Augmented reality graffiti will lead to advertising ambush wars

[This story from New Scientist highlights negative consequences of presence-based advertising; while it focuses mostly on competition between advertisers, the larger concern is unwanted clutter in augmented/mixed reality, as illustrated in the Kevin Matsuda short film Hyper-Reality. The original story includes a 0:35 minute video and a different image. –Matthew]

Augmented reality graffiti will lead to advertising ambush wars

By Matt Reynolds
4 August 2017

Imagine looking up at the sky and seeing every cloud crammed full of adverts. High above a fast food restaurant, a competitor has scrawled its own cheeky pitch, urging shoppers to eat their burgers instead.

This future is nearer than you might think: last month saw the launch of the first augmented reality app that lets anyone write on the sky. And, according to a report released this week by a global law firm, advertisers are worried.

The new app, called Skrite, lets users write messages or post photos onto the sky. Anyone who has installed the app can then point their phone skyward to see what other users have left there. “The sky’s not the limit, in fact, it is a barrier that must be broken,” the company wrote in a press release that was reprinted at Wired.

Right now, the only companies using the app to advertise to customers are small businesses in Orlando, Florida, says Skrite co-founder Arshia Siddique. But she’s hoping to entice big brands. Augmented reality, she says, is a “third space” – after the physical world and the internet – just waiting to be “filled with content”.

Skrite’s “skywriting” is only the latest AR app getting ready to capitalise on these coming changes. “We’re there already,” says Danny Lopez at the London-based augmented reality company Blippar, which lets users see reviews and recommendations overlaid onto shops and landmarks.

Brands are beginning to prepare themselves for this new reality, says Gregor Pryor at Reed Smith, a global legal firm. But not quite in the way you might think. They are thinking about ways to defend against the changes. “The mischief might be endless,” he says.

This week, Reed Smith published a report into the legal issues associated with the growth of augmented and virtual reality technology, which makes it clear just how worried brands are.

One issue is that if brands can place adverts in the sky, there is plenty of opportunity for so-called ambush marketing campaigns, where rival advertisers muscle in on events that already have official sponsors. For example, a beer company sponsoring a festival might be thwarted by a rival brand using Skrite to put adverts in the sky above the grounds. “It could be really disruptive,” Pryor says.

While it may seem early days to start worrying, that’s only because the technology has not moved from smartphones to wearable devices, says Pryor.

But we’re getting there. Last month, Google announced plans to revive its augmented reality specs, Google Glass. Snapchat started selling its smart Snapchat Spectacles for $130 in the US last year. Although the current version of Spectacles doesn’t use augmented reality, Snapchat has already filed a patent for a version of the glasses that do incorporate the technology. Elsewhere, AR tech is getting steadily more convenient and less bulky.

If augmented reality wearables are going to go mainstream, manufacturers will have to reduce costs even further, Pryor says. One way to do this is by hitting users with targeted advertising based on data such as their current location. If ad blocking makes it into augmented reality – and researchers have already created their own prototype real-world ad blockers – then the advertisers are going to have a much bigger fight on their hands soon enough.

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