Augmented Reality Is Overhyped and Abused

And We're In Danger of Killing Off a Rather Useful Technology

By Published on .

As web-based augmented-reality applications have exploded, it's more important than ever to remember AR is a technology based on utility and not gimmicks.

Unfortunately, as with most new and emerging technologies, it's quickly becoming overhyped and abused. Usability and user experience have been thrown under in the stampede of agencies and brands saying "Hey, look -- me too!" Even more disturbing is that most marketers are overlooking the most unique aspect of AR itself: that it's a technology that can create innovative and sustained engagement between a brand and its target consumer through utility.

The real danger is that the general public is being exposed to AR through gimmicks, most of which are not following basic user experience and usability standards. I'm quite shocked at the number of brand-driven AR executions out there that require a person to download a browser plug-in or software. Is it 2004 again? 3D plug-ins and downloads for websites were all the rage back then but a funny thing happened -- it became quite obvious the end user did not think it was cool enough to download software for the overall "experience." Five years later, has so little changed?

A high percentage of consumers will still not download browser plug-ins or software online to view a marketing initiative, no matter how cool you think it is. AR development can be done in Flash and doesn't require the extra step of downloading and installing software. In addition, consumers will be disappointed after going through all these hoops for a passive viewing experience with little to no interaction. Have you actually tried holding a magazine up to a webcam for a few minutes to watch a video? Not a pleasant user experience and if you do find this enjoyable, let me introduce you to Marquis de Sade.

The recent onslaught of AR gimmicks creates concern that the general public will get burned out on AR before true AR applications have time to gain traction. It's critical that brands and marketers start using this opportunity to connect with consumers through utility-based AR instead of gimmicks. Utility-based AR can create a special connection between a consumer and brand when done correctly. That's the magic of AR itself -- seeing how reality can be 'augmented' in new, useful ways.

Unfortunately, until the gimmicks die down, utility-based AR examples are few and far between. Here are three:

Agency/Developer: Sapient
Why it works: This execution is quite simple. Print out the marker, tape it to your wall and see how the Samsung TV will measure out for placement (on the same wall.)

Agency/Developer: AKQA
Why it works: Another effective use of AR. This application allows you to see how your item will fit in respective USPS packaging.

Agency/Developer: Rich Relevance & Zugara
Why it works: This application (Disclaimer: my company built it) uses AR to overlay images of clothing on an individual to enhance the online shopping experience. Motion capture also adds ability to stand back from computer and navigate controls and Facebook Connect integration allows immediate feedback from friends and family. Rich Relevance's recommendation engine shows consumers additional clothing based on thumbs up/thumbs down interaction.

In closing, I'll leave you with these 3 rules of thumb for web-based AR development:

  1. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Consumers will not download software or install browser plug-ins to view AR online. Mobile, however, has a different app ecosystem for AR.
  2. Social media integration can transform a passive AR experience into an interactive one. See Social TV examples for guidelines.
  3. Use AR to generate long-term customer engagement vs. short-term PR. Think strategically about AR and not as a quick hit gimmick your target consumer will ignore.

Matthew Szymczyk is CEO of Zugara, an interactive marketing agency based in Los Angeles. Zugara is a member of the AR Consortium and oversees the largest AR community on Facebook.

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