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Augmented reality vs. QR codes: Which delivers most bang for the buck?

Walmart

Walmart's augmented reality app

QR code use skyrocketed last year because of how easily the technology bridges digital and real-world engagements. On the other hand, augmented reality offers a more exciting way for brands to interact with consumers, but may not be the right choice in all cases. 

Magazine advertisers and publishers, consumer packaged goods brands, catalogers and ecommerce providers have all embraced QR codes to deliver content and support virtual shopping experiences. The number of brands embracing augmented reality is currently smaller but some unique experiences driven by augmented reality are starting to appear.

“Hands down, QR codes are the better value for anyone looking to connect the real and virtual worlds. Dan Roche, vice president of marketing at TalkPoint, New York. “At TalkPoint, we see our customers use QR codes to drive viewership to webcasts on a regular basis through print and on-site conference promotion among other outlets.

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“Augmented reality creates an interactive experience that is more fun and immersive, and those are great qualities for a campaign that provides a lot of creative options,” he said.

“I do, however, think that QR codes are more pragmatic than augmented reality. QR codes are able to provide a comparable - although maybe somewhat less - engaging experience with the benefit of being a bit more versatile to help drive revenue dollars directly into your program.”

The practical side
QR codes and augmented reality each has its own set of pros and cons.

There is still no standard format for 2D bar codes – which minimizes consumer awareness – and users do not always know what to expect when they scan a code. Additionally, QR code readers are not standard on all mobile operating systems.

On the plus side, QR codes require little effort on the part of the consumer to use and offer a great way to see a product in action before making a purchase. From the marketer’s perspective, they are relatively inexpensive to implement.

“There will be continued growth in QR codes usage,” Mr. Roche said.

“I do not see the QR code as a game changer that will have meteoric rise,” he said. “However, I do see practical, controlled-use cases that really fit well with QR codes because they are convenient, helpful and can generate hard dollars.

“Their usage in retail outlets, on subways, trains and buses and at conferences help make them a practical choice for customers wanting to control the user experience. They provide a way to offer coupons, product reviews and outlet locations.”

The excitement quotient
Augmented reality can be an awkward experience, with users required to hold up a phone in front of their face to find the digital overlaps for physical objects. On the other hand, unlike with QR codes, there is no need to download a special reader to interact with the physical world.

The production costs for augmented reality can also be high, but the investment can be worth it when the end result is a fun and immersive experience that users remember.

Another issue with augmented reality is figuring out how to measure its return on investment.

“I think that 2013 will see a lot of buzz and interest in augmented realities, but more as a novice and clever concept,” Mr. Roche said. “They are great, but their ‘soft’ ROI creates an uncertainty about using them for core promotion.

“Some retailers, like Starbucks (with its Cup Magic), have done a good job using them to augment their holiday efforts,” he said.

Retail is one area, in particular, where QR codes and augmented reality have taken off, as merchants looks to push customer experiences beyond the physical and into the digital while bringing some added excitement to their stores.

For example, Walmart has been embracing augmented reality to create in-store experiences around retail promotions for popular films such as Spider-Man and The Avengers (see story).

“The use of augmented reality and QR codes will continue to increase in 2013, all in the name of shopper convenience and retailers’ revenue,” said Kevin French, executive director and general manager of G2 Philadelphia.

“2013 will mark the most dramatic shift to every touch point becoming ‘retailified’ by bridging the gap between physical experiences and digital experiences to provide as much convenience to shoppers as possible,” he said.

“Both technologies will find their appropriate use in the value exchange between shoppers and retailers.”

Google Glass
In 2013, brands will continue to use QR codes as a practical way to engage users and deliver useful content while augmented reality is likely to be used as a means to drive some excitement for the user.

Already, excitement is building for Google’s Glass project, which will offer an augmented reality-like experience via glasses that users wear.

“QR codes are really just about a quick short-cut to a digital site,” said David Bryant, chief creative officer at Organic, San Francisco. “They're still useful - but interest in them has dropped naturally as they are no longer 'news'

“We believe there will be an upswing in interest in AR with the advent of Google Glass,” he said. “People have started to develop applications using the SDK - the platform is solid and has enormous company behind it plus the love and attention of one of the Google's founders.

“Although not pure AR, it has many AR-like features and will certainly restart interest in it."

Final Take
Chantal Tode is associate editor on Mobile Marketer, New York

Associate Editor Chantal Tode covers advertising, messaging, legal/privacy and database/CRM. Reach her at chantal@mobilemarketer.com.

 
Related content: Marketing, QR codes, augmented reality, TalkPoint, Dan Roche, G2, Kevin French, Organic, David Bryand, mobile marketing, mobile

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