Augmented Reality, Second Life, and the trough of disillusionment

The number of augmented reality campaigns launched this week alone is, to the best of our knowledge, well into the double-digits.” Contagious via Twitter

I’ve been meaning to post this since last week, after I saw the Eminem augmented reality execution and thought “I have a bad feeling about this”. Ilya from AdLab has since beaten me to the punch, and as I doubt we’re the only two people sharing these concerns right now, I think it’s worth helping hammer this message home as our industry struggles to be taken seriously and move towards delivering real value.

Let’s first be clear that Augmented Reality is going to be pervasive. It’s not a gimmick, it’s a long-standing concept that is just now becoming a consumer reality.

It’s a catch phrase that seems to be covering a lot of territory right now, but I think the key is the blending of physical and virtual environments in a useful way. That’s the “augmented” part of the reality, it’s enhancing your physical world with a layer of information-based or experiential value.

The concept has been around for ages, at least as long as Arnie’s HUD display in “The Terminator”.

terminator_2_large_16.jpg (JPEG Image, 735x275 pixels).jpg

But now we’re starting to see real, consumer-focused practical applications such as this ING Google Android application. It not only helps you find the nearest ATM, it shows you visually how to get there, even showing where you need to take the first steps in the right direction.


You can imagine thousands of useful applications for this. But before we get ahead of ourselves, it’s worth having a quick refresher on the Gartner Hype Cycle, introduced in 1995 and still going strong fourteen years later:

gartnerhypecycle.gif (GIF Image, 523x355 pixels).jpg

Here’s Gartner’s description of the first two phases:

1. “Technology Trigger”
The first phase of a Hype Cycle is the “technology trigger” or breakthrough, product launch or other event that generates significant press and interest.

2. “Peak of Inflated Expectations”
In the next phase, a frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.

Augmented Reality is in the process of transitioning from #1 to #2, in record time. Which leads us, unfortunately, to stage #3.

3. “Trough of Disillusionment”
Technologies enter the “trough of disillusionment” because they fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and the technology.

And that was, and two years later still is, the fate of Second Life.

Marketers who didn’t understand virtual worlds rushed in and did all sorts of wasteful things, either out of fear of being left behind or out of greed to grab a few the nuggets from the publicity gold rush.

Unsurprisingly, the bubble burst due to the lack of any consideration for ROI or even whether the applications made any sense at all. And now, virtual worlds have been written off by many in the industry, without any real consideration as to the massive marketing potential of virtual worlds for many brands. Which is a shame, as that makes it a waste on two levels, as well as a scar on our industry’s reputation.

So are we about to do this all over again with augmented reality?

As our techno-savvy friends in Radiohead sang, we do it to ourselves and that’s why it really hurts.

The good news is that ultimately, useful technologies and innovations survive and prosper. And it’s the companies that really take the time to think about how to make them work rather than jumping on the bandwagon that come out on top.

4. “Slope of Enlightenment
Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the “slope of enlightenment” and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.

5. “Plateau of Productivity
A technology reaches the “plateau of productivity” as the benefits of it become widely demonstrated and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market.

So how about we agree here and now not to overhype augmented reality, and instead only focus on truly useful applications of the technology, shying away from pointless gimmicks only really intended for trade press anyway.


Ahh well, worth a shot. Please resume your regularly scheduled PR activity…

UPDATE: More thoughts on the subject of AR and value from Martina at Adverblog along with an interesting example from Brazil. The QR code comparison is spot on. The promise of the technology is there, but it’s all too easy to get caught up in the hype.

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46 Responses to “Augmented Reality, Second Life, and the trough of disillusionment”

  1. 1 Adrian Ho

    Great Post Geoff. Good caution for all of us not to be so hasty to discard the “hot new thing” so quickly after the first disappointment. I also agree on Second Life. Think there’s still an idea there too.



    Muy interesante tu punto de vista, voy a tener lo en cuenta dentro de mis tareas.

    Gracias por tu aporte.


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