OpEd: Esquire’s Augmented Reality Misses the Point

By Matt Van Hoven 

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal published a story about Esquire magazine’s use of Augmented Reality on the cover and within ad pages. California based Zugara is a company that during the last few months has modified part of its business to include Augmented Reality (with a purpose) in its offerings. Here, Zugara’s Jack Benoff, digs into the issue.

What’s the buzzword du jour?


It’s the buzzword of the day…

Mmmmmm that does sound good. I think I’ll have that.

So, as most of you are aware, the buzzword du jour is actually Facebook Apps Twitter “Augmented Reality” (AR). And this week, a Wall Street Journal article regarding Esquire Magazine’s use of AR in an upcoming issue was getting passed around. In essence, they are taking what Popular Science and GE did this past summer and attempting to turn it up a notch by integrating several interactive videos as well as an ad from Lexus.

I applaud Esquire for the effort, for getting their hands dirty. It’s no secret that the print industry (like the music and movie industries) is getting absolutely turned on its head thanks to the digital landscape and consumer media consumption habits. They have to try something to garner interest and maintain revenues. I don’t think that this is going to help out their January sales, but maybe December’s will see a bump. And to be honest, their execution and the subsequent WSJ article is for the most part par for the course if you follow the AR space. But there are two elements of this article that I felt compelled to weigh in on, here’s the first: “It is a gimmick, but we’re an entertainment medium,” says editor-in-chief David Granger.

Now, this is a first. Someone had the stones to admit that their execution is gimmicky, let alone be proud of it. So kudos for that but let me say this: AR doesn’t have to be a gimmick. In fact, it shouldn’t be. Your executions should be providing real value to the people that read your magazines and buy your goods your consumers. Now, I’m not saying that the “value” provided can’t be entertainment in nature, but I am saying that it should provide value outside of what a person can already do in their browser. Otherwise, why put the barrier of needing a webcam between a person and your content/offering? All you’re really doing is giving people a more complicated user interface.

Of course it’s easy to sit here and rip on someone else’s work without providing any real value, so here’s an idea: what if Esquire’s “fashion spread” allowed people to overlay images of an article of clothing on themselves ( for example ties) so that they could match (or in my case, learn how to match) them with their existing wardrobe. Editorial content could provide tips, tricks and insights. Now, that might provide some real value to consumers looking to make a purchase (not to mention the brands that sell those articles of clothing) and would be an execution that could be updated and utilized all year long (that is, Esquire could sell the space to various retailers each and every season).

Now, on to the second item that I wanted to address:

“Mr. Nordstrom says that Lexus could do AR ads in other places but that consumers have to download a piece of software to make the technology work.”

People do not like downloads. It’s just another barrier between them and your content, and people will drop off. Now, I don’t want to get too techy, but if you are advising a client to do an online AR execution you should seriously consider building it in Flash (at the very least, you should have a compelling reason why Flash is not the proper solution). Flash 10 has a 93.5% penetration rate (Flash 9 is at 99.6%) in mature markets, and Flash development is relatively fast and cheap.When you throw on the consumer benefit of no downloads, it becomes a pretty compelling solution. Now, the counterargument may be that Flash does not allow for the sort of rich 3-D image modeling that a proprietary plug-in will allow for (I’d argue that it doesn’t matter how beautiful the image/asset is if people aren’t seeing it, but that’s just one man’s opinion). Well, that’s all about to change in 2010 when Flash 10.1 hits the streets.

So, what do you think (note to trolls: please keep the ripping of my grammar and spelling to a minimum)? What are some of your favorite AR executions? How do you wish the technology was being used? Would you be willing to download a proprietary plug-in to experience an AR execution you’ve never seen before?

If you want to take this conversation to twitter, you can find me at http://twitter.com/jack_benoff