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The incredible world-wide craze that is Pokemon Go has ushered in a new era of mobile gaming, but the kind of technology it uses has also got the potential to take print marketing in a new direction. It’s all about augmented reality, a kind of technology that combines digital and print to take both to the next level.

More than 100 million people have downloaded Pokemon Go, the hugely popular augmented reality mobile game that’s earning a staggering $10 million a day in in-game purchases. While a humble printed advertisement doesn’t have anywhere near that kind of earning power, the incredible success of Pokemon Go does demonstrate quite handily the power of augmented reality technology.

Augmented reality isn’t entirely new technology—it’s been around a good few years now—but Pokemon Go and the recent trickle of AR-based advertising have demonstrated that it can be put to effective use when combined with print marketing.

QR Codes and More

The simplest form of AR advertising is based on QR codes. A QR code is similar to a bar code, but can be scanned with a smartphone or tablet. Scanning takes the user to a special web page, where they can get more information about products, or even buy products with just a few taps of their mobile device.

The code is a 2-D bar code that can be digitally scanned, with the capacity to hold a limited amount of data—no more than a few paragraphs worth of text. They’re ubiquitous on retail products, billboards, and printed advertisements, but few advertisers make good use of them.

One example of this QR codes being put to good use is SortedFood, a European multi-platform cooking channel that sells its own line of branded cooking utensils. The packaging on the items includes a scannable QR code that takes the user directly to the SortedFood website and its hundreds of video recipes, and its online shop where users can buy even more products.

QR codes are a very basic kind of AR tech—it can get much more complicated, and much more impressive. Augmented reality blends together digital information, typically processed and displayed by some kind of computer screen, with information that comes from the physical world. Applying the digital device to the physical object—for example by holding a mobile device in front of a print ad—makes visible digital images that isn’t viewable without the aid of the screen. The digital information is overlaid onto the physical world, similar to the way in which CGI adds special effects to films and TV. The user can view the digital elements as if they really exist, in effect making printed advertising an interactive experience.

The addition of AR can serve to correct a fundamental flaw that has always been inherent in printed advertising. Print is unidirectional, which means that the information it contains is received by the viewer, but the viewer can’t act directly on the advertisement. The viewer plays a passive role in the interaction with print advertising, without much opportunity to engage.

The addition of AR turns this problem on its head, by providing a means for the viewer to interact with the printed material. Whether it’s with the addition of a QR code that allows the viewer access to more information or other perks, or with AR that converts a 1D print ad into a 3D interactive one, there’s huge potential for this tech to turn print advertising into a fully engaging experience.

The Future for AR in Print

A number of forward-thinking companies are getting in on the augmented reality action already, including The New Yorker magazine, Vespa, and Hell Pizza:

  • To revive interest in their print publication The New Yorker created magazine covers that allowed viewers to use their mobile device to generate explorable 3D images.
  • Italian scooter company Vespa created AR magazine ads that allowed users to scan the ad on their mobile device, customize their own 3D scooter, and take it for a virtual test drive.

NZ-based Hell Pizza issued limited-edition pizza boxes that allowed customers to use their mobile devices to play a zombie-themed game on their pizza boxes, for the chance to win free pizza and other prizes.

Making connections between the online and offline worlds is one of the biggest challenges in modern advertising, and augmented reality has great potential to help make this happen. There are so many possibilities for making these connections—from simple things like interactive mailers with scan-and-win prizes, to 3D AR print ads of the kind that are already gaining traction, to larger-scale AR billboard advertising. It’s likely that businesses will start to get more interested and involved in AR marketing as the technology becomes more powerful, and there are no doubt some interesting innovations around the corner.