What Marketers Can Learn From Blippar’s Dissolution

They made mistakes that made it difficult for their product to catch on with consumers

Blippar made huge waves in 2011 with its augmented reality, but it ultimately wasn't able to sustain itself. Blippar
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It was with some surprise that we learned of the insolvency of Blippar, a much-heralded startup whose primary idea was to use mobile phone augmented reality to bring objects and physical advertising to life in novel and fun ways.

To do this, users simply had to see an advert, such as a billboard, that was tagged with a Blippar logo, get out their phone, hold the viewfinder over the object and magical things would happen. Case studies were shown and fun demos enjoyed.

The real surprise here is not that Blippar went under but that a company with such a flimsy core premise lasted seven years in the first place. This is in part due to the credulousness of its backers, who have sunk over $131 million into the venture, and partly due to the simple desire of the marketing community that Blippar’s promise might just be true. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could just hold up your phone to any boring old print ad and see the world change before your eyes?

Sadly, it never caught on. The reasoning for this was that Blippar broke three critical rules for new tech adoption.

Brands are rarely, if ever, going to be the agents of change, so leaning in to emerging tech developments that are happening anyway is the way to go.

Don’t fail the WARDT test

In the development of any new interactive idea that is targeted at real humans, I like to use the WARDT test: Would anybody really do that? People are creatures of habit, and getting them to even think about trying anything new is difficult. Pointing a mobile device at an ad and expecting it to do something is deviant behavior. We have been taught over generations that ads are passive wallpaper; they are skimmed over at best and blankly ignored most of the time.

Lesson learned

No matter how cool your technology is, expecting that you can change essential truths about how we behave or consume media is a huge mistake. Brands are rarely, if ever, going to be the agents of change, so leaning into emerging tech developments that are happening anyway is the way to go. Around the same time Blippar was launching, U.K. beer brand Carling launched the iPint to capitalize nimbly on the launch of the App Store. It was a global smash, reaching hundreds of millions of users, all for about $200,000 of development cost. Carling saw the App Store coming, offering a clear opportunity to win in innovation while Apple did the heavy lifting of building the core technology and changing consumer behavior.

Make it simple

Blippar made entirely unreasonable demands on consumers. In order to interact with an ad (which you don’t want to do), you have to do the following: look at the ad closely and read some small print about how the ad is interactive, understand that there is an app called Blippar that can facilitate this, search the App Store for the Blippar app, download it even though you may not trust it, open the app and finally point it at the ad and hope it works.

Lesson learned

Humans are lazy and will only do things if you serve it to them on a silver platter. The digital patience threshold is somewhere around four seconds, so if it doesn’t fit within that, it’s a failure.

In practice, this means steering away from innovations that involve new devices. Apart from the fact that few people have them, early models in any consumer-tech category tend to have clunky user interfaces that require a frustrating amount of effort to get them to work. By that point, whatever desire the user may have had to make it work will have evaporated. These days most innovations come to market through Amazon, Apple, Google or Facebook, so it pays to stick close not just to their product roadmaps and releases but also to dial into organic usage of each of these platforms to leverage behaviors already happening.

More important than any technical and creative development you work on should be a fundamental understanding of what people will do and why they will do it.

@timmcdunn Tim Dunn is a strategist at Isobar U.S.