Sony Music and Zappar's partnership is the latest attempt by the music industry to harness augmented reality technology.
One Direction, the Rolling Stones, Kylie Minogue and Kiss. Now that’s a supergroup in the making, especially with a boy band to bring the average age down below free bus-pass territory.
What do these music artists have in common? They’ve all been the focus for mobile augmented reality marketing campaigns in recent times, with One Direction’s Picture Book app the latest to be unveiled.
The Android and iOS app is the result of a partnership between the band’s label Sony Music and AR startup Zappar, which built the app.
It’s designed to be used with a limited-edition box-set version of One Direction’s new album Take Me Home, with fans pointing their smartphone or tablet cameras at the 36-page picture-book to access videos and photos.
“This app shows what’s achievable with AR in publishing to deliver bite-sized entertainment that hopefully will bring a smile to the faces of the 1D faithful,” says Zappar’s managing director Casper Thykier.
Well, the faces of those who can afford $59.99 (£39.99) for the box set, anyway (most-Liked Facebook-fan comment on its official order page: “60 dollars? That’s so expensive! WHY DO I HAVE TO BE SOOO POOR. I HATE MY LIFE.”)
The One Direction deal is undoubtedly a coup for Zappar, one of a clutch of UK-based AR startups jostling for the attention of brands, entertainment and media companies (see also: Blippar and HP-owned Aurasma).
Aurasma had looked to be gaining an edge when it came to the music industry, having worked with Universal Music on high-profile AR campaigns for the Rolling Stones and Kiss in recent months.
Universal has its own Aurasma-powered uView app, which can be used to spot animated gorillas leaping around on real-world landmarks for the Stones’ new compilation GRRR!, or watch bobble-head versions of Kiss jumping out of the artwork for their new album Monster.
Is augmented reality and music just a marketing gimmick? The promise of “Gene Simmons’ 3D tongue” as a selling point for the Kiss campaign is hardly enticing, but this is part of music labels experimenting with AR at a time when startups in the area are keen to showcase their technology using well-known artists.
Blippar can count Justin Bieber and The Wanted in their roster, having worked with Mercury Records UK on an AR campaign for Bieber’s latest album Believe in June 2012, and produced an AR tour programme for The Wanted in February, with track samples, photos, videos and competitions unlocked by pointing Blippar’s app at its pages.
Kylie Minogue was early onto the bandwagon, meanwhile, with an iOS app called Kylie AR in December 2011, designed to be used with her Goddess Edition book.
There is relatively little evidence so far of augmented reality actually selling more music, tickets or merchandise for musicians, as opposed to securing media coverage (yes, guilty).
That said, according to Aurasma, 24% of people who interacted with the Stones’ gorillas on the first day of that campaign clicked through to a pre-order page for the album, so there are signs that this may be more than just a novelty.
Augmented reality as a technology for marketing stirs up evangelists and haters in equal measures – well, perhaps slightly more haters, if we’re being honest.
However, what labels get from working with Aurasma, Zappar and Blippar on real campaigns is hard data, which they can then use to make a more balanced judgment about AR’s usefulness in the long-term.
The higher-profile the artists, the bigger the potential base for such data. Although in that case, restricting an AR app for the world’s biggest boy band to fans who’ve bought a 40-quid box-set could be seen as a bit of a risk.