Printing in Spook Country

By | July 29, 2013

Spook Country,” the 2007 novel by William Gibson, introduced the concept of “locative art” to the reading public. Gibson’s character Hollis Henry is constantly searching for works of art with her smartphone; art that Gibson describes as akin to techno graffiti.  His descriptions of art tied to a particular GPS location and viewable with a smart phone or VR glasses include a virtual image of  F. Scott Fitzgerald dying at the very spot in Hollywood where he had a fatal heart attack, and Archie – a 90 foot giant squid (Architeuthis for those in the know.) In the book, Archie was designed as a display for a Tokyo department store with “an endless rush of digital imagery along Archie’s distal surface.”

The Museum of Vancouver took a page from Gibson’s book this month by launching their augmented reality museum app “The Visible City.” Truly a work of locative art, Visible City enables a walking tour augmented by your smart device in which the tourist sees the streets of Vancouver as they were in their “neon era.” The application overlays pictures and interviews with local personalities to create an immersive experience.

VisibleCity - Webheaderimage

However, augmented reality today is as much about commerce as it is about art. Like the Tokyo department store in Gibson’s novel, retail is the main early adopter. Major brands realize that the opportunity for consumers to interact with products in retail locations can drive sales. There are many examples of AR used for product marketing including LEGO toys, Heinz Ketchup, Budweiser and Audi. While the first three involve interactions at the point of sale, Audi used Metaio to develop an AR enhanced brochure and a virtual users guide (it’s in German – but it’s so clear it doesn’t matter.) There are also numerous examples of catalogs enhanced with augmented reality apps to deliver 3D product views as the reader directs their smart device at a specific item.

While the early adopters were in retail, other brands are getting on board, most recently PNC bank with their Finder AR-based bank locator app. It’s really not anything that couldn’t be accomplished with a Google search or asking “Siri, where’s the nearest PNC Bank?” Nonetheless, it demonstrates the conservative banking industry’s interest in embracing the new cool thing.

Finder by PNC landing page image

Direct Marketing is a natural fit for augmented reality; just ask Omni Hotels and Resorts. Omni-live, their AR app was released in June and is part of a multi-media campaign tailored to meeting and events planners. It includes print, social media, online video and web advertising in concert with augmented reality. In addition to making the campaign more interesting and interactive, AR also makes the campaign more measurable. As soon as the consumer launches the app, the marketer knows that the campaign is being read and how much time the consumer is interacting with the contents. With a really well done virtually reality application, consumers will return again and again.

There is also potential for AR with transaction printing from mundane explanations to incredibly creative advertising. With AR, a financial institution or wireless/internet/cable provider could virtually welcome new customers on board walking them through their statement or invoice and offering detailed instructions (like the Audi user manual above.)

There are plenty of agencies and AR developers out there ready to partner with you to bring new services to your clients. All it takes is a creative vision of how your current print products can deliver more value. Adding a virtual layer between the reality of print and a virtual world revealed through smart apps is the next step in business communications – are you ready to take that step?

For a nice primer on Augmented Reality (written well before AR was on the tip of people’s tongues) visit Common Craft’s Youtube presentation (sorry, there is advertising on the site.)

Elizabeth Gooding Elizabeth Gooding is the President of Gooding Communications Group and editor of the Insight Forums blog. She writes, presents and provides training on trends and opportunities for business communications professionals within regulated vertical industries.

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4 thoughts on “Printing in Spook Country

  1. Kostagh

    Current day to day reality is way too complicated and brain-damaging to need adding a supplemental virtual layer over it. Who needs it!?? To what avail? What good could it bring to us as common, everyday ants, rushing along hither ant tither in our ant hill. I mean, it might all be fine and dandy to the artist. Who in the world would have time for their art. There still are many people NOT owning a smart phone. Let alone VR glasses. It may be a form of art (disputable though!) but is it useful? Is it enhancing us as human beings? Is it helping us or make us better in any way? If not, well… then it’s just another excentricity as were many through the years… Dixi!

  2. Elizabeth

    Dixi – thank you for reading. Hmmm…well, there are many who would argue that art has intrinsic value. In fact, the Rand Corporation did a study on the “intrinsic and instrumental” value of the arts which can be found here:

    According to the American Association of Museums, there are approximately 850 million visits annually to American museums; that’s more than the attendance for all major league sporting events and theme parks – which they cite at 483 million in 2011. So, even as we ants are scurrying hither and thither on our little ant hills, we are finding time for art – even if we have to get off the ant hill to see it.

    With regard to smartphones – you are correct – not everyone owns one. According to Pew Research Center, 56% of US adults own a smartphone and 34% own a tablet which can also be used to view augmented reality apps on a larger screen. The stats are higher for college grads, 49% of whom own a tablet computer. One might argue that these are the folks with some disposable income that marketers want to reach.

    So, if we were just talking about art – over half of the adult population would have access to AR apps. Since we have demonstrated that people do make time for art – perhaps AR or locative art is a way to save travel and make art available in new ways with new context and greater convenience. However, my post was really exploring ways to use AR to make print more engaging in a way which adds value – not artistic value per se, but business value. If embedding explanations that can be launched by a smartphone can reduce calls to customer service – it adds business value. If AR allows consumers to engage with a product virtually before buying and in turn speeds up the buying process – it adds value. Art may have “intrinsic value” but business needs measurable value – some companies are finding that with AR.

    … and I sincerely wish you a less “complicated and brain damaging” reality in the very near future. I agree that a virtual layer is no fix for that.

  3. Paul Gardner

    Image Recognition can be used to Mediate Reality, not just Augment it, enabling things that are too busy or complicated to be tamed, calmed, simplified or focused.

    This too can be an art form.

    1. Elizabeth Gooding Post author

      Paul – thanks for your comment. Some of the most useful technologies are those that turn complexity into simplicity for users or enable focus amidst seeming chaos. AR has the potential to do that and although it adds more complexity (another channel to feed) for marketers, it can also have a unifying effect by bringing different touchpoints together from a single app.

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