Until Pokemon Go became a viral phenomenon by amassing more than 100 million downloads in a few weeks, augmented reality was confined to tech types and sci-fi fiends. However, thanks to the game, many have now tried AR for the first time, as kids and adults alike roam through town catching digital monsters superimposed on a physical world.
"I put this up there with the first time you saw the iPhone, the first time you saw the connectivity and relationship definition of Facebook," said Michael Koziol, president of Huge's office in Atlanta.
Pokemon wasn't the first company to try AR—Yelp, Macy's and Starbucks were early adopters, to mixed results—it just ended up being the breakthrough effort. Given its success, naturally other brands and agencies are scrambling to figure out how they might try it.
This week, Porsche is unveiling a new augmented reality experience with a five-page, gatefold ad in Outside magazine featuring a photo of the Swiss Alps. The experience, created by the AR player Blippar, allows Blippar's mobile app users to scan the page to unlock a digital display of the mountain, along with a 360-degree photo of a Porsche 718 Boxster interior. They can even play a game driving the car through the mountainous Gotthard Pass.
"It isn't just a narrative," said Omaid Hiwaizi, Blippar's president of global marketing. "It's an immersive, emotional experience that's memorable in a way that most of the time a written story can't be."
While marketers like Porsche are focusing on mobile, others are looking to bring AR into branded broadcasts. The Weather Channel has begun incorporating sponsored augmented reality into some of its weather shows. First off is an effort designed to help people stay safe during a storm, sponsored by State Farm. For example, the AR content can make a tornado appear on a table as the meteorologist explains the dangers of entering a damaged house.
"They're tuning in to understand why the weather is what the weather is," said The Weather Channel CEO Dave Shull.
"Any time you can use a technology like augmented reality to put people in a particular experience, whether it's real or augmented, to educate people to be safe … that's a success," added Patty Morris, State Farm's advertising director.
Shull hopes to triple or quadruple the amount of ad-supported AR at The Weather Channel by year's end with sponsorships—at more than $100,000 each—that could account for up to 10 percent of revenue.
Indeed, the market for augmented reality is expected to continue growing rapidly. In a report earlier this year, BCC Research estimated the global market for both virtual reality and AR will reach more than $105 billion by 2020, up from a mere $8 billion last year.
Of course, AR is far from ubiquitous, and one blockbuster like Pokemon Go doesn't guarantee it either. According to Forrester analyst Julie Ask, many experiences can be fragile—if a phone isn't held exactly the right way, the experience turns off. It's also hard to scale.
But it may influence future technological advances. George Bennett, head of digital strategy at Droga5, said AR's emergence will usher in a new platform war where tech companies will compete over mapping the first AR world. That said, Bennett added that AR won't reach critical mass until the marketplace moves from handsets to headsets.
Deep Focus CEO Ian Schafer had a similar thought: "Until these things start getting baked into our contact lenses and baked into our normal looking glasses, I think we'll still be in this awkward phase."
This story first appeared in the August 8, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.