The Print Blog

Augmented Reality Adventures

Posted by on Aug 11, 2015 in Print Marketing | 1 comment

Can Augmented Reality break down the Wall?

As an adventurous college student, I came close to trouble in East Berlin. In those days, the border guards looked askance at long-haired American youths crossing at Checkpoint Charlie. We tucked our hair under our hats and got across, but found the prescribed tourist areas rather dull. Several of us were political science majors and were fascinated by the post-war history of a country that was at that time split into areas of Western and Soviet dominance. We knew the tragic history of the Russian invasion of Berlin and were curious about the Soviet interpretation.

We had heard of the Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park and somehow managed to figure out how to board train that would get us there. I’m still not completely sure that the park was off limits to tourists, but we were certainly the only Americans there that day. We wandered through the place looking at the massive Soviet statuary. Within an hour, we were intercepted by a proper young East German citizen who “encouraged” us to return to the Western sector and then provided an escort back to the checkpoint.

I was reminded of the adventure this week by a fascinating YouTube video I discovered. It’s entitled “Time Traveler: The Berlin Wall App,” and it was produced using an Augmented Reality (A/R) platform called Metaio. If you’ve been wondering about A/R, take a look at the video. The narration is in German, but you’ll quickly get an appreciation of the value of the technology.

Another Gimmick?

Those of you who are remembering the heady days of QR codes may be tempted to discard A/R as yet another gimmick. If you search iTunes, you’ll find dozens of A/R and virtual reality apps that range from serious to silly. For instance, there’s one called mybrana that allows moderately creative folks to overlay photos with goofy animated cartoons. Augmented Car Finder is potentially more useful, especially for the perpetually distracted set who can’t remember where we parked our white Ford Fusion in the long-term parking lot at the Atlanta airport.

In contrast, there’s no doubt that combining geolocation and image recognition with A/R to bring history to life has some real value. Developers have used an app called Wikitude to overlay Wikipedia information, tweets, events, and even nearby restaurants on views of famous landmarks and city streets. Here’s where the possibilities grow: The same technology can be used to enhance print ads, packaging, and POP displays with additional “discoverable” information that is user accessible on a mobile device.

Potential for Print Providers?

Does A/R have the potential to break down the wall between print and digital communications channels? Is it the next holy grail for print marketers and printing companies? Maybe. There is some obvious potential. At the most basic level, A/R can overcome space constraints. Any print designer can tell you that space constrains the message. There’s only so much information that can fit in a 3 column ad, but A/R quickly multiplies the possibilities. What’s much more exciting is the capability to seamlessly bridge the gap between print and digital media. Text, photography, sound and video can be embedded in an A/R template, making a print ad or a bus stop graphic instantaneously interactive.

Imagine this:

  • Video embedded into packaging that shows the product in action.
  • Audio previews in a concert poster.
  • Color and configuration options in an automotive ad.
  • Wide format graphics that come to life.

But there’s a catch. Print isn’t the only trigger for A/R. My social media friend, Cindy Walas, is one of the leading proponents of the A/R opportunity for the print industry. She differentiates between “image recognition,” the capability of an A/R platform to recognize any image in a database, and “interactive print,” where the additional content is triggered by encoding in the printed source. She makes a logical argument that interactive print is a better path for printing companies looking to enter the A/R arena, allowing the printer to retain control of both the print and additional components of the project. Cindy’s company, Walas-Younger, Ltd., has partnered with a European company, Stampatech, to provide A/R services for printers and their customers.

Think Omni-Channel

While it’s true that A/R has applications beyond print, it also may have the potential to move marketing service providers beyond coordinated multi-channel campaigns into an omni-channel realm where print, video, social media, and sound all are accessible  from a simple smartphone app.

A/R and interactive print are emerging technologies that are still in the novelty phase. They might not be quite ready for prime time, but they’re getting there.

Currently, the major difficulty has to do with the multiplicity of apps. There’s no standard platform and users must make a decision to download and install before they can access A/R info. This obstacle may sort itself out. According to Walas, Metaio is the base technology platform that many developers used for their apps. In May, Apple purchased Metaio, and they already have a patented headset that works with iPhone. An expanded platform introduction from Apple could become a de-facto standard that opens accessibility to a larger market.

Are You Ready for An Augmented Adventure?

Most of the printing company owners that I talk with don’t consider change to be an adventure. For the past few years, printers have been struggling with media and communications transformations that have moved customers away from print. A/R just might be the technology that changes the direction, unifying digital and print and opening the way for accelerated industry growth.

That said, It’s difficult to predict pace or direction. The Berlin Wall came down quickly in 1989 and was followed by the reunification of Germany the next year. There were certainly signs of the deterioration of the Eastern bloc and some West German companies were prepared to take advantage of new markets. Smart printing company owners are keeping their eyes on developing opportunities. Those who have moved in the direction of marketing services are already developing digital capabilities. For them, A/R could be a natural next step. At the very least it’s a technology worth watching.

Mayonnaise A/R becomes a cheeseburger

If you’d like to play around with A/R, download the Blippar app and take a look at some of their campaign samples.


Is your printing company keeping up with change? Even if you don’t intend to offer new technologies to your customers, you should be taking advantage of the opportunities they can provide to market your company, your products and your capabilities. DP Marketing Services works with printing companies to develop marketing programs that are targeted, practical, and affordable. Ready to get started? Get in touch for a free consultation.