May 22, 2009

The Marketing Friction of Gimmicks

by Thomas K. Carpenter in augmented reality7 Comments

During the next year, we’re going to see a host of new AR gimmicks and websites that will claim that AR has been used to improve their business.  In this post from webdistortion.com, the author claims that 8 AR marketing campaigns have been “used…to great effect.”  Unless the desired effect was to print out lots of AR marker papers, I’m going to disagree.  The main focus of a marketing campaign should not be website traffic, but reaching customers and increasing sales.  The only way we can say these AR marketing campaigns worked was if they converted traffic into a sale, but my guess is most people were there to see the gimmick.

One of the problems with the AR gimmick, besides that people are mostly there to see a demonstration of the technology and not the product, is the friction of actually using it.  To see the AR version of the product, one has to print out a piece of paper, get the webcam hooked up and hold it up to see it work.  This is a lot of work compared to driving by billboard that says “Eat At Joes”.

All that work is the friction.  There is a universal law that says, “the easier something is to do, the more likely people will do it.”  The AR gimmick marketing campaigns are high in friction.  They’ll work the first few times , but once their curiosity is satiated, they won’t bother.  It’s too much work.

The purpose of this post is not to pile on the hate for these style of marketing campaigns.  Instead I’d like to point out that marketing campaign developers need to move beyond the current situation.  Once people are familiar with the technology, the desire to see a new gimmick is not going to be enough to overcome the friction of all that work.  So to reach potential customers, you need to either make it easier to use or create a higher level of desire.

Find ways to make it paperless, add a coolness factor that others haven’t seen (make a purple cow), turn it into an iPhone app that people will use, make it interact with real world objects, make it educational, etc.

In other words, use your brain and don’t be like these guys from Seth Godin’s blog:

I recall having a conversation with the marketing folks at Simon & Schuster.  I complained that I had just returned from a road trip and didn’t see the book in a single airport book store.  I insisted that business travelers were the ideal audience.  They came back to me with a simple request:  tell me where you or Seth were going to be flying and they would make sure that the book was in the bookstore in that airport…


Thomas K. Carpenter

Thomas K. Carpenter is a full time contemporary fantasy author with over 50 independently published titles. His bestselling, multi-series universe, The Hundred Halls, has over 25 books and counting. His stories focus on fantastic families, magical academies, and epic adventures.

  • Hi there,

    thanks for the reference back to my post – just to add to the conversation – not all marketing is about sales. Brand exposure and recognition is sometimes just as important.


  • @Paul – I agree that brand exposure and recognition is important, but I wanted to throw a tale of caution out to all those marketers wanting to jump on the AR bandwagon.

    And brand exposure and recognition is about sales, just a longer term view of getting the customers trust you so you can sell to them in the future.

  • I’d like to point out that OneZeroThrice has already created a tool to allow Flash developers to create fully interactive (read: not just gimmicky), browser based AR with no need to learn the inner workings of marker detection. Plus, it’s open source and 100% free. http://onezerothrice.com/artisan.

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