Didn’t make the August 25 lunch-and-learn “Interactive Print in the Real World: What’s Really Working?” No problem. Earlier, I posted a roundup of key data points presented in the webinar under the theme “If you’re waiting for AR to arrive, you’re too late—it’s already here.” Here, we will look at some key takeaways from the two main presenters, Tracy Archuleta, co-owner of image8creations (Salt Lake City, Utah), and Will Gee, founder and CEO of BaltiVirtual (Baltimore, Md.).

(If you would like to watch a replay of the webinar, you can do so here.)

Both presenters are deeply invested in augmented reality. Archuleta comes to image8creations from Konica Minolta, so her background is print, and all image8creations campaigns include both a print and an AR component. Her clients are primarily small to mid-sized companies, such as independent artists and musicians, schools and nonprofits, local breweries, and even printers. BaltiVirtual handles larger accounts, including Under Armor, Marvel, and Amazon. Between the two, they span the gamut of client sizes and types of applications.

AR from the Large-Brand Perspective

Will Gee opened with an explanation of the differences between AR, VR, and what BaltiVirtual calls XR. Virtual reality requires wearing a headset and puts you into another reality. AR does the reverse, bringing computer graphics into the real world. Examples include putting a Baltimore Raven in your living room or allowing you to “walk around” and interact with a Lamborghini in your office. Although some AR can be accessed with a headset, these experiences are more likely to be viewed on a phone or tablet. XR, or “extended reality,” encompasses all types of mixed reality regardless of the types of devices used to experience them.

Gee provided multiple examples of the types of applications built by BaltiVirtual, most of which are “high-touch” (such as AR games) built over weeks or months.

One campaign, called Tilt the Ice, was a game designed to build excitement around the Washington Capitals hockey playoff season. It was accessed through printed coasters distributed to local venues in the Washington, DC area. “This was launched on a relatively small scale—it was local, limited to bars and restaurants around the Capital Arena—and one of the stats that stood out was that it averaged 10 repeat plays for anyone who engaged with it,” says Gee. “We also found that people were taking these back home with them to as far away as Washington State and California.”

This, Gee says, reflects the value of AR to measure engagement. In fact, this was one of the motivations for BV client Hallmark to add AR characters to greeting cards. “Hallmark had very little insight into the level of engagement with their greeting cards once those cards were purchased,” says Gee. “Do people care about those cards one month later? One year later? They didn’t know. AR gives us insight into the average number of times someone interacts with the piece.’”

While custom, high-touch applications are still expensive to produce, Gee maintains, those costs have come down dramatically with the advance of technology. “AR used to be a million dollar investment,” he says. “Then it went to a hundreds of thousands of dollars investment. These days, it’s a tens of thousands or thousands of dollars investment. That barrier will start to go away, especially as you see the emergence of online model libraries and free-to-use tools.”

Also driving the adoption of AR, Gee says, is QR Codes, which allow users to interact with AR experiences without downloading an app. “Back when we were doing more app-based campaigns, you’d have to give directions, say ‘download this app, scan this image, and see it come to life.’ Ninety-five percent of people wouldn't bother,” he explains. “But with the renaissance of QR Codes, that barrier is starting to disappear.

Serving Small to Mid-Sized Clients

Gee then handed off to Archuleta of image8creations, who spoke from the perspective of serving small and mid-sized clients. Archuleta opened with the statement: “If you are not telling your clients about AR, someone else will. That is where the space is today.”

Like BV, Image8creations uses both app-based AR and browser-based AR via QR Codes, although she is using more QR Codes than apps these days. Archuleta refers to these codes as “AR codes” rather than QR Codes so people know there is an AR experience behind them.

For printers, Archuleta says, AR has a variety of benefits:

  1. It changes the conversation with brand owners in a way that raises your work out of the commodity market and gets you involved much earlier in the process.
  2. It’s purely additive to—not competitive with—your print work.
  3. It allows you to collaborate in a way that doesn’t hurt your relationship with the agencies that feed you print. “Many of the agencies producing AR are purely digital agencies,” says Archuleta. “This is the first time that printers can go to the brand owner without hurting the relationship with the marketing agency feeding them print.”

Top AR applications for image8creations? Trade shows, events, in-school presentations, fan engagement, and portals leading to 360-video, and more.

Archuleta gives the example of an application that is very popular with nonprofits. She calls it “track the container,” since it allows donors to track their donations supporting underserved communities, disaster relief, and similar projects from origin to destination. image8creations is producing one of these programs for Sister Schools, which gives donors refrigerator magnets with AR codes so they can watch the progress of their donated supplies all the way to their destinations at Sister Schools’ Ugandan partner schools.

Another, perhaps surprising client segment for AR, Archuleta says, is printers themselves. Image8creations is increasingly working with printers using AR to market their own businesses, often using portals. In these applications, printers allow potential clients to drop AR portals into their homes or offices, walk through them, and be transported onto the printer’s shop floor, where they can take a 360-degree video tour of their plant. “Clients and potential clients can see the equipment they have on the floor and how clean the plant is,” says Archuleta. “They can take a full plant tour without leaving their offices.”

How to price these projects? The same way you price television and radio ads.

The key, Archuleta concludes, is to maximize the use of the AR code by placing it everywhere you can—on magnets, coasters, newsletters, in your social media, and anywhere else you can get visibility. “Keep it out there, and you’ll get the ROI you’re looking for,” she says.