathe new life into traditional print media?

Despite on-going predictions of its demise, print is being revitalised through the use of interactive technology that connects it to the digital world. While many of us favour the speed and convenience of online content consumption, there remains a preference for print rather than pixels, as a way to disconnect from the online noise and distraction.


Yet the print and digital worlds need not be disconnected – both can work effectively together. It’s not a contest between print or digital – each channel plays a different role in influencing how a consumer interacts with a brand and makes a purchase decision. For instance, a print advertisement may stimulate a customer to want to learn more about a product, leading them to search online or through social media for more information.


For today’s “digital omnivores”, interacting with multiple platforms and devices has become the norm – watching television with a tablet nearby and mobile phone in-hand.   But how can traditional off-line media, such as print, be brought into this digital mix? One approach is to make print interactive through the use of cross-media marketing.


Cross-media marketing integrates communications across multiple channels, rather than a “silo” approach where each channel is used in isolation. Response rates originating from cross-media campaigns may often surpass those achieved when using separate print or digital channels.


Print can be made interactive by incorporating a call to action in printed material, for instance through response mechanisms such as personal URLs (pURLs), QR codes or NFC technology.  As an example, think of an upgrade offer on a direct marketing piece which links to a web site. If the offer is accepted, the recipient could receive a text message confirmation and a thank you postcard in the post.


The market for cross-media technology is broad and diverse. Alongside independent software vendors (ISVs), print vendors including Canon, Ricoh and Xerox offer cross media marketing services to help customers connect print to online channels.


But today, some progressive marketers are moving beyond QR codes and pURLs by using the latest Augmented Reality (AR) technology to bring print to life. 


AR uses the camera sensors on smartphones and tablets to combine reality (think photographs coming to life in Harry Potter) with virtual overlays for a more dynamic interactive user experience. AR technology can, for example, allow readers to hold their phone in front of a printed page and see extra content on their handset. This might be a moving version of the static image on the paper, a video, a link to buy products or a game. An AR app (such as Layar, Aurasma or Blippar) searches for images and patterns on a server, validates the image and sends back the associated content.


Some magazine and news publishers have already been experimenting with AR to drive readers to online videos, retail sites and other content.  Earlier this year, the UK newspaper, The Independent, launched a new daily AR feature. Through the Blippar app, readers can gain access to additional multimedia content by scanning the paper with their tablet or smartphone. Also in the UK, IPC and the Bauer Media have both launched AR initiatives for some of their UK magazine titles, again using the Blippar app. Meanwhile, Top Gear magazine has been using AR through the Aurasma app since 2012 , estimating that 50% of readers are watching extra content via the app.


A few print vendors are in the AR space already. Aurasma is an HP Autonomy product and Ricoh has developed Clickable Paper which enables consumers to receive online content by pointing a smartphone at any printed media.  Clickable Paper uses Ricoh Visual Search technology, the SnapEdit tool, image recognition software and a mobile app.  For instance, hot spots are added to the PDF of a magazine, which link to URLs. 


The use of AR in the print world is still embryonic, and mostly relies on an app to initiate the interaction. However, mainstream use may be boosted by technology such as Google Glass and other “wearable tech” which requires no special action to start up the AR activity.


As with any new medium, AR relies on enhanced content to bring print to life.  Although the shift from gimmick to revenue generator may take some time, by adding an interactive dimension to print, AR can effectively bridge the print and digital divide. Engaging, high quality print is set to be revitalised and ultimately it will be the application of AR, by marketers and publishers alike, that will help print stand the test of time.

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