They chat about:
- How AR is used for out of home advertising
- How an understanding of AR's creative capacity facilitates an understanding of its technical functionality
- How AR has shifted from augmenting faces to augmenting places
Caspar Thykier: Well, it's great to be joined today by Dominic Collins, who is the CEO and Co-Founder at Darabase, and previously the General Manager at JauntXR. You've obviously been working in mobile and XR for some time now. So, perhaps you could tell us a bit about how you got into XR and how Darabase are shaping the future of outdoor media with AR.
Dominic Collins: Sure. Well, thank you, firstly, Caspar for having me. Great to be involved. So I have a long and checkered history in working in digital, media, publishing and marketing, and I’ve worked in large organizations.
While I was Chief Marketing Officer at Legal & General, we had just put a new team together with WPP, and I was out on what they call their West Coast tour, meeting the great and the good of Silicon Valley, like Jack Dorsey at Twitter and so on. And actually the last company that we met was this company I'd not heard of at the time, called Jaunt.
They’d just raised their Series C round from the likes of Disney and Google and a bunch of others, and big VC money. And I was just informed about what they were doing. It was the first time I put on a VR headset. Beyond the hype, I just saw the possibilities of storytelling as a marketer in VR.
So, long story short, I ended up joining Jaunt. I was their first employee outside of California. I then helped launch the international business, set up a team in the UK, and ran the joint venture in China. And then towards the end I was also the president of product and engineering in the Valley as well.
We ended up reshaping the business for sale. We sold it to Verizon probably about a year and a half to two years ago. Then, just over two years ago, I set up Darabase.
What was really interesting about Jaunt was that it started very much in Virtual Reality and then XR and AR. I was starting to see the beginnings of how this fourth computing platform, this immersive computing platform, would stop just augmenting faces, but increasingly start augmenting places. And being a traditional media guy at heart, what interested me was that with all this burgeoning discussion around the digital twin, actually no one was talking about the physical twin. People were starting to place especially commercial content on the physical world, and gameplay content on the physical world, but weren't really thinking about what the physical world might think about that.
And so Darabase was born as this AR database, hence its name. It's the beginnings of an AR registry for the world, I suppose, so that physical property owners and media owners and so on can say: ‘okay well I have this asset and this is what I want to be able to do with it in terms of a digital layer’. And that could be monetize it, it could be protect it, it could be leverage it.
But at Darabase we call ourselves an augmented reality outdoor media company. We basically help everyone, from brands to agencies to media owners to publishers to property owners, to be able to place AR content either on existing out of home media (nd that's really the slipstream, the big world) or place augmented reality content onto other places where digital out of home or billboards doesn't reach. So that's what we specialize in. We've got a bunch of tech that helps us to do that at scale, we work globally, but we're a small team based in London.
It's an exciting world ahead of us.
Caspar Thykier: Absolutely. And are there any sort of turning points or moments in time over that last period that you almost pulled out and crystallized your thinking of what Darabase could be? Was it something from early on, you knew the technology was already there, or was it like, wait a minute, that's now happened and that changes the game again?
Dominic Collins: So I suppose we've been pretty consistent in our long-term goal and vision for the company. There's already a billion people using mobile AR every month, but we believe there'll be billions of people on billions of devices. Today it’s mobile, tomorrow increasingly it’ll be wearables and whatever else comes next.
But we'll have billions of people using millions of apps and lots of those applications will have in-app purchases in some way, shape or form, and they'll have advertising. So if you want to be able to place advertising based on the user's location, real-time, Darabase’s goal is to be the database, the data service - this first party data provider of property information that says: ‘based on the user's location right now, where can I place commercial content?’ We tell you in real time you can place the commercial content there and we take a cut of that, or a fee for that. So it’s got the rules and regulations of traditional out of home, but in this very exciting new world.
So that's always been our long-term goal. And we want to be the company globally facilitating billions of ads in real time. However, I always thought in the shorter term, how did we get to that? Because whilst there are billions of people putting freckles on their face and stuff, we're still on this journey to AR really starting to paint the world with digital content.
And so what we've realized is that a great way of getting to that is by really focusing with brands and media owners and property owners on what is already there most already. There are thousands of billboards and thousands of digital screens, and the out of home industry is increasingly digitizing itself and becoming programmatic and so on. And so we were quite well-known for being a technology provider for Piccadilly Lights. We also have a deal with a company called Picasso, for example Who are the largest media owner in large suathes of Africa and the Middle East. And they have 10 countries, 434 cities, 13,000 screens and billboards. And so we make it easy for media owners and property owners to be able to place commercial content, to create this upsell.
