To Promote Her Upcoming Show, This Finnish Pop Star Appeared as an AR Cartoon in a Donald Duck Comic Book

Sanni surprises readers of Aku Ankka magazine

Sanni's label Warner Music Finland partnered with the mag to create an augmented reality promotion. Arilyn, Warner Bros
Headshot of Marty Swant

While brands have experimented with augmented reality on surfaces ranging from murals to milk cartons, a Finnish pop star is using the technology to layer herself into a comic book.

To promote her sold-out show next month, Sanni, one of Finland’s favorite artists, and her label Warner Music Finland decided to insert her into Finland’s Aku Ankka magazine (Donald Duck in English). Along with a comic version of herself appearing on a recent cover, the singer—whose real name is Sanni Mari Elina Kurkisuo—also made a surprise appearance inside the issue. If readers scan a page of the magazine with an app, an augmented reality video of Sanni appears on their smart phone screen asking them to enter to win tickets.

The technology and the campaign, paid for by Warner Music Finland, was a success according to Aku Ankka editor in chief Aki Hyyppä, with 40,000 readers downloading and using the app. (Hyyppä said he expects the campaign will be the first of many times the magazine experiments with AR.)

“I was suspicious of this project when I first heard about it,” Hyyppä said of the AR campaign. “I thought nobody would download the app, but I said, ‘OK, let’s do it since it’s free.'”

A young Finnish pop star and an older Disney character might seem like an odd couple. However, Sanni grew up as a fan of Donald Duck, and said they both have an optimistic perspective about life.

“Nowadays, people are so afraid of being embarrassed or somehow being embarrassing,” she told Adweek. “If you look at social media, people are afraid of screwing up their image, but as an artist, my message is to empower people to be who they are.”

To an outsider, it might seem like a pretty niche way for finding mass appeal. However, Donald Duck is actually something of a cultural icon in the country—the magazine’s readership includes about a fifth of Finland’s population, with a weekly circulation of 156,000, according to Hyyppä.

So how did Donald become so popular? The idea of him as a “national hero” dates back to the 1950s, when the magazine first began, years after the character was created in the U.S. by Walt Disney. Like Donald, Fins see themselves as an underdog, Hyyppä said.

You might say the same for the story of AR in Finland as a whole. The country is home to a number of AR and virtual reality startups such as Reaktor and Varjo, and the industry is growing inside and outside of the country. In the case of Aku Ankka, the experience was created by Arilyn, a Finnish AR/VR startup based in Helsinki. (A spokesperson said the magazine has “considerable autonomy” from Walt Disney, allowing it to experiment with projects such as doing AR with Sanni.)

The company created an AR campaign last year for the country’s largest movie, The Unknown Soldier, by placing content on the sides of milk cartons that Arilyn said reached 40 percent of the country’s population. Another campaign, for Helsingin Sanomat, the nation’s largest newspaper, used AR to address the issue of immigration.

While AR is still a fairly new technology in the U.S., Arilyn hopes the penetration in Finland could point to a broader adoption. A spokesperson likened it to how Finnish cellphone manufacturer Nokia was the first to enable text messaging back in the 1990s. However, whether or not that’s where the comparison begins or ends is yet to be seen.

That’s not to say other Finnish artists aren’t also curious. Ville Ahtiainen, brand partnership director for Warner Music Finland, said about 70 percent of the artists the label represents are interested in using emerging technologies to promote their music. He said the region is looked to as a testing lab.

“In Warner Finland, we are kind of doing a great result and doing a great experiment from a worldwide perspective too,” he said.

So far it’s unclear how future uses of AR might play out for Aku Ankka or for Warner Music. One idea the magazine is thinking about is expanding AR to a digital version. Another could be for educational material.

And if they want to go back to the basics, here’s another idea not mentioned: Giving Donald Duck a pair of AR pants.

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