Google GlassWith the somewhat recent announcement of the release of Google Glass, which included the mention of the Augmented Reality technology, more people are asking, “What the heck is Augmented Reality?” and, “What does it do?”

Augmented Reality (AR) is a technology that has been around for a few years and is used in marketing campaigns to help bring things and concepts “to life.” While you may have interacted with an AR campaign and didn’t even realize it, the technology is alive and thriving, being integrated into new marketing and ad campaigns for 2013.

According to Wikipedia, Augmented Reality is defined as, “the direct or indirect, view of a physical, real-world environment whose elements are augmented by computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics or GPS data.”

In basic terms, AR creates a digitally enhanced experience with elements that do not actually exist in the physical form, from an experience you are living in real-time. The technology uses a combination of backend technologies to generate images and/or other elements to make a unique experience.

In today’s digitized world, advertisers have jumped on this technology learned to leverage in a few ways. ComScore reports that there are approximately 129 million mobile phone users using a smartphone (55 percent market penetration), marketers have embraced that technology and empowered smartphones to simply use their camera app, scan specific products or images, and the augmented reality elements are displayed on user devices, therefore creating that digitally-enhanced “real-life” experience.

Starbucks, not to be left behind the curve when it comes to new technology and marketing, created a unique Cup Magic campaign, complete with an app, to be used over the holidays. After the app was downloaded, and was opened and used to scan a red Starbucks cup, the cup’s cast of interactive characters were brought to life and created a wintery scene of excitement and happiness – an experience beyond the cup, accessible at the palm of the drinker’s hand and with the touch of the fingertip.

A more full-bodied experience could be found at London’s Victoria’s station when the company, Lynx (known in the United States as Axe), launched an AR campaign by placing a standing pad on the station floor, that when activated by a traveler standing in the center, provided a big screen view displaying his/herself interacting with a digitally generated angel that seemed to have “fallen from the sky.” This campaign proved to be interactive, fun, and a PR stunt that drew a ton of attention.

One last unique campaign, launched in 2010, was Hallmark’s interactive card that brought the traditional card “to life.” When the recipient received the card, visited the link displayed on the card via their computer, downloaded a plugin, and held their card up to their computer camera, their card magically came to live and responded to the movement of the card in front of the camera. This campaign was an effort to bring traditional cards into the digital age and bridge the gap between the ages.

Overall, AR doesn’t seem to be a technology that is fading away, but potentially drawing new energy as it is incorporated to some of the latest tech toys including Google Glass. I guess we will see where this takes us!

Photo via Google Glass Project.