Audio for Augmented Reality: Gimmick or true opportunity for communicators?

Audio for Augmented Reality: Gimmick or true opportunity for communicators?
19. June 2019 Falk Rehkopf

Audio for Augmented Reality: Gimmick or true opportunity for communicators?

Audio for Augmented Reality

We often associate Augmented Reality (AR) with what we can see visually – take, for example, smart mirrors that allow us to virtually try on clothes without stepping into the fitting room or apps that allow you to visualise how a certain item of furniture might look in your home. But, there are also numerous examples within the B2B space with Boeing, Ford, Lockheed Martin and Porsche all using AR to overhaul core business processes. That said, sound plays an integral role in the world of AR as well.

In this blog post, we’ll explore the concept of Audio for AR and discuss how communicators can capitalise upon this to fine-tune their strategies. Is Audio for AR a fad or indeed a true opportunity for communicators? Read on to find out more!

Sonic identity and sound branding

For the uninitiated, sonic branding refers to the act of using sound to brand your product or service. Most marketers will agree that sound traditionally plays a secondary role to vision when it comes to branding and marketing. But with virtual assistants, smart speakers and audio streaming becoming more popular, all that is set to change.

The numbers don’t lie: spending on sonic branding grew 39% to $1.6bn (£1.3bn) from 2017 to 2018 and more brands are now looking into how they can achieve that highly coveted Top of Mind Awareness (TOMA) using auditory elements.

If you’re wondering what sound or music has to do with branding, Dr. Daniel Müllensiefen, professor of music psychology at Goldsmiths College, University of London, states that music is a “super stimulus” activating those parts of the brain that enable cognition, thinking, problem-solving, memory as well as decision-making. Dr. Müllensiefen goes on to say that music also activates areas that are related to the processing of emotions. Therefore, positive emotions evoked by music often get associated with a brand or product.

As you can imagine, this means that communication pros can tap upon the power of sound and music to position their brand in a certain way. According to a study, 60% of the consumers who participated said they believe that the music used in marketing is more memorable than visuals. On top of that, 45% of them say that the music used by a brand helps them better understand its personality while 47% suggest it helps them feel more connected to a brand.

Audio for AR

Audio for AR – also known as augmented audio – refers to the phenomenon of live audio being modified or enhanced by computer-generated sensory input.

Now, for audio for AR to take off, there first needs to be mainstream adoption of wearable technology such as wireless headphones. In this respect, we’ve got nothing to worry about: statistics show that the market for wearable tech is set to grow 15% to 198.5 million units this year and earwear, with a 31% share of the market by 2023, is forecasted to be the second-biggest category of wearables right after smartwatches. All in all, the numbers are highly encouraging and they suggest that Audio for AR is likely to catch on quickly.

Impact-wise, Audio for AR will be used by different stakeholders to achieve a wide range of business objectives. For instance, news organisations may start customising audio stories based on a user’s location and share real-time notifications about traffic or accidents within a user’s immediate vicinity. Companies may also use Audio for AR to communicate offers to in-store customers, provide additional information at press conferences or events and more.

Hearables: The tech and gadgets behind Audio for AR

Hearables that are currently in the market include Nuheara’s IQBuds, Google’s Pixel Buds and Apple’s AirPods. But, one of the most talked about hearables to date is Bose’s audio augmented reality sunglasses. Bose launched these glasses in the US back in 2018 and in May 2019 they’ve also reached the UK. These glasses contain sensors that can detect which point the wearer is focusing on and they will then play information back about what the wearer looks at.

Examples of audio for AR

Audio for AR has a wide range of use cases and can be applied across any industry. Here are a few examples:

Bose x 2018 at SXSW conference

In a demo at the 2018 South by Southwest conference, Bose showed how its audio AR sunglasses allow consumers to look at restaurants and receive auditory input about the menu and how long they’d have to wait for a table. 

Bose x 2019 Coachella 

More recently, Bose worked with Goldenvoice (the creators of Coachella’s app) to enhance said app with audio features that only work when paired with Bose’s sunglasses.

