Ever since I saw the promo video for Microsoft's Hololens, I wanted desperately to do something with AR. I knew VR was out of the question since I still haven't had a n opportunity to develop 3-d modeling skills. But it turns out that I was able to work with some AR technology because there are already several outfits that make it totally accessible. So, when this client had a need to participate in a sponsorship with the Seattle Sounders, and wanted an activation device that would be affordable and memorable, I thought they might go for it. And they did!
Because the sponsorship was in Seattle, home-base for many leading VR and gaming companies, I felt this market would be especially open to an augmented reality experience without the confusion/hesitation that might be encountered elsewhere. And because we knew the audience to be upper-income and family-oriented, this approach seemed a perfect fit. I imagined a family waiting in line, receiving the collateral from one of the client's reps who would be working the event and using their smartphones, they could download the free app, scan the various codes, and unlock fun, custom AR experiences that would allow them to take (highly-sharable) photos and videos with sports related content. It would certainly be a hurdle, getting the user to download an app, but my hope that was that the lure--the sheer sexiness--of the AR promise would force the tipping point.
Researching to find the right app that would allow me to create this on my own wasn't too difficult although one would like to choose the vendor that already has the largest number of downloaded apps, but that information isn't made readily available. But there were only a handful that had a transparent payment system and a light and easy WYSIWYG back-end. So I landed on Zappar, which is a small-ish English company that would charge us approximately $40 per month to use a handful of individual codes. And they had a phone number in case I got into trouble. Brill.
I was able to easily come up with the first application, which would be a series of funny accessories that the user could toggle through after scanning the code. I called this one the "Game Face" which was contextually appropriate for a sporting event and the accessories were all created in the Sounders' team colors. This would be great with kids, who would be able to happily occupy themselves during long waits in line, during time-outs, etc.
The other two codes advertised on the piece of collateral promoted an existing contest offered by the client. By scanning these codes, users could take a virtual tour of the box suite that could be won.
I created two other games that were not used in the final activation, one of which was of special interest with regards to functionality. The code generated a full size image of one of the more famous players so that friends could pose with their hero. This was really fun and always generated an excited response form people who tested it. Suddenly seeing a famous person standing in your office or how, etc. makes even the most serious person respond with a flash of laughter and delight. Of course the risk with a presentation like this is that the hero would be used in some untoward way. For example, his likeness could be captured in a photo where he appears next to an obscene object. To avoid this, Zappar had included a function that would only allow the image to be generated if the code remained within the phone's view. This way, if the game were promoted on a poster, the user could only take the photo with the hero in front of that poster. In the end though, the idea was killed because of licensing issues.
When considering how to promote this device, I knew hat printed collateral would be no issue as the client has a rigorous in-house printing department. But I wanted to maximize the exposure and supplement printed materials with printed fabric kiosks that had the ability to hold a mounted monitor and touch-screen digital signage that could be used within the concourse.
The kiosks were very affordable at approx. $500 with custom printing and the monitors, which the client already had, could slideshow images of user-generated content of "game face" selfies. The digital signage ranged between $3-9k depending on touch-screen functionality and the level of outdoor protection. I was surprised to find that there are touch screen systems that are designed to withstand being left alone for up to three years in high-traffic urban landscapes! But after several rounds of pitches, it was decided that the printed collateral would be the only promotional vehicle, which was especially disappointing because it would only be distributed by the handful of employees working at a small booth amongst many other large-scale sponsors.
Nonetheless, I considered the project a success, because even though the back-end analytics showed that only about 50 users engaged with the codes overall, the project allowed a very traditional, conservative client an opportunity to experiment with a less-familiar facet of their brand. This project generated collateral and creative work that spoke to this market and allowed the client to look friendly and contemporary with a young, vibrant audience.
Personally, I got to experiment with some technology that I consider to be super-cool. I learned a ton about how this kind of entry-level AR can be communicated to the public in a way that doesn't seem too tech or intimidating. And, I got to draw funny faces and make people giggle.