Wednesday, January 06, 2010
Avatar and McDonald's campaign proves AR still BS

Augmented Reality, or AR, is quite the darling of the tech and marketing press at the moment. And I lost count of how many people included it in their top tips for 2010 ages ago.

The ability to augment campaigns with digital effects that interact with the real world is certainly a cool idea, but most of the hottest are in mobile - whether it's apps to find the nearest Tube station or operate remote control spyplanes.

But for online marketing, it has so far sucked. Badly.

Take this hugely elaborate Avatar / McDonald's tie-up [music added for emphasis]:

So, let's get this straight. In order to see a jerky animation of Sully wandering around lighting up mushrooms (one of my favourite parts of the film, and certainly one with huge 3D wow factor) that does the actual experience no favours at all, all I have to do is...
  1. Visit the McDonald's Avatar microsite
  2. Launch the AR 'experience'
  3. Download the McDVision (!) plugin
  4. Install the McDVision (!!) plugin
  5. Give it permission to access my webcam (if I have one)
  6. Go buy a webcam (see above)
  7. Cut out a piece of cardboard from my burger box
  8. Print something out if I don't have a burger box
  9. Wave it in front of my PC
  10. Marvel at the mid-90s graphics experience
Phew, that took ages. Now what do I do? Go see the film? No thanks - if the graphics are as bad as this microsite I won't bother. Buy a burger? No - I've either already had one, or I'm at home. And it's not worth me going into town to get a burger because I've seen how rubbish those graphics are and I can't be bothered.

I'm not saying AR is a waste of time. I've been frantically printing out AR codes and demonstrating this stuff to people, often while jumping up and down with excitement. The applications of the technology are limitless, mindblowing and run extremely deep for the future of the web, marketing and technology. (Particularly when you start thinking where Google might go next - perhaps when the Nexus One gets to iteration, I don't know, six?)

But the question I always get at the end of my demonstrations is "What's the point?". And when faced with executions like the above, I just don't have an answer.