Augmented reality today consists mainly of superimposed images, but companies are already envisioning a world where AR technology is an extension of our daily activities. While all eyes are on Google Glass, Blippar, a 2-year-old company based in London, has quietly helped brands like Heinz, Budweiser and Cadbury launch AR-based campaigns and claims to have more than 3 million users.
AdExchanger spoke with Blippar co-founder Ambarish Mitra.
AdExchanger: What does Blippar do and how does it work?
AMBARISH MITRA: We are trying to connect the digital and physical worlds and add more meaning to them. We are heading into a world where you will be able to point your mobile device at anything and have things communicate back to you.
The benefits of Blippar are two-fold. One immediate benefit is consumers have a new tool where everything around them has more meaning. Imagine you’re reading a newspaper or a magazine and you’re looking at an ad for clothes. If you blip it you get more information about the clothes and you can buy it straight from the magazine.
Also, brands can’t really track how real people interact with goods in the real world. Newspapers can’t tell which reader read their newspaper at which location and at what time of the day, etc. With the data we capture, they can find out, for example, whether ads on the left or right-hand side of a newspaper drove more engagement.
How is this different from using a QR code?
The QR code was important when it came out because it took barcodes one step further, but the adoption of QR codes was much higher by businesses than actual users. The problem is no one owns a QR code. No one takes responsibility for it in terms of best practices and that’s its downfall.
Twitter and Facebook brought something new, but in a proprietary way, and have improved their products and turned them into something people use every day. We’re trying to do the same with augmented reality by moving away from QR codes and making it easier for people to access information.
Can you give me some examples of how it works?
Here’s a Shreddies cereal box that says, "Download the free Blippar app and blip the box for your daily pearls of wisdom." When you switch the app on, it starts looking for the unique features of whatever’s in front of it and can recognize images in under 300 milliseconds.
How it works is it recognizes the images, sends it to a server, the server validates that this is a Blippar image and the content is sent back. As you can see on my phone, the interaction happens in 3D and when you blip the cereal box, you get the pearls of wisdom from the nanny. Today it’s “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” and every day it’ll be something different.
Harper’s Bazaar introduced the three Bs of Blippar: blip, browse and buy. Wherever you see the B, you can blip the image and buy the item on the retailer’s website. Magazines that have worked with us have done an average of $12,000 to $15, 000 a week in sales.
We’ve worked with big brands like Nike, Tesco, Budweiser and Cadbury to start doing campaigns with us from the brand side. And we convinced big media houses, like Telegraph Media Group, The Independent and The New York Times to start using content that could be made interactive. Besides e-commerce, brands can use Blippar to provide everyday knowledge, games and videos.
Is the app collecting any user data?
It’s collecting phone data. We know when you switch on the app and if you approved your location. If you approve your location, we know where you are blipping and, based on the product, what you are blipping. Soon we’ll be launching Facebook’s one-click sign-up and we’ll be able to ask permission from users [to access] their demographic, age and gender data as well.
How do you retarget ads?
How we retarget is almost the same way browsers retarget to you. It’s based on an algorithm that is automatically learning and the more you use it, the more it learns about you and starts pushing intelligent things your way. If you are blipping a men’s magazine and then an ad for a Mercedes and a tennis tournament, we get to know what interests you and we’ll start sending you more similar content.
After someone downloads the app, are they mainly receiving ads?
Well, not exactly. We don’t do push notifications, for example. Our position is like a browser. We want to become the default browser of recognizing things in the real world. There are a lot of blips that have nothing to do with commercial opportunities.
Imagine it’s 1994 when the Internet was still picking up and most companies didn’t have domain names yet. Today, this Cadbury candy bar serves as a domain name. This is a new age where physical objects are becoming key identification points and it’s your brand's responsibility to activate and own the image in Blippar’s browser and give people the content you want them to see.
I imagine there will be some privacy and copyright issues here if people start adding content to anything with the app.
The image is not captured as a photograph. These dots [on the app] indicate the unique points that make up an image and the ratio as a signature is captured. From a privacy point of view, technically we’re not recognizing your image in its entirety. We’re recognizing just a skeletal portion of it. Also, many of the brands have their own privacy conditions. Some brands have an age gate, for example. If users want to own certain things they will have to register for it and provide the proper documentation.
What’s your business model?
Our pricing is based on a tiered structure and brands are paying a license fee based on usage. We are revenue-positive as a business. We’ve been going for 21 months and, within those 21 months, 70% of our business is already repeat clientele. Soon we’ll cross the critical mark of 25 million users, and we’ll eventually move to a more performance-based model. In terms of revenue, we haven’t completed our second year yet, but we expect to finish the year at approximately $10 million.
Looking ahead, what’s next for Blippar?
In August, Blippar will introduce a social aspect. Today it’s about you and the brand. Next we’re going to connect people to let them talk about what they’re seeing on Blippar. Our vision is to make the world blippable. So that table, that lamp, will be blippable. Imagine the Wikipedia of the real world with lots more rich media content where people can add video, text and sound to anything. On the technical side, this is very challenging but we forecast that in five years this will be everyday behavior.
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