Brands Will Love Augmented Reality Games, and You Will Too

Location-Based Augmented Reality for Brands
Location-Based Augmented Reality: Anyone holding an iPhone can play!

July 4, 2016.

Fifteen thousand people attended the July Fourth fireworks at Butler County Fairgrounds. They were packed together and had to occupy themselves for hours as they waited for dusk. They talked to strangers, played euchre, and fiddled with their smartphones.

REI wanted to advertise or sell to these 15,000 attendees.

The company considered buying targeted ads on YouTube to interrupt a few poor guys trying to watch movie trailers on their phones. Then they weighed using MediaBrix’s engine to slip commercials into mobile games. In this case, REI would have paid for the opportunity to offer a mobile gamer an extra life after all of his ran out. To earn the bonus life, a gamer would only have to watch a 30-second commercial. It’s a smart advertising channel.

However, by targeting individual gamers with MediaBrix, REI would have ignored a conspicuous opportunity at the fairgrounds. REI had a captive audience there: 15,000 people sitting together in a shared physical space without a damn thing to do. So what was REI’s play?

Build a video game to engage the crowd.

REI wanted badly to get on casual cyclists’ radars and to link its brand to cycling culture in consumers’ minds. So a bicycle-racing game was perfect. Each player controlled a cycle with his or her iPhone. Not everyone in the crowd liked racing games– many had no interest in playing. But the race was eye-candy for sidelined spectators too, and the dazzling exhibition provoked both spectators and players to associate high-performance cycling with REI. That was a big win for REI.

Using GPS coordinates to anchor digital set pieces, developers had mapped REI’s virtual bicycle track onto the real physical space above the crowd. That meant that anyone with a mobile device could download an app to enjoy the show. iPhones were magic lenses that revealed a persistent digital layer over the real world. A dozen oddballs brought their Magic Leaps or Hololenses out to the fairgrounds to enjoy a highly immersive experience. Their friends lined up to glimpse REI’s spectacle in the sky through a Magic Leap.



What did this cost REI?

REI worked with a third-party developer to build one racing game. After testing, they deployed it across the country. The game entertained crowds at almost 1200 fairgrounds on July Fourth, and REI plans for its appearance at select baseball stadiums and other outdoor venues through the rest of the month.

Setting up virtual race tracks like the one at Butler Fairgrounds was as easy as inputting GPS coordinates into the game’s code. REI personnel and their game studio partners did this remotely. It’s unbelievable how little it cost to scale these games from one instance to 1200 instances. REI acknowledged that they could theoretically anchor a racing game in the sky over every parking lot in the country. Of course, doing so would turn these events into white noise, and everyone would tune them out.

The next puzzle was getting folks at Butler Fair to point their iPhones skyward and tune into REI’s frequency, so to speak.

REI’s racing game works with the free SHiFT app (which powers dozens of similar AR games fixed to their own GPS coordinates). Those with the app installed get notified within 500 feet of an AR event like this one. Also, unlike QR codes, this tech is cool and conversation-worthy, so modest social media buzz roused the first few bloggers and redditers. They were the first adopters on-site, and people sitting near them saw them pointing their phones at an invisible target in the sky. Kids sitting near them followed suit, and thus the crowd was soon peppered with people emulating their neighbors and pointing their iPhones skyward while tuning into REI’s racing game.

Meanwhile, Sony also was hosting a massive multiplayer tower defense game for the fairgoers, and indie developers had a few notable AR events to show the crowd. The SHiFT app carefully curates its library of AR events, with strict guidelines for high production-value and low vulgarity/indecency.

REI’s racing game was a success, and it pulled positive reviews across Twitter and Facebook. Yet, the company fears that another AR engine, a competitor to the well-curated SHiFT app, will hit the app store and will litter the skies with garbage AR events. An overzealous indie developer might actually plant instances of their game in the sky above every parking lot in the U.S. That’s why curating, ranking, or featuring quality content matters to SHiFT’s team.

Brands don’t seem concerned. There’s a lot of garbage to sift through on Pinterest and YouTube too, but cream rises. Brands with the resources to hire the right artists can really create head-turning games or events that scale. That’s good news for fairgoers passing the time while waiting for the fireworks to get started.


This futuristic experience is currently possible on iPhone 4 and later. Only, the software hasn’t yet been created. Expect a hardware-agnostic engine like SHiFT to reach the app store in the next two years, especially if Magic Leap and Hololens find widespread adoption.

Brands Will Love Augmented Reality Games, and You Will Too

Dolce & Gabbana’s brand positioning from an American Perspective

You’re not a billionaire designer, so what cautionary lessons are you going to take from DG’s tax scandal? Leave that story for the shock-starved tabloid hounds. DG’s brand positioning is so much more instructive and compelling.
Dolce & Gabbana brought Americans a modern Mediterranean aesthetic that’s more ornate, colorful, and sexually charged than Armani’s. I can absolutely appreciate the talent driving the DG brand. I want to float the idea that, for an American, “Mediterranean” is not the reason for DG’s appeal. This side of the Atlantic, I think consumers buy DG to go after an aesthetic I’d call Urban-Exotic, and Mediterranean imagery is a lukewarm expression of this quality. DG could broadcast its urban-exoticism with more impact. Urban-Exotic means sensuous, foreign (including but not limited to Mediterranean), modern, exclusive, finely tailored and a bit dangerous. And Urban-Exotic casts competitors as generic by comparison, since Hugo Boss and Band of Outsiders won’t go to the ends of the earth to bring home uncommon designs to New York clientele.

