Why you should not ignore Marker AR and 5 videos that prove it

So, the unleashing of ARkit and ARcore is very exciting, and will likely usher in a fervent period of branded AR experiences and stand alone AR apps being launched. But given there are several different types of AR, this could well create confusion among anyone starting out.

So the purpose of this series is to take a very simple look at those different types of AR.

Warning: this is NOT a series of technical posts. If you want a detailed look behind the curtain of all this highly publicised ARkit and ARcore news; then jump to these 2 excellent posts for a solid schooling:

1. Why is ARkit better

2. ARcore vs ARkit

Ok, got the tech stuff down?

Right, let's get back to the basics.

What is Augmented Reality?

Put simply, AR enhances our physical world by overlaying digital content. Typically viewed through the screen of a mobile device. The more relevant and hyper-contextual that content, the better (in my opinion) the experience. The area for confusion lies in the various ways in which the content makes its way onto the screen and how it behaves.

#1: Marker based AR

This first post deals with the most basic, and up until now, the most frequently used; Marker Triggered. Or to be more specific, 2D Marker Triggered (3D is different). 

As it sounds, marker AR uses basic 2-dimensional markers (logo, shape, outline etc) to tell the App where to place the augmented content, and trigger it. Ever used a QR code? Same thing. 

Unless there is a 'launch without marker' option in the app,  the entire experience is dependent on the user looking at a specific piece of content (print ad, brochure, poster etc.), and pointing their camera device at it (usually as instructed) to launch the content.

NB ARkit and ARcore do not yet support marker based AR. They use plane and 3D object detection in order for AR content to behave as naturally in the physical world as possible, but the placement of that content is arbitrary and can be launched anywhere (if I am incorrect, please let me know).

To try this basic marker AR out in the most simple way, down the brilliant Ink Hunter app. (warning, you may end up getting a tattoo after).

Marker Case-studies

I've used the 5 videos and use-cases below to help demonstrate not just how markers work in practice, but also how applicable they are across various sectors. For clarity, all the experiences here are via a mobile device - smartphone or tablet - and all the content is being viewed and interacted with via the devices' screen (told you it was simple!)


1. Activating Collateral | Courtesy of Zapper (2013) the following example uses the device's camera to read a 2D marker predefined in the design of the wrist band, which then tells the app to trigger the placement of the augmented content. 

Important takeaways:

1) It's interactive: bringing the user into the narrative and involving them in the content creates a richer, more memorable experience. 

2) Download link: baking in as much return on experience is critical. Whether that's time spent, awareness, engagement, earned media, data, commercial etc.. Pushing those metrics into the experience also integrates AR into the mobile channel as a core component vs simply a flashy add-on.

2. Activating OOH | The AR opportunity for OOH is very significant. The use-case below (Zappar again) is a solid demonstration of how a simple bus shelter poster can connect with users via mobile, turning outdoor print into an interactive show case, bringing virtual characters into the real world. 

Again, this pushes the time spent with experience nicely by linking to trailers. I'm unclear if there was a subsequent booking engine for tickets to the film - if there was, then this could be tracked directly back to revenue.

The only issue with this is the integrity of the 3D content and how it does (or in this case, does not) understand its physical environment. But hey, this was 2012...

3. Large Format Marker Use | Courtesy of my colleagues in Budapest (ARworks), this is a fantastic example of using markers in a large format, physical gaming activation. The entire game is played via an AR App using floor markers to launch content and games that bring the Milka brand to life. No marker, no game (but they did create a home version). 

As an idea, this opens up so much opportunity for large scale, social gaming experiences using AR enabled maps, in parks, shopping centres etc. 

4. Interactive Play | Drawy Book by Bic (via Engine Creative) is an 'excellent' and important example of how AR can encourage creativity in children,  whilst at the same time feeding their insatiable appetite for IPads and technology in a nourishing way.

The markers are simply the shapes the kids colour in, and then the app - brilliantly - uses their final work as the main feature in a series of pre-created 3D augmented experiences.

AR in education and kids edutainment (yeah, I said it) is such an important area for this technology to make a real difference.

5. Augmenting Print Ads

As a final example, the excellent Vespa AR app. The video does it full justice. As an example of turning a basic print ad into a fully interactive buying journey, and source of earned media content, it rarely gets better. (It also helps if you LOVE Vespa).


It's understandable that the lure and dazzling scale potential of Apple and Google will earn their respective AR features the lion's share of attention over the next few months. But if you're an agency or a brand looking to test some AR expressions of a campaign, new product feature etc. I'd urge you not to look past the unique benefits and levels of engagement marker based AR can deliver. Such as channel integration, levering additional direct response, downloads, sign-ups, social content/earned media etc. and empowering printed media with the ability to showcase compelling, interactive content. The specificity of the location and content also make it a lot easier to pull data and performance analytics to measure against the KPI's that (should) have been set at the outset.   


Don't Look Down is an independent consultancy, advising and helping brands to unlock the creative and commercial potential of immersive technology.  For more information on my consulting services, writing or speaking requests, please drop me a quick note here, or call me 07724521787