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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Augmented Reality: PR's Role

In part 1, I gave a brief overview of augmented reality along with a few examples of how brands and organizations were using the technology. While it’s fun to sit back and analyze the “what ifs” of augmented reality, the important thing for us is figuring out the role it plays in the PR industry.

As a whole, I think we all like to get caught up in the “shiny object” syndrome and salivate over the cool tech aspects of new platforms and technologies. We begin to think of creative and innovative ways of how our brand could implement these new features.

“Dude, imagine if our customers could point their phone at our product and this thing would appear and say a bunch of cool stuff.”

Don’t worry, I probably said the same thing when I first heard about “this tool that creates things in space and gives you the ability to see it.” But as cool and futuristic as augmented reality might be, if you think strategically, the technology opens a lot of doors for you as PR professional.

Thinking beyond the technical capabilities of augmented reality, the biggest opportunity (and challenge) I see is the ability to create more content and messaging. With augmented reality, as a brand, you open yourself up to the ability to communicate and connect with current and potential customers in spaces that aren't confined to physical structures. Instead of being constrained to the traditional outlets (i.e. radio, print, web, etc.) you now have the ability, whether it be via mobile, web, app, or gasp-a physical structure, to spread your message and connect in ways that were never a possibility.
Just as the social space has changed the way our work is done, augmented reality opens a completely new door to create and share content. And as PR professionals, we need to know where brand relationships are being formed and what information is being shared. It’s causing our industry to rethink ethics, fundamentals and the concept of “customers.”

During the World Cup, a beer company got in trouble for ambush marketing tactics. While the concept of ambush marketing isn't new, having to deal with it in the virtual space is a responsibility many of us may have to deal with soon.

There are many definitions of what PR entails. In my opinion, it’s to create a mutually beneficial relationship between a brand and its public. As we continue to become a more mobile-based society, the ability for consumers to carry our brands with them and do what they want, when they want, is an increasingly big hurdle our industry is facing. The challenge that arises is the ability to give the customer the information they find valuable and allow them the opportunity to share and interact with that information, as they see fit. Effectiveness comes from adapting.

Think beyond the technology. Augmented reality is simply another means in which a brand can share information. Get past the flash and ask yourself if the message and information made available is consistent with your brand. Is the strategy consistent with the overall goal(s) of your brand? And most importantly, how will your customers find this outlet valuable? What need/problem does it solve?

Update: After I had written this piece, AdAge came out with "Your Ad Where? Defining Virtual Property Rights in an Augmented World." An interesting and relevant piece to this story.