What is Augmented Reality, and How Can Your Association Use It?

By Association Adviser staff • March 2, 2014

An Association Adviser interview with Marcus Underwood

From slick consumer magazines, to nuts-and-bolts trade journals, augmented reality is getting lots of buzz these days by content shapers anxious to hold readers’ attention in an increasingly digital age. To help separate the WOW factor from the real-world practicalities of AR, we turned to Naylor’s Chief Innovation Officer, Marcus Underwood, for some clarity.


Association Adviser: What is augmented reality (AR) and why should association publishing professionals get familiar with it?

Marcus Underwood
Marcus Underwood, Chief Innovation Officer, Naylor

Marcus Underwood: Augmented reality (AR) is technology that allows for a digitally enhanced view of the real world. With the camera and sensors in a smartphone or tablet, AR adds layers of digital information—videos, photos, sounds—directly on top of items in the world around us.

AA: Can you give us an example of AR in action?

MU: Sure. A typical example would be holding your smartphone over a magazine page, and then the elements of the page (when viewed through the phone) would come to life.

AA: Without getting too technical, how does AR work and what does an association (or reader) need in order to make the most of the AR reading experience?

MU: AR uses image recognition technology to identify predefined images, and then performs certain actions when those images are identified. By using AR content management tools, a publisher can scan a PDF file of any content element (i.e. magazine, conference brochure, or signage) and then tell the software what to do when that image is recognized in the viewer.

AA: How about video?

MU: Right. A typical action would be to play a video or to show some other sort of animation. The goal is to provide more information to the reader than can typically be provided in a print format.

AA: Is there any way to know which of your readers/members is using AR? That’s important for editors as well as advertisers.

MU: Another great benefit of AR is that the software tracks who interacted with the content. This way you can see how effective the content was, and for an advertiser, you may even be able to identify sales leads.

AA: What is the best way for an association to get familiar with augmented reality and test it out before diving headlong into the AR pool?

MU: The technology is fairly simple to use and inexpensive to test. A simple and effective test could be to scan the cover of your magazine, and use AR to play a video message from your Executive Director. If you have already a video clip, this can be accomplished in a matter of minutes.

AA: Sounds surprisingly simple.

MU: Keep in mind that you will need to have a way to let people know that there is an AR feature available in the magazine. A good way to do that is to add the logo of your AR vendor, or some other small notation on the page, with instructions about how to use this technology.

AA: What are some of the biggest misconceptions about what augmented reality can (and cannot) do for association professionals?

MU: AR has a real “wow” factor to it. However, its practicality is still in question. Requiring a user to install an app to see additional content means you must be able to deliver something special. If not, the reader will be disappointed and may not return. Asking a user to take extra steps for an advertiser’s message is a waste of time. The association must provide content that the member really wants and THEN, the advertiser’s message can be seen since the member already has the app.

AA: How are advertisers/sponsors reacting to augmented reality in the media they support?

MU: This is the early days for AR, and most advertisers are only dabbling in it. There are some hurdles with AR, the largest being that there is no single tech standard. To activate an AR feature, you must have the application loaded on your phone or tablet. Each AR provider has its own software. So, if you have one provider’s software, you may not have the other. This means the user must prepare in advance for the content by downloading the app. This makes it all the more important for the content to be meaningful.

AA: What is the best device to use to get the full AR experience?

MU: The leader in print AR appears to be Layar. Another vendor is Augment.

AA: How is scanning an augmented reality (AR) code with a smartphone or tablet any different from scanning a QR code?

MU: Scanning QR codes and AR elements can be used similarly (to take a user to specific Web content), but AR can do more. It can allow you to use view things through your phone (like a pair of binoculars) and show content and information while still viewing the “real world” around it.

AA: Does AR technology require special programming skills in order to create the augmented content?

MU: No special skills are needed. You need to pay for the software (often Web-based), but these tools are easy to use.

AA: Would geo-located “augmented content” be a good way to promote interactivity at trade shows and conferences?

MU: This would be a good use of AR, as you have a “captive” audience, and can better ensure that they have preloaded the application needed. Walking the show floor with your phone, you could hold up the phone to a booth and see more info about the company while still viewing the booth and the people working there!

Watch a video about augmented reality from Free Minded Media and test some AR apps from mainstream brands like BMW and Esquire here. Another version of AR, Google Glass, has been in the news lately because of the deal Google has entered into with VSP, an optical health insurance provider, to subsidize Google Glass. Which types of AR do you think are most likely to catch on with associations? Leave us a comment below!