If you’ve ever watched a football game on television and noticed the yellow first-down line on the field, you’ve seen augmented reality (AR) at work. In this case, reality — the real-time football game on television — is being augmented with virtual information in the form of the first down line that moves after every play. AR enhances your perception of reality with computer-generated sensory input such as sound, video, graphics, or GPS data.

Now AR is touching the everyday world through publications and marketing techniques. The idea is that the more interactive readers become, the more they will engage with the text and subsequently take actions marketers want. Is the catalog industry next in line for this technology?

Creative and fun, with potential value-add 

“Augmented reality is just so new that I think it will be a little while before people really Touch Interfaceadopt this technology across the board,” cautions Rob Nowak, director of new catalog technology at The Dingley Press. “If it requires too much work, they won’t do it. Catalogers should ask themselves, ‘Is this gimmicky or is there really a value-add to it?'”

Although it’s still not common, AR is shaping up as a natural progression from current rich-content applications. In July, Ikea sent out 211 million catalogs embedded with a digital layer designed to make the pages come alive through photo galleries, video stories about product designers, and X-ray features that allowed readers to look behind cabinet doors.

Augmented reality can be created in different ways. Some catalogers are using QR codes, and others are using image recognition software. Although both are great tools, the image recognition software makes it easier to add content to items even after the catalog is printed.

AR, according to Ikea and its creative agency, McCann, not only creates a more interactive print catalog but also makes the catalog relevant and interesting for a longer period of time. And the longer a catalog lies around a consumer’s house, the higher the chance it will be noticed and used to make purchases.

Some argue that the possibilities with AR and its potential support of catalog marketing are limitless: instant opt-in for promotions, immediate redirection to eCommerce sites for purchase, holographic models on virtual runways. The AR approaches are countless, but what you pick really depends on the brand, the customer, and the ease of use.

Business experts agree that AR is a viable and useful marketing tactic. As long as the future of AR is built from the ground up, basing its evolution on proven cost-benefit analyses appropriate for marketing (awareness generation, continued engagement, sales conversions, etc.), it could be a success.

Don’t be surprised if you see a few catalogers testing the concept in the coming years. The hope is that AR features in catalogs can keep readers’ attention, extend the shelf life of the print catalog, encourage downloads of the mobile app, and strengthen brand affinity by including interactive features. It’s still to be proven, but AR is a technology to watch!