Huge’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide Is Full of Augmented Reality Easter Eggs

Immersive media is expected to grow in popularity next year

Brooklyn-based agency Huge created a printed AR-enabled holiday gift guide. Huge
Headshot of Marty Swant

It seems like every online publication has its version of a gift guide. And while fashion, tech and cooking magazines might have different ideas of what’s “best” this holiday season, they all start to blur together like lights on a tree.

To blend the innovative with the old-fashioned, Huge created a print version of its own annual gift guide. However, instead of just a well-designed list of Huge employees’ favorite things, the Brooklyn-based agency hid a number of augmented reality easter eggs across the pages.

Showing various uses of AR hidden within the 500 copies of Huge’s Magenta gift guide, the company developed a pilot app that lets readers use their smartphone to scan pages, unlocking AR audio and video interpretations delineated from the usual product reviews.

For example, the cat in a photo of a robotic litter box comes to life. Another shows a web designer’s video footage using the GoPro Hero 7. Later on in the list, a product manager recommending Beryl’s laser lights for a bicycle shows what it looks like to use them while riding around New York, while the next page recommending a portable espresso maker reveals a video of how to make a shot using the device.

Using AR software (including Unity and Apple’s ARKit), the guide is a follow-up to an initial test the agency conducted this summer with its zine, according to Huge chief design officer Derek Fridman. He said what started with a few people working on this project and using AR for the first time is part of a “big push” into the emerging medium in 2019.

“It’s part art project and part science experiment,” Fridman said. “Like, what kind of content will we get back? We didn’t give anyone any direction other than to make something.”

The results not only taught Huge how people consume AR content, but also how people create differently when provided a prompt. For example, on one page, a vp of business strategy recommended a watch by Withings that includes an activity tracker, REM-aware sleep alarm and phone notification syncing. To show it in action, he recorded himself performing various workouts—hopping across the screen performing football conditioning exercises, displaying his heart’s beats-per-minutes count after each one.

“We like to release things internally in exclusives and limited batches,” Fridman said. “But let’s have some fun with it.”

To measure the AR magazine’s performance, Huge looked at the number of downloads along with how long people spend using the app to scan the pages. While the agency wouldn’t disclose exact numbers, Fridman said engagement varied.

For example, a video reviewing a stroller via an employee interviewing her child showed longer engagement, according to Fridman. Another hit was a pocket translator, which featured a video of two Huge employees using it to translate the words “shit” and “cute” into Italian. However, a recommended puzzle picturing the stars of the hit sitcom “Golden Girls”—where scanning the image shows a speedy version of various hands putting the pieces together—wasn’t all that interesting to most.

The time and cost of creating AR experiences has gone down in recent years, thanks in part to companies like Apple, Google and Adobe looking to democratize the use of the format with new software for both developing and consuming AR. For example, Fridman said the team was able to use some of the same tools from the summer’s experiment in the holiday guide that only required uploading the new content and switching out the triggers that allow the camera to scan each page. (He joked that the longest part of the process was getting Apple to approve the app.)

Huge isn’t the only company using AR this holiday season. Walmart added AR games to its in-store experience, while Target added an AR feature to its app that lets users see how various Christmas trees look inside their home. Meanwhile, the Mall of America included a holographic AR elf that helps users find gifts around Minnesota’s massive shopping center.

Immersive mediums are expected to grow in popularity next year as well, as Magic Leap continues to partnership with brands and developers for its mixed reality headset and Microsoft is rumored to be releasing a second version of Hololens.

“I’m ready for the head-mounted display wars to start,” Fridman said.

@martyswant Marty Swant is a former technology staff writer for Adweek.