Augmented Reality - it might sound a little like an oxymoron, considering you can rarely amplify reality itself. But with augment meaning 'to add more of the same thing', it indicates exactly that - a heightened real-time experience of a brand, of which we can learn more about the World around us.
Mashable describe it as "a live, direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, or GPS data." Educase provide a simpler definition, and proclaim that Augmented Reality - or AR - "takes a real object or space as the foundation and incorporates technologies that add contextual data to deepen a person's understanding of the subject." Both Common Craft and Econsultancy.com heap praise on the concept, and posit that it is "an engaging way of combining live video with computer-generated data and visualisations."
In essence, your vital ingredients are a smartphone with an internet connection - such as an iPhone, Blackberry or Android-powered device - and the relevant software, usually in the form of an app. Experts agree that whilst AR using smartphones is just catching on, the future will see AR utilising infrastructures as small as a pair of spectacles - meaning the naked eye will directly experience augmented reality, leading to a more engaging experience.
Two recent examples I located of AR in action are from different sides of the Atlantic, but are great examples of technology enhancing one's brand experience. American's leading board sport apparel maker, Airwalk, invited customers to download the GoldRun app, before visiting one of 2 sites, one in Los Angeles and one in New York, where the AR experience would take place. Using the smartphone's camera function, users would locate 'virtual shoes' that were GPS-linked to each location. On doing so, users were then taken to an exclusive Airwalk e-commerce site and given a passcode to purchase a limited edition pair of shoes.
The effect was "basically a store that didn't exist. It only existed on your phone through augmented reality." (Source: clickz.com)
Meanwhile, North London premier league outfit Tottenham Hotspur unveiled the world's first ever Aurasma-enabled team shirt, a technology that "seamlessly blends real-world images and objects with interactive multimedia content such as videos and animations, called 'auras'". Fans must first download the Official Spurs News app to their smartphone - at £1.49 a pop - and then point their Aurasma-enabled iPhones and iPads at the front of this season's Premier League t-shirt to see footage of this season's goals. Videos are updated throughout the season and will include exclusive behind-the-scenes footage, player interviews and news. Photos of the players wearing the shirts when reproduced in newspapers will also trigger video content, so long as they feature the Aurasma logo. Furthermore, the official team photo will 'come to life' when viewed through Aurasma.
With all this in mind, what does AR spell for the future of PR? Firstly, we'll see a cultural shift from consumers being recipients of content to taking an active role in gathering and processing information - an extension of man's desire to connect with others and be part of a community.
There'll be rapid uptake as smartphone device have become ubiquitous and accessible to most.
Organisations will see ROI, as using AR means you can demonstrate more than one product in a range, driving traffic to your website where you can show consumers even more.
Finally, the arrival of AR heralds faster learning with fewer resources - it's cost-effective for organisations, but PR practitioners must stay one step ahead as consumers become knowledge-rich.