Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and what it means for Advertising

Augmented Reality, Virtual Reality, and what it means for Advertising

Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are arguably some of the next big technological advancements that will lead to a whole field of innovations never thought possible. What I’m trying to say is that with Virtual Reality, you’re essentially in a virtual world – something that has been pre-recorded (or programmed). You look around in real life using the VR headset and the virtual world’s view will change according to where you look; there are even added aspects of immersion in some VR such as body tracking and sounds. On the other hand, AR puts the technology or animation right in your field of vision. It takes inputs or visual queues from the real world, usually through a camera, and overlays some sort of graphic in that spot when you see it through a screen.

One of the biggest AR phenomena occurred just earlier this year – Pokémon Go. It took geo-data from your device and overlaid it on the Google Maps technologies to determine your location. The AR part occurs when the user “finds” a Pokémon on the map. This allowed the application to take the input from the camera, select a part of the visual input, and then it overlaid a 3D model of the Pokémon on it. Though, the next step isn’t just seeing a 3D model of a monster through a phone screen, but something being overlaid directly in your field of vision through some type of lens. Just imagine wearing glasses that convert your table, like the one that Tony Stark, Iron Man, uses, with other hardware. It could even take in your physical input and change the graphics around. This type of technology is being developed as we speak; Microsoft’s HoloLens would like to develop AR with a human input.

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As for Virtual Reality, there have been quite a few companies tackling the hardware aspect for VR.  VR hardware requires more power and hardware to achieve more than just a “looking around” feature. A few of the biggest are Facebook’s Oculus, HTC’s Vive, and Sony’s PlayStation VR. Each of these are fairly expensive and also require additional hardware to run which limits the reach for this technology. Though, with the rising curiosity from consumers in VR from consumers, there will be definite improvement in price and availability. In a recent study of 8000 people, 24% said they will likely use or purchase VR in the next year. Another 20% said they don’t plan to try it, but expressed increased interest after learning more about the basics.

 These gadgets are technological innovations, but what will they do for advertising?

Well, they make advertising a lot more engaging and interactive; it can be an experience instead of just a standard advertisement. Below are some of the current ways AR and VR are changing advertising, as well as some predictions as to how they will affect advertising:

Augmented Reality is quite prevalent now with the recent surge of the Pokémon Go app. Although, advertising using the AR technology is still in its infancy. The Pokémon Go application is a great AR game, but it does not have advertising directly in the AR portion of the game. With that in mind, for the next few paragraphs, I’ll be focusing primarily on advertising that uses the core of Augmented Reality technology.

The technology that exists today for AR overlays an animation over the camera input. The spots where the animation appears is selected if there is a certain picture or pattern. For example, if there is an application on The Nintendo 3DS console where it can recognize certain cards on camera and overlay a 3D model on it.


The animation automatically appears on and moves with that picture or pattern; moving the camera to point away from that picture and pattern causes the animation to disappear as well.

As for how it could change advertising, Snapchat recently patented a technology that can determine what you’re taking a picture of – or more generally, what the camera is pointed at. This could be a huge advancement and can lead to many opportunities to make an interactive advertisement through Snapchat itself. This could lead to Snapchat overlaying a graphic on or around something as an advertisement. For example, if you happen to have a logo it recognizes, there can be some type of overlay that targets that specific consumer. This would open up a whole range of hyper-targeted interactive advertisements.

Another example of Snapchat’s object recognition technology creating advertisements is if the application recognizes that there is a coffee cup and overlays a logo right over it – as long as this technology also recognizes that there is no other logo in that cup. Below is a picture that gives you a better idea of what I am talking about.


This will be a test to technology and application developers as more and more of the population gets smartphones with better and better cameras. The hardware limitation for the population is slowly closing in, allowing more of the population to be capable of simple augmentations. Now, the innovations must occur in the software.

Virtual reality is gaining traction as many hardware developers are racing to gain market share as this technology keeps developing. Many low end VR headsets require a phone (Samsung and Google have recently released a headset that pairs with their latest phones), while many of the high end headsets require some sort of computer to run those programs.

As this innovation diffuses through the market, advertisers have some time to develop interactive marketing campaigns.  VR advertisers should be taking a lesson from a long forgotten video game called Battlefield 2142 (I have not forgotten). The game allowed real products or movies to advertise on in-game billboards on their giant 64-player maps. Below is an example of one of these advertisements.


I was an avid player of this game when it was released and to this day I remember seeing posters of “Taking of Pelham 123” all around these giant immersive maps. But, how does this transfer to VR? That’s just it, VR can be used in giant expansive worlds that allow advertisers to purchase their own little corner of it.

Another way to use VR technology to expand the horizon of advertising is using it to make the popular 360 videos more immersive. Facebook and YouTube both implemented the ability to view videos while moving the frame of view with either your mouse or by physically looking around with your phone. Extend this to high quality VR, then you get what Circa, a news publisher, plans on doing. They plan on making fully immersive VR newscasts twice a week which allows the viewers to go to places they’d seldom get to go to. That could include allowing the viewer to virtually be backstage at debates, concerts, or places across the country.

Diffusion of innovation is a problem in regards to the above strategy, but it can be a great opportunity in another aspect.

VR is interactive; it requires space (for body tracking), additional equipment, and a quite a bit of investment. This problem lead to arcades popping back up again, but this time with an emphasis on VR. Taco Bell recently partnered with Sony to create a pop-up VR arcade. It not only solved the problem of equipment, it solved the problem of a niche target market. The above VR strategy (advertising within a VR world) only advertises to players who have the VR equipment and are playing the said game – which is a very small market. The arcade let many people experience VR while promoting Sony PlayStation VR as well as Taco Bell.


Both technologies are getting better and more advanced through the years. With the success of Pokémon Go, FB videos, and the greater accessibility of VR technologies, there are an outstanding number of ways to show advertisements to your audience while being much more engaging and interactive. It will keep expanding the horizons and platforms that advertisements can be shown on. The future will just increase the accessibility of these technologies to make AR and VR a viable platform for advertisements.