Augmented humanity, HTML5 and mobile bridging for marketers

McDonald's smartphone appAugmented humanity, HTML5 and mobile bridging are rapidly emerging as the next big things in mobile ad technology, not least because they offer enormous scope for creative impact and engagement. But for a brand marketer or media planner, how are these new technologies useful in practice? How can using them fulfil a brand’s objectives?

For a start, from an online brand marketing point of view, HTML5 is heaven-sent as it allows developers to create content that works across all devices and browsers.  Marketing teams can wave goodbye to the days of having to decide whether to develop in Flash or Java, or watching as the costs mount over a project that has to have a separate solution for an iOS app, Android app, tablet and mobile formats.

What’s also incredibly exciting about HTML5 is the fact that it is a ‘living standard’. Because it is part of the accepted global online language, it is supported by top developers and companies such as Microsoft, IBM, Google, and organisations such as the W3C (the World Wide Web Consortium). This means features and specifications are constantly being added to HTML5, helping to facilitate the positive growth and development of coding standards and potential.

This can mean that many of its newest features are too new to be supported by all browsers, which brands do need to bear in mind. However, progressive enhancement (known in tech jargon as ‘polyfills’) can be written to carry out the same function intended by the new HTML5 features until the browser can support it properly. This will probably lead to a little more work when developing a website, but in the long run it saves time – building one site is a lot more cost effective than building an app for each platform.

The Boston Globe website is a really good example of what can be achieved. When you access it from your phone, you’re not seeing a phone version of the website; you’re actually seeing the fully optimised, responsive design of the main website. This means marketers can be sure online campaigns are working wherever people choose to interact with content, massively increasing the potential reach of many initiatives.

Now that brands are increasingly putting mobile first when planning online campaigns, HTML5 allows mobile to be as content rich as any other medium. This is definitely the way to go for brands looking to go mobile.

Meanwhile, augmented reality (AR), that other shiny new(ish) tech-kid on the block, requires a very different mindset from marketing teams. Unlike HTML5 , which is a hidden code that makes things easier for developers, AR has a big impact on the end user and should therefore really only be used when it can enhance their experience in a way that is relevant to the brand and/or the marketing campaign. Successful Augmented Reality campaigns are ones that either solve a problem or deliver something more than what the user was looking for in the first place. AR has amazing potential. It can be used to fulfil a wide range of business objectives, whether driving footfall in-store or driving brand awareness, but could all too easily be seen as an unnecessary gimmick by consumers and become a turn-off if it doesn’t add to their experience in a positive way.

Far too many people get it back to front and start with a desire to ‘do something using AR’, followed by idea and content. In almost all cases, that approach will deliver a useless or pointless experience that won’t impress users and won’t help achieve marketing objectives effectively. The AR experiences need to add functionality or have some sort of inherent benefit. Better to start with a problem or an idea, rather than the technology.

McDonald’s use of AR for its TrackMyMacca app (pictured) taps into the McDonald’s supply chain, allowing users to track the actual ingredients that make up their meals, is a great example of how this technology can be used to impressive effect.  The app collects information on a consumer’s McDonald’s meal using GPS and image recognition to request real time data, which is compiled into a detailed breakdown and presented to the user through augmented reality as 3D animations on their iPhone.

The bottom line is that the fundamental rules of marketing usually don’t change. The difference is that today’s consumers are connected and often more tech savvy and ahead of the curve than advertisers. This needs to be taken into account when advertisers think about creating mobile experiences.

However, it’s important brand teams can and do assess what new technology can do, and use it to meet strategic objectives. Tail wagging the dog is never a good look.

Fetch will be hosting a workshop at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on Friday 21 June.

James Connelly is MD and Co-Founder of Fetch.