Augmented reality within brands' reach

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Alex Poulson of Inde.
Alex Poulson of Inde.

On a visit to Asia, Alex Poulson of UK agency Inde sat down with Campaign to talk about the practical implications of immersive

HONG KONG — From broadcast augmented reality to live human-controlled avatars, technology has reached the point where immersive experience is no longer tacky. But according to Alex Poulson, founding partner of U.K. agency Inde, it’s the end of the ‘gimmick era’ that makes future use of the technology most exciting.

In a trip here last week, arranged through the Great Britain campaign — an initiative showcasing the best Britain has to offer — Inde demonstrated augmented-reality technology at the British consulate group and creative hub, PMQ. Poulson also visited Macau to display Appshaker’s broadcast AR for three days in a high-traffic location in the City of Dreams.   

"Immersive experience" has been home to a long line of one-offs that succeed in gaining curiosity, hang around for a while and peter out with a puff of smoke. It’s not that the idea of immersive experience doesn’t sell, but rather that its delivery and ability to fuse with existing platforms in a lasting manner falls short.

"Imagine if I could put a live football match from halfway across the world in your living room that makes you feel like you’re at the game," Poulson said. "There’s no way you won’t pay $10 to access it. The experience speaks for itself."

With a background in advertising as a creative director for Dentsu, Poulson believed early on that opportunities to create experiences weren’t being fully employed. "Consumers reward brands that spend a little more time thinking about the experience and there’s so much scope that isn’t being explored in the more traditional campaigns," he said.

Beyond the TVC or even social media, Poulson was interested in the intersection of tech and human engagement. "People can suss out very quickly when something is false. I think when this technology is used correctly it gives brands an opportunity to create genuine two-way communication."

Poulson’s leap into experiential came after he left Dentsu and started a consultancy with a business partner, where they "explored how brands could be placed in public without using a print or digital advert." His true initiation into augmented reality presented itself in the form of a client brief from an online London art gallery called Brit-art.com. The gallery wanted people to see the featured art but not just in photos on their website.

"Back then we developed something for Nokia phones," said Poulson. "It allowed the person to place the artwork on their wall at home, see if it fit the interior, then click and get it shipped out. The truth is a lot of people buy artwork to fit their living spaces not just as an investment."

It was a highly practical exercise, but working on the project was a "light bulb moment" for Poulson and his team as they "saw the potential of the field". They went on to do work for General Electric among other clients and the consultancy grew into two distinct companies, AppShaker and Inde. The former delivers custom project for clients and concentrates on R&D, while the latter ‘productizes’ the fruit of those efforts into ready-to-go tech products that can be purchased and used through licensing.


Walking with Dinosaurs Augmented Reality with BBC / 20th Century Fox / Visit Isle of Wight

Recently, Inde bought AppShaker, merging the two companies together. The office in London is combined and teams collaborate closely. "I believe in the cottage-industry style of working," Poulson said.

Inde covers five main areas of immersive experience and augmented reality (AR): broadcast AR, virtual reality, live avatar, presentation AR and mobile AR. However, the AppShaker side of the business touches on virtually every area of immersive with immediate or future potential including robotics, wearables and computer vision.  

"There’s not a conversation to be had in advertising or education right now about robotics, but in the next two to three years there will be," said Poulson, whose vision of the future means that profits are injected back into R&D and the development of proprietary technology. Following work with National Geographic and BBC, Inde’s augmented-reality technology is being used in world-class museums for interactive education.


Broadcast augmented reality: INDE Appshaker Showreel Experiential 2014

"We’re an honest, hard-working company," Poulson said, adding however that the company would be looking for external capital at some point in the next two years. 

Inde’s notable clients include Coca-Cola, Universal Studios, National Geographic, Smithsonian Institution, Guinness Book of World Records, Ford, BBC Worldwide and 20th Century Fox.

This article first appeared on campaignasia.com.

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