Augmented Reality: Minority Report isn’t going to happen!

Augmented Reality: Minority Report isn’t going to happen!

Minority ReportProbably the most overused cliche in digital marketing today is referencing Minority Report when discussing augmented reality (AR). AR is on many marketing prediction lists for 2010 as the proliferation of 3G smartphones and the convergence of GPS, cameras and applications means location-specific information can appear on your phone.

As an example of what we are talking about here’s a video demonstrating one of the first iPhone apps to use AR.

Great application, very useful, and demonstrating the huge potential of AR. But some would take the idea to extremes. The recent AdNews Annual issue flogged the Minorioty Report cliche in an over enthusiastic wild imagining of AR excess.

The sexy technology that Tom Cruise commands in the 2002 film Minority Report doesn’t look quite as far-fetched today…

William and Sangeeta Leach; The AdNews Annual 2009, p30

You mean I can swap out my eyeballs in a dingy backroom sometime in 2010? Uh, no, I guess that’s not what you mean, as another article makes clear.

Your future real streetscape may well be filled with augmented advertising, promotions and 3D characters. Products and people will interact with you, Minority Report style, as you stroll down your local streets.

Andrew Englisch; The AdNews Annual 2009, p43

Yeah, cause we all know how much we love being interrupted on the street by marketing. Perform a Google search for “Augmented Reality, Minority Report” and there are thousands of blog posts, newspaper articles and more comparing one with the other, in an over-excited display of marketing hysteria. Eight years ago, did the entire marketing industry go wild with excitement at the scenes of Tom Cruise encountering interactive billboards and iris-triggered direct marketing? Does anyone in their right mind honestly believe that is the future of marketing? Really?

Apparently so.

These applications will be able to interact with and bring to life any print-based AR, give double meaning and information to brand advertisements on billboards … and transform location-based advertising into something out of Minority Report.

AdNews; Dec 28, 2009

It’s coming, you know it is — it’s relentless, and in a freaky Tom Cruise Minority Report style versus the friendly intelligent freeway sign in Steve Martin’s LA Story too.

Fast Company; Dec 9, 2009

Bollocks. And don’t get me started on Steve Martin’s freeway sign. Martin has to pull over to the hard shoulder to have a conversation with a pushy road safety signal offering relationship advice. I think the majority of freeway drivers would see that as an interruption to their journey.

Scarily, Englisch takes his AR ideas further, from billboards to people.

You are exploring downtown Sydney, early evening, nicely chilled. Someone takes your eye. You discretely point your smartphone at them. Silent click.

Anyone else creeped out yet? He continues…

Their cute face instantly fills your camera’s live-feed screen. In a blink you are presented with a full array of their personal data superimposed over their image. Age, profession, favourite foods, sexual preferences and Twitter feed. Your data packed screen says that you share a compatibility rating of 95%.

Most likely because you both selected ‘idiot’ when choosing your privacy settings. But wait – there’s more…

Quickly you hit the “Drink?” button. What will they do? How will they respond? Seconds later: “Yes!” they ping you back.

I think Englisch is wrong. More than that, I hope he is. I really, really do. It is a scenario completely devoid of genuine human behaviour, predicting the future based on what technology can potentially do and not how people will most likely use it. The above example is just way too ‘stalker-ish’ to be taken seriously. And this is what I think is wrong with the whole Minority Report cliche. It’s the usual trap of thinking about technology instead of anthropology. How will people use the technology? Certainly not in that way!

Okay, stick up your hand if you always try to avoid those clipboard carrying, bucket waving promotional chaps that hang around street corners and shopping centres trying to sign you up or grab a donation? Yeah, I know your hand is up. Sure you may stop once or twice out of guilt, but anyone who walks the same street a lot knows just how annoying it is to walk past a gauntlet of shiny happy people trying to get you to care about pandas every… single… lunchtime. Even though we don’t stop, waving a hand dismissively or politely saying ‘no’, we’ve been interrupted and made to feel a smidge guilty too – and we resent it. We’d rather it didn’t happen.

So why are we getting excited about technology that does the same thing? The last thing we want is for complete strangers to approach us, convinced that they are 95% compatible because a cheap computer application identified that we both like the same colour and prefer cats to dogs. The last thing we want is to be at the mercy of our technology – responding to it instead of controlling it. The last thing we want is for technology to add more interruptions into our already frantic days.

Come on, all marketers should know now that digital marketing is moving rapidly towards ‘pull’ and not ‘push’. Any marketer who has paid attention over the last ten years knows that a brand trying to control the consumer or force a message is doomed to fail. AR may have the ability to do all the things described above and more, but it will evolve along the lines of human behaviour and not marketing wishful thinking or power trips.

So here’s my AR prediction. It will be more about places than people. Point it at a shop and see the voucher pop up. Point at a restaurant and get the reviews. Etc, etc – we all know this stuff – very useful and largely inoffensive and unobtrusive. AR as a ‘pull’ medium, where the user chooses when to use it and what to access. But make it an interruption ‘push’ medium, allow it to live up to the Minority Report cliche, and human behaviour dictates AR will be a turnoff real quick.