Augmented advertising: The new concept you need to know now

by Ken Weiner, chief technology officer, GumGum

The most powerful new trend in advertising needs a name.

You’ve doubtless seen it in action. The AI-driven special effects that are being used to embellish digital photos and videos, especially on social media platforms. The technology isn’t brand new, but it’s mostly been used by consumers for entertainment and sharing. Only more recently have brands started using it themselves—and learning how powerful it can be.

Last year, Taco Bell set a Snapchat standard of 224 million views in a single day by employing a branded Cinco de Mayo “lens” that popped a taco shell on user’s heads in selfies. In June, Warner Bros. launched a series of Justice League Facebook “masks” that could be overlaid on videos, to promote their new superhero movie. Instagram also came out with “face filters” this spring, though they’re not yet available to advertisers.

Each social network has its own name for these tools—and until now, that’s been fine. But we’re at a tipping point for the technology, and it’s time for a universal term. We need one that’s specific to advertising—tacking “sponsored” onto the front of the social networks’ monikers is clunky and diminishing. Plus, it misses the fact that social platforms aren’t the only players in this field.

At GumGum,  we call it augmented advertising. We modestly propose everyone else should too…

Why? It’s more specific than “augmented reality,” a broad term used to describe everything from vein-finders to Pokémon Go. And it’s more accurate than other terms. Some people have referred to our work, for example, as sophisticated banner advertising, but it’s not—these ads don’t just appear with the content, they interact with it. In fact, without the content, these ads don’t work.

“Augmented advertising” communicates that, as fun and sometimes kooky this advertising can be, it’s backed by super-sophisticated artificial intelligence. Augmented advertising relies on computer vision technology, which has the ability to “see,” select, capture and change or augment an image. The computer vision industry is expected to top $14.43 billion by 2020, according to a forecast by Markets and Markets, and the science is working its way into many sectors, including security, automotive, consumer, industrial, medical and entertainment.

Here’s an example of how it works: In 2013 we ran a promotional campaign for the Lifetime series “The Witches of East End,” about a mother and daughter who are shocked to find that they’re witches. Our creative riffed on the element of surprise: and we designed a program that overlayed glowing green eyes onto pictures of people on publisher sites. When the green glow flickered away, we placed an ad for the show along the bottom of the image.

Augmented Advertising: The Witches of East End from GumGum on Vimeo.

To work successfully, our technology used a series neural networks—computer systems modeled on the brain—to recognize several thousand different kinds of objects. Only then could could we find the right images in the right format—people facing forward, whose eyes were visible—and to recognize context, emotions, brand safety, colors and more.

Of course, viewers don’t see any of that. They just get a sense of magic and delight.

Unlike more traditional approaches, well-executed augmented ads are tough to ignore—in our campaigns, they’ve increased viewability between 5% and a whopping 44%.

Augmented advertising is still in its early stages, and there’s so much potential yet to be fulfilled.  In the hands of smart agencies, this tool can be used to create ads that are potent, memorable, funny, enticing, buzzy and groundbreaking. We’re sure augmented advertising will find a place in VR as it becomes more widely used, and who knows where else? Now is the time to start dreaming.

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