'Augmented reality' delivers a faster connection to brands

At the start of this year, the Detroit Red Wings began to use a burgeoning technology to interact with fans and supplement their coverage in Red Wings Today, the free magazine and program handed out at hockey games.

At the start of this year, the Detroit Red Wings began to use a burgeoning technology to interact with fans and supplement their coverage in Red Wings Today, the free magazine and program handed out at hockey games.

Following in the footsteps of Esquire, which did an augmented reality (AR) cover with Robert Downey Jr. in December, the pro hockey team's internal communications staff placed quick response (QR) codes in the magazine. When fans hold up their smartphones to the codes, they are directed to online videos that supplement features on players.

The sister technologies of AR and QR are gaining momentum in the digital community. Companies such as Hallmark and Topps Baseball Cards are using AR to enhance their products, while others, including the Red Wings and Gillette, are experimenting with it in outreach efforts to influencers and consumers.

Nicole Yelland, the team's social networking coordinator, says, "Understanding the rising popularity and affordability of cell phones with Internet connectivity, we knew there was an opportunity to reach fans on a new level by taking advantage of the capabilities those phones offered."

Showcasing products
PR teams can leverage AR and QR technologies to increase engagement with consumers and educate the media and influencers about a brand. While consumers are still in the early stages of adopting the technology, the results thus far are strong.

With the Red Wings' initial foray into QR codes in January, Yelland says the videos were viewed more than 2,000 times all the way through on cell phones. For the latest issue, more than 70% of game-day viewings of the videos on YouTube were from mobile devices.

Dirk Shaw, SVP of digital influence at Ogilvy PR, says AR in situations like this "is a great way for driving engagement through a printed title and generating a further point of interaction."

For the Gillette Fusion ProGlide,* parent Procter & Gamble used AR at a long-lead media event to showcase the new razor and the technologies incorporated into it.

Damon Jones, global communications director for Gillette, says, "I like the ability for people to interact with the augmented reality and how the different features come together. It lets you have a conversation around the technology, as opposed to just giving it to people."

Gillette worked with AOR Porter Novelli on its AR out-reach. John Havens, SVP of social media at the agency, is a proponent of AR within the industry.

"For the next couple of years, it's all going to be guerrilla stuff," he notes, "but it isn't just about early adopter geeks."

Direct marketing company Valpak used AR by putting ads in industry trades. The codes sent users to a Web site where a video popped up, demonstrating new products and tools from Valpak.

"We used AR to cut through and use a new technology to showcase Valpak's abilities," says Deanna Willsey, corporate communications director at Valpak, which works with Ruder Finn. "The strategy was definitely to do something unexpected and get some attention."

Consumers catch
While early adopters and other influencers may be embracing AR, consumers still need time. PR pros, however, are optimistic.

Todd Defren, principal at Shift Communications, says, "As more smartphones get into the hands of consumers with more and more functionality, you'll find opportunities for brands to have even more direct interaction with people." Shift has proposed AR components to some clients.

"I always ask, 'Who are we trying to reach? Will that market find value in this ap- plication?'" says Ogilvy's Shaw. "To find that balance of entertainment, utility, and usefulness, it must be narrow in scope. That will drive adoption. But it's still a long way off."

Examples of Augmented reality and Quick Response

Valpak
Valpak used AR in a consumer-facing instant-win contest. Users held up Valpak envelopes to a Web cam to find out if they won

Yelp Monacle
To use this mobile phone AR application, consumers point their phones at a restaurant and Yelp reviews pop up

Chevrolet

At South By Southwest, Chevrolet affixed QR codes on the hood of several cars, allowing users to use their phones to learn more

* A previous version of the article referred to the razor as the Gillette Fusion Pro when it is actually the Gillette Fusion ProGlide. PRWeek regrets the error.

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