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.