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Mar 15 2012

Hindu Business Line- A touch of magic realism


Marketers are pushing the boundaries with augmented reality. It beats the clutter, but is India ready for it?

Want to know how that cool new watch looks against your wrist? Or how it works? You needn't budge, just download the app the company has created on your mobile phone/computer and wave your hand under the camera – and voila, there you are! It can even dress you virtually from top to toe, or analyse your skin for dry and oily zones and suggest treatments.

Or, do you think that ad in the newspaper on a store's annual sale doesn't have enough information? Point your smartphone at it, download the reader and the ad will convert in front of your eyes to tell you more – it will even lead you to the Web site on which you can shop from the comfort of your home.

Welcome to augmented reality (AR), which is taking baby steps in India. The examples mentioned above are not the first or the only ones. There have been others, older ones, but few and far between, and seem to be largely dependent on your possessing a smartphone or a computer with a webcam.


“With more companies investing in digital media and the explosion in smartphone sales, AR can break the clutter in the traditional media,” says Somprabh Singh, Senior Manager (Marketing), Titan Industries. The campaign for its light-powered HTSE (high-tech self- energised) range of watches included a television commercial with actor Aamir Khan, an app for Android phones, iPhone and Facebook. One of the features includes the watch lighting up gradually, to reflect the ‘powering up' aspect.

“This is the first time we've invested so much in the digital medium,” says Singh. The campaign met with a good response. On the mobile phones, there were 54,000 downloads, 65,000 power-ups and 1.6 lakh product views. The store locator was used 5,000 times. On FB, there were 38,000 views. HTSE was the only Asian brand to be short-listed by Mashable, the social media and technology Web site, for an award in the Best Branded Mobile App category, along with Robbie Williams, Domino's Pizza and Kraft.

By crunching decision-making time and leading consumers to buy online, augmented reality can fuel e-commerce, says Titan's Singh.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg that we're seeing,” says Vinay Bhatia, Customer Care Associate & Vice-President (Marketing & Loyalty), Shoppers Stop. When the chain store announced its sale through print advertisements recently, it wanted to find a way to incorporate more details about various offers. The store has used QR (quick response) codes too – for the last sale, they led to videos on YouTube, but “AR is a new level”, says Bhatia. “Initially, we thought it was complicated, but it's interactive,” he adds.

Too technical?

Is AR a self-restricting technology in that it demands smartphones for it to work? “The size of younger audiences with smartphones is quite large now – this is the first building block for AR,” says Bhatia. He adds, though, that the phones are expensive and older people, especially corporate executives, use them extensively, so it's “a bit of a myth that it's all younger people”.

Freddie Laker, Vice-President (Global Marketing Strategy), Sapient Nitro, says, “Frequently the phone will require a special app creating another barrier. Computers will install necessary plug-ins automatically in a well-programmed experience. Ideas like the ones mentioned above will remove this barrier but decrease reach.”

Suresh Narasimha, CEO and Founder of Bangalore-based Telibrahma, which augments digital experiences for the real world, says 65-70 per cent of Indian consumers use feature phones, not smartphones. “The other challenge is that one app works only for one campaign.” For its part, Telibrahma has been enabling AR to work on feature phones with cameras too. And it has a single app that works for any number of campaign and millions of images. Users need to download the application only once. Telibrahma augments 40-50 campaigns every month and AR accounts for 60 per cent of its business.

There is no rate of adoption of AR, it depends on the brand, says Narasimha, whose clients include Club Mahindra, Nike and Ford. It has 0.1 to 0.5 of print's reach. QR codes, which came into vogue about two years ago, also pose many challenges, he says – scalability is a problem, people didn't know what they were, and can be printed only where a brand logo is available. That they are not “human-readable” reduces brand connect, says Narasimha. Sapient's Laker says the two are not comparable. QR codes quick-launch Web experiences, designed to get around entering complicated URLs into feature phones. They're less relevant now with the rise of smart phones (though still great for deep linking into Web sites for unique pages, products and offers), he adds.

Narasimha says that in India, AR is taking off at a much better rate than in other parts of the world. He estimates it has 5 per cent of the traditional media market place.

Shoppers Stop's Bhatia says retail is a very touch-and feel-oriented sector – and can use AR to modify what one sees with their eyes. “We are trying to understand the medium as we go along”, and have enabled AR and QR on the store's FB page as well, even put it on the mailers sent out to members of the First Citizen's Club, its loyalty programme.

Sapient's Laker says AR could be an effective tool in stores or for roadshow experiences.

Value for money

It can be economical too. For the HTSE campaign, Titan spent Rs 60 lakh on production, software and media spend; a good TV commercial would cost Rs 1 crore to make and Rs 4-5 crore to air, he says. Shoppers' Stop Bhatia says that for the benefit derived, the cost is “very reasonable”.

Sapient's Laker rues that AR is “surrounded by a lot of hype but it is frequently misused and misunderstood”. Unfortunately, it's used as a novelty in many cases, he remarks. He sees many unique opportunities to use AR in India but “marketers need to step back, breathe, and adjust their thinking”. He mentions an innovation for chocolate brand Mars' Dove gift boxes in China. Consumers could send personalised messages with each box. The recipient got the message by viewing the box through the dedicated app or Web site. Sales rose. Surely, more sweet rewards for marketers are just a way away, they just need to not lose sight of the reality, augmented.

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