Joshua Eckert That’s the vine Nasturtium at the foot of the mannequin. While this scene triggers an audience’s emotional reactions to faraway places, it maintains the Mediterranean’s bold, clean lines and flooding light. Here’s a second concept, less modern than the first: Dolce & Gabbana Retail Design Concept ____ On a side note, DG’s decision to print retro-Americana shirts with Tyson, Coca-Cola, and Robots was bizarre, and WAY off-brand. Viewing these shirts from outside the company, I can’t make sense of how they are sexy, creative, or exclusive. They aren’t all bad-looking, but they dilute and decay DG’s brand.  I suspect that there’s an on-brand way to drive the same short-term revenues. Think Urban-Exotic.

Dolce & Gabbana’s brand positioning from an American Perspective

Earning the Right to Critique


On two occasions, I sat in on discussions where brand positioning gurus dissected John Carter‘s box office failure. In both venues (one was a lengthy LinkedIn discussion while the other was a live panel in Manhattan), participants agreed that the movie’s poorly chosen name generally caused its failure. Yet, nobody had the bravery to suggest another name. Not a single branding consultant in either discussion!

Every movie needs a name.

Every brand needs an identity and a voice. Every team needs a uniform. You might not like what’s in place, but for us to Continue reading “Earning the Right to Critique”

Earning the Right to Critique

The Sweet Spot: When Retail Design is Modern but not Minimalist

Milan bakery interior by Daniela Colli

If I link particular emotions to a desert—warmth, vast open landscapes, solitude, quiet and stillness—the Milan bakery will coax the same feelings out of me, albeit to a lesser degree. These feelings partially displace ones of tight space and clutter I’d feel at an ordinary bakery.

Compared to this Milan bakery’s interior, a minimalist interior is a little cheaper and a lot less challenging* to design. A minimalist bakery would be clean, spare, and maybe even elegant. But because it doesn’t reference anything other than itself, it can’t contend with a modern-theatrical interior’s power to rouse emotions.

Are good feelings sufficient ROI?

Riddle me this: how might the bakery’s costly interior change consumer behavior? Ideally, this retail environment should (1) draw consumers Continue reading “The Sweet Spot: When Retail Design is Modern but not Minimalist”

The Sweet Spot: When Retail Design is Modern but not Minimalist

Could I Interest You in a Less Modern Brand?

I’m suspicious of brands that choose Minimalist design.

Minimalism is one of many tools a brand designer can use to connect a product with upscale city life in consumers’ minds. However, too many strategists think it’s the only tool. They default to minimalist design when they shouldn’t; they needlessly crowd into that niche when it doesn’t serve their brands. By so doing, they miss a chance to stand out.

Some creative directors embrace modern design because they love the style. On packaging, websites or showroom interiors, the style is clean, pure, loud, and luxurious when a talented craftsman holds the reins.

Baron & Baron - Michael Kors Bags
Michael Kors bags by Baron & Baron

Other creative directors and chief brand officers perceive an obligation to create minimalist visual identities. These are the execs frightened of being left behind in the race to be most contemporary; Continue reading “Could I Interest You in a Less Modern Brand?”

Could I Interest You in a Less Modern Brand?

How to Open a Bookstore in 2013

Put B&N out of your mind. As the market leader, the company is allowed to be generic. You’re not. You’d be naive not to turn the conventional model on its head. To make money selling books, you better give your shoppers an experience worth telling their friends about.

The Tashen bookstore designed by Philippe Starck is interesting, but non-designers probably won’t tell their friends about it after they’ve left.
The Tashen bookstore designed by Philippe Starck is interesting, but non-designers probably won’t tell their friends about it after they’ve left.

Start Here.

How could you create a store so remarkable that Fodors and Frommers would call it a not-to-be-missed experience? An outrageous Continue reading “How to Open a Bookstore in 2013”

How to Open a Bookstore in 2013

Suppose a Hershey Bar’s Texture is as Important as its Wrapper

chocolate bar 2

5 Gum demonstrates that smart packaging and branding can help a mediocre product burn brightly, if only for a short while.  Of course packaging matters, and taste matters, but what about texture?

Imagine biting into a Reese’s PB Cup with smoothed-out ridges.  You’d miss out on a satisfying part of the Reese’s PB Cup experience.  The texture of chocolate, food, and candy is important, and it very often goes overlooked.  Our sensitive tongues crave tactile stimulation, but The Hershey Company doesn’t deliver. The company misses an opportunity when it limits its thinking about candy shape to “how can we mold these chocolate bars to be easily broken into bite-sized pieces?”

chocolate bar 35 years from now, textured foods and textured candy will be the new frontier.  Marketers and designers will research which textures best stimulate the tongue (rather than those which look pretty, though the two aren’t mutually exclusive).  New manufacturing processes will spring up around this research.

Would this proposed bar sync with the Hershey’s brand? The answer is yes if you could see Kevin Arnold from The Wonder Years unwrapping this bar. I say this because the core brand values for Hershey’s are (1) Americana, (2) family, and (3) golden-age nostalgia. The corn-on-the-cob texture would then suit Hershey’s quite well, as would a wicker texture. Patent Alligator would be a stretch, probably better suited for a high-quality brand extension to be sold as a luxury good.

What an outstanding marketing concept for Hershey to grab and run with!  I hope they do.  I want to live in a world where I can buy chocolate bars with the texture of corn-on-the-cob, course-weave linen, or patent alligator.  This is a million-dollar idea, and Hershey would be wise to get a sizable research team working on it before a savvy boutique candy maker breaks off a chocolate-swirled piece of the the their market share.

Suppose a Hershey Bar’s Texture is as Important as its Wrapper