Augmented reality is, to steal a line from Beck, where it’s at.
While some of us who are old enough have been awaiting the full, immersive virtual reality experience promised to us in Lawnmower Man in 1992 (minus the homicidal inclinations), AR has shown to be more promising as a consumer product. At least for the moment, the way augmented reality has been positioned as a portable creative outlet has helped it build significant interest in the consumer tech and marketing fields. According to Digi-Capital, AR adoption will far outstrip VR for the foreseeable future.
One big reason AR is so popular is, for lack of a more technical term, that it’s so much easier to carry around with you. VR is still hobbled by cumbersome goggles and other accouterments, even its most (currently) advanced incarnations. As anyone who played Pokemon Go last year or who has done roughly anything on Snapchat knows, AR is right there in your pocket, adding a bit of animation to the world around you.
There’s plenty of speculation as to what the future of advertising and marketing might look like in an AR-enhanced world. The movie marketing field isn’t waiting for tomorrow, though, and is in the middle of full embrace of the technology to help sell some of Hollywood’s biggest films. That includes some major releases coming out this summer, but the water has been tested by others already. Let’s look at some recent and upcoming AR executions from the studios.
Next time you’re stopping into your local 7-Eleven for coffee and reminding yourself that hot dog would be a bad idea, pull up the store’s app and get a guided tour from an AR version of the Merc With A Mouth himself. He’ll scribble over the selfie you take while pulling a special Slurpee into a movie-branded cup. Scannable codes around the store will unlock exclusive content as well. You can get a look at some of what awaits you in the commercial to promote the tie-in.
Solo: A Star Wars Story
An AR version of Dejarik (aka “holochess”, the game it’s always a good idea to let the Wookie win, even if he didn’t initially get it) has been added to the popular Jedi Challenges mobile game from Lenovo. The original version of the game required special AR goggles but an update aided by ARkit means you can play it on iPhones or iPads without additional equipment, just in time for the movie.
The IMAX original documentary was recently promoted with an AR component including an animated, anthropomorphic panda that kids, the target audience for the film, could ask questions of and get answers from. That’s very much in line with the goals of the filmmakers, who sought to educate young audiences about the conversation efforts being undertaken around the animals.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
The Pokemon Go concept is being brought to the world of dinosaurs with Jurassic World Alive, part of the marketing for this summer’s sequel. Players roam their neighborhoods and other locations looking for dinosaurs, including some of the new creatures featured in the movie. When they collect DNA samples from the creatures they can grow their own in incubators, including the ability to create original genetically-modified dinosaurs of their own. Because that always works out so well.
The slightly-on-the-nose branded “AR Unleashed” app allowed users to add the genetically-enhanced monsters featured in the movie to the world around them. People were encouraged to get creative with the situations they put the creatures in and enter their work into a contest, the winner of which joined Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson on part of the movie’s publicity tour.
While we wait to see what the next cinematic incarnation of the franchise will be (I’m personally hoping for a sequel to the 2016 film), mobile users will be able to play Ghostbusters World an AR game, coming out later this year, that incorporates ghosts and story elements from all the movies, cartoons, comics and other media. The game was announced by Google at Mobile World Congress alongside the launch of its ARCore 1.0 developer platform.
Ready Player One/A Wrinkle in Time
Both movies were part of initial tests by Facebook of its AR Target Tracker and involved posters placed at bus stops and other outdoor locations equipped with that technology. For A Wrinkle In Time, scanning the posters added reality-bending effects like those seen in the movie. For Ready Player One, doing so opened a portal to the OASIS, the VR world the story largely takes place in.
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
As an illustration of how much popular apps are driving the adoption of AR, Snapcodes added to the packaging of Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle allowed users to unlock movie-themed World Lenses that brought a couple different experiences to life for Snapchat users.
Another promotion involving Facebook, this time the effort used the social network’s Camera Effects Platform. Choosing one of the characters from the movie, you could add their mask to your selfie and trigger various additional effects with different facial movements.
These are just a few of the AR executions that have happened in support of various movies in the last year or so. It’s not just studios that are getting in on the trend, either. Way back in 2013 theater chain AMC added AR stickers to select movie posters in theaters that, when scanned with the app, opened up trailers and other related content. Earlier this year in-theater advertising network National CineMedia introduced the Noovie ARcade app to let moviegoers play AR games while not talking to the person sitting next to them.
Moviebill introduced an AR-enhanced playbill handed out exclusively at Regal Cinemas locations to those with tickets for Avengers: Infinity War that, when scanned with the Regal app, the displayed exclusive videos and other content, all of which was ad-supported. Future editions will support Deadpool 2, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and other big releases.
Are there more AR-assisted campaigns coming down the road? You’d have to assume the answer will be “yes.” Looking ahead a few months at movies like Ant-Man and the Wasp, Skyscraper, Teen Titans Go! To the Movies and others there are definitely some possibilities for augmented reality to come into play.
More than that, though, if the technology continues to get more and more user friendly thanks to efforts by Snap, Google, Apple and other companies there will be more and more studios and other marketing professionals looking to catch the wave. User adoption numbers are few and far between for any one execution, but success usually breeds continued usage, so if each new promotion speaks to some extent to the success of the last one.
Chris Thilk is a freelance writer and content strategist who lives in the Chicago suburbs.