Crystal MacKenzie, head of marketing for Bose AR, shares that Coachella attendees who paired their Bose frames with the app while attending the show were able to access exclusive audio content. These attendees also got to enjoy real-time updates on the festival’s schedule and receive notifications when their favourite acts were about to perform.

Moff Band

A few years ago, Japanese wearable-technology startup Moff Band launched a wearable device for children that uses gestures in combination with sound to encourage imaginative play and storytelling. The bracelet is linked to an app and can detect a child’s movements and matches these with sound effects in real-time.

Implications for News & Journalism

Customising content based on a user’s location

With Audio for AR technology, news organisations will be able to customise content based on a user’s location, giving rise to a completely new genre of local reporting. Here, news about local businesses and communities can be shared at the most relevant and opportune moments (when users are steps away from the business that’s featured in a particular story, for instance). Researchers are already experimenting with various ways on how to implement this in the Bose sunglasses. 

Creating human-interest stories to engage readers

Moving on, news organisations can also capitalise on Audio for AR to create human-interest stories that are more engaging and compelling. For example, a San Francisco startup, Detour, which was acquired by Bose, offers a collection of location-aware augmented audio walks for its users. Unlike other audio tour apps, Detour doesn’t require a user to fidget with their phone or click a map with pins to play content. Instead, the relevant content automatically plays while a user makes their way to various checkpoints in their journey.

If a news organisation was commissioned to do a commemorative piece on, let’s say, WWII, they could easily take a leaf out of Detour’s book and adapt their strategy to suit their project. To do this, they might set up a small-scale exhibition in a suitable location and create a location-aware augmented audio walk to share anecdotes and stories about WWII with consumers.

How communicators can use Audio for AR

Providing additional information at events and press conferences

Brands that are holding press conferences and other events may also utilise Audio for AR to enhance their attendees’ experience. For instance, at a press conference, companies may set up specific zones or booths where reporters can head to in order to access audio content about the brand’s background and history. If the brand has an international presence and has flown in the overseas press to cover the event, it can also use Audio for AR to provide real-time translation to different languages.

Partnering with creators to produce content

Bose comes with an app – Radar by Bose – that provides consumers with various “experiences” from Bose AR creators. To generate more brand awareness, companies may partner with such creators to produce content that’s relevant to their brand.

Communicating offers and promotions

Say a company wishes to communicate their promotions and offers to in-store customers. To do this, they may potentially develop a virtual assistant that speaks directly into customers’ hearable devices and shares specific promotions with them.

For instance, if a customer walks through a department store and strolls to the cookware section, the virtual assistant might then highlight the store’s on-going promotion for cookware. If the customer has been lingering at a particular section for a prolonged period of time, the virtual assistant can then give them product recommendations and/or share other information that can help the customer make a decision.

Creating AR games for consumers

AR games that rely on not just AR visuals but Audio for AR as well, are somewhat of a novelty right now – but we’re certain that they’ll become mainstream in the next couple of years. For instance, award-winning game Golfshot allows gamers to use their Bose AR-enabled glasses to access more than 45,000 golf courses around the world and users even hear hole information along with the accurate GPS distance to the green using audio AR.

Audio for Augmented Reality - Golfshot AR

If budget permits, think about creating audio for AR games that caters to your specific target audience so that you can generate more awareness for your brand.

Hearables, wearables, AR & VR – where is it going to go?

Seeing as consumers are increasing their spending on earwear and companies are also investing their money in sonic branding, it seems as though Audio for AR is set to become the next big thing. Of course, it doesn’t help that experts are asserting that audio for AR is the “safest way of layering on a combined sensory experience” – because using our sense of sound brings upon a lower cognitive load than using our sense of sight.

Now, as for whether it’s worth it for communicators to invest in Audio for AR, this really depends on various factors, including the scale of your project (i.e. if you’re doing something simple like an audio walk or indeed something more complex such as reengineering complex production, distribution or communication processes of multinationals) and your target audience as well as their comfort level with hearables. If you think Audio for AR is a good fit for your current communication strategy and can help to complement your communications mix, we only see benefits from embracing Audio for AR.

Chief Marketing Officer