MNI Blog  /  3 minute read

The Evolution of Augmented Reality in Print Advertising

You may not know it yet, but Augmented Reality plays a huge role in your life. Apple's Tim Cook believes that AR will eventually be as commonplace as "eating three


Virtually everything printed will have an Augmented Reality (AR) component tied to it by 2028. And I mean everything, from packaging and in-store signage to menus and magazine pages. Everything. Bold prediction? Maybe.

But based on how AR/VR is already being incorporated into the current media landscape, and the trendline of its consumer adoption of more than 10% YOY, it’s no longer a question of if, but when AR will become as commonplace as a consumer Googling information, digital display advertising for brands, or, like Tim Cook has said, “eating three meals a day.” AR solutions have finally become cost-effective and executable without intensive training or complex design software, allowing savvy marketers to take advantage of this unique advertising enhancement right now. 

You may be wondering, “Where is all of this AR you’re talking about? I surely haven’t seen it.” Well, to that statement, I would say, “Silly goose—haven't you seen/used/heard about the gender swap filter?” Or, “You’ve never texted a picture to your friend, or posted to your Instagram account, the ‘tiger’ in your living room? You surely were one of the 500 million that succumbed to the Pokémon Go craze?!” 

Side note: that ‘craze’ is still growing in user base, recently passing more than 1 billion downloads since its launch—but I digress.

If you are paying attention, you probably noticed something missing in these examples in relation to my bold prediction that virtually everything printed will have an AR component overlaid—yes, none of these are print-based. Allow me to explain. 

Although these are, indeed, all Augmented Reality examples, they’re more accurately known as markerless AR. Due to the influence of social media, markerless AR has been the first form to effectively integrate into daily life, with platforms like Snapchat using AR filters to lead the way and successfully integrate brands. In 2016, Taco Bell’s Cinco de Mayo celebration filter turned users into tacos. Silly? Maybe. Effective? Absolutely—the app and filter engaged over 224 million uses in a single day!

As in the case of the taco face, social media platforms have the benefit of being fun and user-generated. But they can also take advantage of being seamlessly incorporated into the app experience itself on both an application and technical level. Admittedly, the most commonly identified obstacle for marker-based AR is that you still need to prompt the viewer to download an app before they can launch the interaction. Time will fix this, though. Back in 2017, the Lenovo Phab 2 Pro phone had built-in AR capabilities, which just means adoption must catch up to the technology; it won’t take long. In fact, both Apple and Facebook (working with Ray-Ban) are launching AR glasses in the next 1-4 years, respectively.

This adoption on social media platforms will greatly affect the overall proliferation of AR users, regardless of AR-type, and create a desire for more AR content and executions. 


Enter advertisingstage left. The possibilities for advertising within these social media filters, at least in a traditional sense, are currently limited. But there lies great growth potential in other forms of AR because the real advertising power in marker-less AR materializes once you apply the most powerful and unique benefit of mobile advertising: LOCATION. And there’s no better example of this to date than the award-winning Whopper Detour campaign by Burger King. 

The key to controlling AR messaging is triggers. In the Burger King case, location is the trigger for the Augmented Reality Experience, and using location as the trigger dramatically increases the ability to target the delivery of the AR Experience itself. And that, my friends, is what brings us to the other form of Augmented Reality: marker-based AR.

In its simplest form, marker-based AR inherently utilizes a trigger—the printed creative that launches the AR Experience. This image trigger allows for another layer of control and targeting for your message. Plus, delivery in a contextually relevant medium like magazines further refines your targeting. But it doesn’t have to stop there. What if you add time to that delivery equation? 

Examples of Recent Augmented Reality Print Ad Campaigns

At Facebook’s F8 conference, attendees are treated to an AR-powered treasure hunt, incorporating graphical clues into their badges and posters around the conference. Imagine if they gave those posters away as a prize at the end, and when you hung it up at home, it displayed a totally different AR message. Now imagine if the message changed again a month later. This same concept could be applied to an in-book magazine ad or Cover Wrap. See what I’m getting at? Let’s do some math: 

Printed trigger creative + Targeted magazine audience delivery + Location + Time = 1 highly-targeted, engaging, memorable, and flexible advertising platform.

This campaign from Australian wine brand 19 Crimes is another great example of how AR in print advertising can enhance consumers’ interaction with, and connection to, brands across industries.

Remember that bold prediction I made? Well, here’s another one for you: Augmented Reality will be revolutionary as a completely new medium for communication—quite possibly a new form of internet in the shape of connected app networks—and as little as a subset of mobile advertising. Either way, this is not strictly a novelty, and something consumers and advertisers alike will be able to benefit from and enjoy.