The Layar Look

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Imagine you're in the market for a vacuum cleaner. You're idly watching TV and you see an ad for the new Dyson DC-Pivot Ball Action Whatever Thing. The product appeals to you, but you change the channel because you need to get back to the ancient rerun of Buffy the Vampire Slayer you're watching for some reason even though it's 3 a.m. and you have work in the morning…anyway.

There's nothing wrong with a late night DRTV spot—but how much more engaging would the whole experience be if you also received an augmented reality-enhanced direct mail piece delivered to your doorstep smack-dab in the middle of your consideration period?

“You could hear directly from Mr. Dyson with his nice British accent explaining all the features and providing more information right there,” says Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald, cofounder and U.S. general manager of Layar, an AR and interactive print app founded in the Netherlands in 2009, with offices in Amsterdam, New York, and Toronto. “One little postcard-sized insert can be made so much richer without having to do any more printing, in essence opening up a whole new channel.”

With the mobile market literally exploding—Gartner predicts smartphone and tablet sales to top two billion by 2015—more and more printed matter is starting to include an AR element. Juniper Research says the revenue generated by mobile AR apps is set to grow from what it is now at about $300 million to a Home Alone cheek-slapping $5.2 billion by 2017. And according to digital agency Hidden Creative, consumers are 135% more likely to buy after viewing an AR-enhanced version of a product. Layar itself has 35 million users globally and more than nine million users in the U.S. alone, and boasts a client list of big-time publishers, including Meredith, Hearst, and Condé Nast.

Clearly, there's mad money to be made—but Lens-Fitzgerald warns against AR for AR's sake. The point, as always, is to be relevant. Just because AR's cool, doesn't mean every coupon in the world should be jumping off the page into your face.

“Compare it to a website—if you make a site about stuff no one cares about, no one will come; it's the exact opposite of the saying, ‘If you build it, they will come,'” Lens-Fitzgerald says. “With augmented reality, because there's a wow factor, people will probably come initially, so marketers sometimes forget they need to provide something of value. Yes, 3D animation is cool, but it's not going to keep working every time.”

The law of diminishing returns applies. It's a phenomenon Lens-Fitzgerald calls “clown suit marketing.”

“The first time you see me in a clown suit, you'll notice,” he says. “But by the second time, you're probably not going to like it anymore, and by the third time you'll start wondering what else I have to bring to the table.”

AR, like any marketing tool, should create value, which means step one has to be about the ‘why.' Why are you adding augmented reality to a printed piece? If the reason is more about your image—making your logo dance or something—and less about adding value for the consumer—providing a link straight to Amazon from a catalog or allowing readers to scan a code to provide their feedback on an opinion piece in a magazine—then AR might not be the way to go.

That said, augmented reality can be a great way to collect consumer data. Want to know how many people were activated by your print ad? Well, just go and check how many people used their phone or tablet to scan the code you included.

“It's a way to do something more with a print insert,” Lens-Fitzgerald says. “It's a way to prove how valid print still is as a channel.”

Thinking about getting into the augmented reality game? Consider these tips from Lens-Fitzgerald:

Do provide something of tangible value. “Video is always good, but will people want to watch and share what you're providing? The video you use shouldn't just reiterate exactly what you wrote about.”

Don't think small. “I see a lot of marketers say, ‘I should try this,' and then just do one button or link to a website that's not even mobile-optimized or offer a video no one is going to share.”

Do think mobile. “Make sure you're mobile-friendly and make sure you do more than just slap a link on there and forget about it.”

Don't be afraid—or rash. “Publishers and marketers need to have the balls and the belief to make AR work. Understand what it is and make it work for your client, but also make sure it's what your client actually needs.”

Do be clever, but also clearly explain the rules. “Not everyone will automatically know how it works and what they need to do. Always include well-placed instructions with specific calls-to-action.”

The future of online is offline, says Lens-Fitzgerald.

“More than 90% of retail still happens in the real world,” he says. “With all the talk of Amazon, some people seem to forget how important the real world is—and the same goes for print.”

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