Augmented_Reality-1Tech­ni­cally, aug­mented real­ity is con­fined to iPhones, iPhone com­peti­tors, and other advanced DARPA-like exper­i­men­tal gad­gets. But that’s an idi­otic techno-geek under­stand­ing of the phenomenon.

In truth, cul­ture is the ulti­mate aug­mented reality.

As most peo­ple under­stand it, aug­mented real­ity tech­nol­ogy over­lays infor­ma­tion onto the visual land­scape being viewed through the smart phone/head-up display/gadget. Think of it as a real-time mash-up of info over­layed onto what­ever you’re cur­rently view­ing.

But if aug­mented real­ity adds addi­tional info onto what we nor­mally see, it’s prob­a­bly worth ask­ing if we ever really see any­thing with­out “aug­men­ta­tion.”

Do you see a BMW as just a car, or do you read much more into those fly­ing pro­pellers? Does a per­son wear­ing a har­vard sweat­shirt come across merely as some­one wear­ing a sweat­shirt, or do the cul­tural impli­ca­tions of Har­vard Uni­ver­sity “aug­ment” your view of the per­son wear­ing that sweatshirt?

From this per­spec­tive, all brand­ing is an attempt at aug­mented real­ity. So is all edu­ca­tion and all cul­ture.  And per­haps on of the more amus­ing amal­gams of all three would be Foster’s “How to Speak Aus­tralian” commercials:

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I’m almost sur­prised Fos­ters hasn’t already come up with an iPhone aug­mented real­ity app loosely based around the premise of the ads.

Paul_Cézanne,_Still_Life_With_Apples,_c._1890Yes, “aug­men­ta­tion” hap­pens all the time and often blinds us as much as it aids. Once taught that an apple is an “apple,” we quickly pass through the 2-year old’s fas­ci­na­tion with it to see the apple as “only an apple”  - to the point where it takes all of Cézanne’s painterly tal­ent to res­cue apple from “apple” and get us to see the thing sans “augmentation.”

And so it is with copy­writ­ing.  Good copy often approaches sub­jects from an unusual per­spec­tive so as to “trick” the reader into see­ing what’s really there — to over­come the dys­func­tional cul­tural cues that cause us to dis­miss things from con­scious­ness.

A more humor­ous and super­fi­cial exam­ple of aug­mented real­ity at work within copy­writ­ing would be this bit of copy from Best Made Axe:

When you own a good ax, you see the world dif­fer­ently. Scrap wood in the yard? Kin­dling. Ugly table? Kin­dling. Over­due library book? Kin­dling. Spouse? Some­one who would love a beau­ti­ful bespoke ax this hol­i­day! Best Made Axes are the delux­est wood­cut­ters out there, with hand-finished hick­ory han­dles and fine-grain steel heads. They even come in cus­tom wooden crates. (Kindling.)”

axeup1But the far more seri­ous and pow­er­ful exam­ple would be the actual “aug­men­ta­tion” of per­cep­tion that Best Made Axe has pulled off within its cus­tomer base.  After expo­sure to Best Made Axe, these cus­tomers no longer see an axe as a util­i­tar­ian tool.  They now see an axe (or at least a Best Made Axe) as a tal­is­man, sym­bol, design ele­ment, and entrance ticket or ini­ti­a­tion into a more self suf­fi­cient, vir­tu­ous, and (dare I say?) manly, world.  Hence the company’s abil­ity to sell out full pro­duc­tion of $250-$500 axes.  Axes whose technical/functional merit is likely no bet­ter than most $100 axes.

Yes, Seth Godin is right: start­ing a prof­itable brand in today’s world is very much the same as start­ing a “tribe.” What his read­ers often fail to grasp is that start­ing a tribe requires the cre­ation of a worth­while sub-culture.  And that means cre­at­ing a (func­tion­ally use­ful) aug­mented real­ity for tribe members/users of your product.

Wanna-be mar­keters fail because they don’t select an “aug­mented” real­ity that will help the tribe mem­bers - A real­ity that is more true than the one it’s sup­posed to replace or add to. Instead they hope to induce a delu­sion or infat­u­a­tion around their prod­uct for purely self­ish rea­sons. But a cult of per­son­al­ity is not a tribe.

So the ques­tion for you is: are you offer­ing the world a bet­ter cul­ture and greater insight, or are you merely ped­dling a self-serving delu­sion?  Are you help­ing us see more of what’s really there, or are you hop­ing to add “the light that never was” onto a sub­stan­dard product?

If your answer is the for­mer, might I sug­gest that learn­ing increases res­o­lu­tion? That your copy might pro­vide more than a lit­tle learn­ing dis­guised as art­ful fun, or serve to con­vey a bit of that high-res user expe­ri­ence. And that blogging/content mar­ket­ing is often the best way to aug­ment your read­ers’ real­ity over time.

The bot­tom line: augmented real­ity isn’t an iPhone app; it’s the ulti­mate mar­ket­ing app.

Are you using it in your marketing?


  1. Jon-Mikel Bailey on 02.01.2010

    I love this post and it says much bet­ter what I was just blog­ging about — aware­ness. Real­ity — believe it or not, is not always the same for every­one. Intepre­ta­tion, analy­sis, med­i­ta­tion, etc are all ways of look­ing at real­ity in a dif­fer­ent light.

  2. Ken Brand on 02.01.2010

    Good God Jeff! This is writ­ing plu­to­nium, your thought par­ti­cle radi­a­tion is giv­ing me a headache, so much to absorb. This is super cool stuff, I’m gonna have to read it 4 or 5 times to absorb it ( I’m slow).

    Are you gonna col­lect up and har­ness all your radioac­tive writ­ings and and make a nuclear book blast. You have much to share.


  3. Tom on 04.22.2012

    This is so on the money. I’m con­stantly get­ting new insights from your writ­ings, Jeff.

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