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According to Omar Gallaga, a technology writer and contributor to NPR's All Tech Considered, the Bravo/Sephora gambit made sense because it matched reward with initiative. "If you're taking the time to check in and participate," he says, "you want to have something in return." Thus far, Gallaga says, most businesses using Foursquare are offering little more than $1 off coupons or other small discounts.

Augmented reality, a technology that's finally set to enter daily life, provides another opportunity for brands to connect with customers. AR essentially combines digital images or information with real-world footage seen through the lens of a camera. Usually, the user holds up a special symbol in front of a Webcam while logged into a special application. So far, few brands have been willing to take a chance on it.

Adidas is one that has. The company released five sneakers with the requisite code stitched into the tongues. If a user holds the sneaker up to his or her Webcam while logged into the Adidas site, the shoe becomes a joystick enabling him or her to navigate a special 3-D world.

While new, the technology is prevalent enough for Uncle Sam to have used it as well. In a separate -- if slightly less sexy -- initiative, the U.S. Postal Service used augmented reality to allow customers to visualize various sizes of Priority Mail shipping boxes.

These promotions are still rare, however, and they wouldn't have happened just a few years ago. Until recently, very few mobile devices had the hardware required to bring augmented reality into the real world. That changed on June 7 with the introduction of Apple's iPhone 4-1.7 million of which were sold in the first three days of release.

The device's many notable features include one underappreciated addition: a gyroscope. This small but powerful upgrade empowers the iPhone with the same accuracy as a missile guidance system -- and gives new meaning to "targeted marketing." The gyroscope's capabilities, combined with the iPhone's advanced video features, mean augmented reality's time has truly come.

"There are hundreds of augmented reality applications on the way," says Noora Guldemond, head of marketing for augmented reality firm Metaio, which helped create the Adidas project. "Everybody now wants to jump on this wagon, whether that's [through] advertising or sponsoring an application."

Augmented reality apps have a lot of practical potential, like helping users navigate a new city or find their seats at crowded stadiums. But they also open up a whole new dimension for marketing and gaming. "I would expect devices like the new Nintendo 3DS and the iPhone to include holographic AR overlays being piped to your mobile devices inside malls, at theme parks, airports and so on," predicts mobile blogger and tech writer Stephen Northcott. "Imagine Mickey Mouse jumping out in front of you, or Mario in 3-D when in a game store and telling you about his next great game, and walking you through the store to where you can pick it up."

Industry experts say gaming can help take a brand's marketing message beyond the store. Augmented reality, for instance, takes the idea of Foursquare competition and scavenger hunts to their logical extremes: virtual games that can be played anywhere by anyone, while remaining completely invisible to the rest of the world.

For instance, Guldemond's firm, Metaio, has already created a game, Zombie ShootAR -- available for free demo download for select Nokia devices -- that lets users look through a mobile device and shoot zombies as they rise from the ground in front of them. Admittedly, participants might look a little silly in the eyes of folks who can't see the living dead lurching toward them. Nonetheless, marketers are intrigued when Guldemond demonstrates the game at conferences, largely because she's showing mobile in a new, engaging way -- a feat that's remained a kind of holy grail for brands large and small.

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