There's an additional level of immersion and engagement because actually we can drive the amount of data that you can provide around those campaigns. We just had a meeting this morning about a big campaign, and what's key to that is actually the ability to not just have a billboard or a screen, but actually to then use Darabase’s technology to wayfind you from that media directly to the retailer.
And so there's lots of different ways that we can really layer augmented reality experiences and digital experiences in contextually to the location and also to the campaign, in a way that adds a lot of value and drives you down that funnel.
Caspar Thykier: And are you finding that the media owners are receptive to this and understand it? Because sometimes it's about getting the salespeople on the frontline to understand the technology and figuring out how to present that can be quite challenging. Are you finding that they understand it and find it easy to sell them on it?
Dominic Collins: The out of home media industry right now is up for anything that's going to drive some more revenue and re-engage the industry. Obviously we're all coming out of a pretty tough time over the last 12 months, so I think that there's an appetite to be more innovative and to be more disruptive than ever before.
But I think from a brand, from an advertiser, from a media owner all the way through to the board, the second thing is that actually, if one thing has come out of coronavirus and COVID, we've taught the world to use a QR code. So that is almost the first camera-first experience that anyone's going to be able to do, and we can slip people directly into the experience.
We all sit on lots of other technology that's being introduced at a hardware and a software level, and to operating systems and so on. And actually Zappar have really leveraged this too, from an ease of use perspective and from a frictionless experience perspective where they are way easier than apps.
And so that's another great thing we're surfacing. But I think that the way that we educate people is by exciting them and by showing them what's possible. Even though we're not a creative agency, we look at different creative concepts of how this can be used. You can start creating hooks in their brain, these colorful creative hooks.
And so I think really bringing to life the creative opportunities facilitates an understanding of the technical capability.
Caspar Thykier: Absolutely. I think the next phase is just how the value of that engagement is also layered on top, because as we know the level of engagement, interaction, immersion, and dwell time with these experiences is really second to none. So it’s going to be fascinating to see how that is sort of packaged within this.
Dominic Collins: And I think that you need that for this to go mainstream. As a marketer myself in my background, you need to be able to route consistent spend in that metric, and then that predictability and reassurance, I suppose. People may be happy to spend a few quid on the proof of concept, or on something a bit funky linked to a campaign or to an event or whatever. But actually if we want this medium to become a mainstay in the media mix, then it needs to be grounded in all of the other metrics that the other media have proven over time.
And the good news is that AR actually slaps them in the face on a lot of them. AR is more effective and it has longer dwell time. And it's more immersive. And again, you can create all these other engagement metrics and lay them onto other media that don't have those engagement metrics readily to hand.
So I think that we need to do a better job maybe as an industry to really articulate that and prove it.
Caspar Thykier: So the final question, as we sit here in 2021: is there anything that excites you about what's coming up next, having gone through this first decade, what the next decade looks like?
Dominic Collins: Yeah, I suppose it would be really simple to say smart glasses. So I'm going to avoid saying smart glasses, even though I am super excited about them, but I think they're probably a little bit further away than most of us would like. I think I’m excited about more great case studies. People tend to buy and do what they've seen other people do, where it's worked, potentially in adjacent or different industries.
And I think we are just starting to scratch the surface of how AR can be used in a location-based environment, whether that be linked to ads or media or not. I think we're seeing the beginnings of that. I think a lot of that today has to do with secondary audiences rather than the primary audience.
So I think a good example is we recently did a TV commercial where one woman stood on a rooftop and saw Rita Ora prancing around the city skyline and they were linking to 5G. So that primary audience officially was one, but actually potentially millions of people saw it as part of the TV commercial.
We need to take into consideration both the primary audience, the secondary audience, but the more we can do to create new case studies that inspire other people to go, ‘oh, that's interesting. How could I use that in a theme park?’ Or ‘what could I do in terms of the opening of this new event?’ I think Zappar’s done a great job doing that on pack and some of the ways AR has changed over the last 5 years. For me, the really exciting stuff is about really starting to paint the world with data, content and experiences which are contextual to the locations.
I think the more of those types of stories we can tell, the more it inspires other people to leverage what's possible.
Caspar Thykier: Always a pleasure. I really appreciate your time. And thanks for joining us.
Dominic Collins: Brilliant. Well, thanks for having me and all the best.