So here’s the thing. The world doesn’t need AR. There, I said it.

So here’s the thing. The world doesn’t need AR. 

There, I said it. 

Another platform that gives you the same content you could have got online, from an app or even the good ‘ol newspaper is, well… just another means to the same end.

In fact it’s slightly worse given you’ve got to go to the trouble of downloading an app, firing it up, pointing at the target and waiting for the inevitable disappointment of being served the same content through another medium.

Then there are the other inherent problems:

The first time you see AR it’s a bit of a revelation (even the most hardened technophobe can’t fail to be just a teeny bit impressed) but after experience 5 or 6 it becomes normalized. I’m pretty sure radio or TV were considered that special kind of voodoo when they first came out. But that incredible technical breakthrough to make sound and vision come out of their respective boxes is now taken for granted: No one jumps off the couch with excitement when you turn on your plasma.

Let’s be honest, viewing AR is kind of awkward after a while.  If you’re reading the paper or a magazine somewhere it’s a bit of a struggle: holding your device and navigating the on screen UI with one hand whilst juggling the publication in the other. And check out the weird looks you get pointing your phone at inanimate objects for extended periods of time.

Then there’s the uncertainly of Wi-Fi or 3G reception, lighting conditions, ambient noise, distance from the target and all the other things that occur in our gloriously imperfect and uncontrollable world outside the confines of the meticulously coordinated demo video in the lab. 

And even if the content is great why do I want it off a can of juice via my mobile? Because it can be done does not mean it should be done. You have to have a little bit of regard for context and occasion.

So what’s the point? And where does AR have a role?

Well firstly it’s certainly the case that not everything in life needs AR. (But then no one needs QR codes and somehow they’ve crept onto almost every surface known to man!)

Here’s the litmus test we give at Zappar. (It’s a “three strikes and you’re out” approach).

  1. Could you impart the information/ tell the story better elsewhere without using AR? Are you sure this couldn’t exist in your app, web page, or in print. Be honest. Don’t just do this to tick the “Look at me, I’m doing mobile comms” box.
  2. Is the content you’re going to show worth the effort? Is it exclusive, compelling, informative, entertaining or rewarding to the end user that’s going to surprise and delight them or in some way make them better off than when they first opened up the app?
  3. Does the context and occasion make sense? Chucking it on the side of the bus or in the Metro when users are largely underground or don’t have a free hand to hold the device is daft.
  4. Does your audience like the whole app thing? No point in trying to educate people about mobile phones here. It’s hard enough making people aware you need to download something in the first place.
  5. Are you going to make sure people know that the augmentation actually exists with a clear call out, and support it in other media? At the very least remember to make it known in all your social channels, PR and internal marketing. If not, give up now.
  6. Re-read Point 5 again. Seriously, this is the one most people get wrong as they get over-excited about the fact that the image doesn’t need a marker.
  7. OK you’ve done AR once, but what’s your long term plan now you’ve got people pointing their phone at things? If you’ve got users engaged in the action then exploit it.
  8. Are you going to commit to making each and every zap spark a conversation or an action?

This last point needs some further explanation as this is where AR can turn something from muck to magic.

You’ve got to treat each zap with care and purpose. It needs to tell a story. It needs to have a beginning, middle and end. In most cases less is more. We always refer to zaps as bite-size entertainment - snackable morsels of content where you can grab and go. 

It’s the little touches, transitions and features that envelope the content and add to the occasion and enhance the context that are important. Use the distance between the device and the object to make a connection with the person and deliver a sense of transference of information to them. Make it feel personal and one to one as if it’s something they’ve uniquely discovered, can pass on and share with others.

The technology in the real world is fraught with danger and dependencies out of your control (networks, signal, weather etc.). So make it quick and fun. Imbue the moment with magic and then get to the punch line and pay off. Make the zap something you want to zap again and tell someone about.

The marriage of great content, context, occasion and reward is what can make zapping something unique, unexpected and relevant.

And when it’s done right it leads to high levels of engagement, repeat usage, advocacy and referral. Now what brand or product doesn’t want that?

In summary, if you’re going to do AR don’t do it because it’s new and exciting; don’t do it if you’ve got nothing interesting or relevant to say; don’t do it out of context; and definitely don’t do it if you’re not going to tell anyone about it in the first place.

Make each zap count. Surprise. Delight. Reward. Repeat.