Beyond the boring #highered ad banner: Augmented reality done right by Simpson College

March 25th, 2013 Karine Joly 4 Comments

Augmented Reality is catching… finally!

Augmented Reality isn’t a new concept – even when it comes to higher ed marketing.

I still remember when Brad J. Ward mentioned an Australian institution that used AR in its application… about 3 years ago.

Augmented reality is not new, but I bet it’s going to go mainstream pretty soon for 2 main reasons:

That’s why I’ve watched with great interest 3 days ago what Simpson College did with augmented reality to bring life, excitement and buzz to an advertising banner at a big mall near its campus.

As you’ll be able to see in this video produced by Simpson College, people are invited to download a quick app and then point their device to the banner to watch it come to life and play a short promotional video ending with a strong call to action to click (or more precisely touch) to learn more about the institution.

Wow, how did Simpson College do it?

After watching this video, I was pretty sure that you would want to know more about this project.

So, I contacted Greg Votava, Digital Content Specialist at Simpson College who is responsible for this piece of AR magic.

Greg was kind enough to answer my questions (on a Sunday!), so you can learn how Simpson did it.

1) What were the strategic goals of this project?

Our main goal for this project was to continue to build our brand and increase Simpson College’s name recognition. We chose Jordan Creek mall because of the traffic volume for our target audience.

Our banner provides good visibility but we also wanted to create “buzz” about it and about Simpson so we used Augmented Reality to do that.

2) Can you describe it a bit more?

Simpson College Banner

We were already planning on putting up the banner the mall, but I had seen some examples of augmented reality and thought it would be a great way to add an interactive element to something that visitors at the mall wouldn’t expect.

Oscar Preis, Simpson’s web development specialist, and I did quite a bit of research to find our best option for making this project actually happen. We eventually decided on going with a company called Aurasma. They have a few options available to their partners, but we ended up going with their free version, instead of them developing a custom skinned app for us because priced out of our budget for this project.

One of our graphic designers created the design for the banner and I took it from there. I created a 30 second video in Adobe After Effects that helps promote Simpson’s brand.

The Aurasma tool is quite easy to use, you upload a “trigger image” and a video, then create an “aura” and add it to Simpson College’s Channel.

One of the greatest things about this is we can leave the banner up at the mall and change the video aspect of it as many times as we want, for free without having to leave my office.

Here are more details for how the consumer gets it to work on their mobile devices.

To help get some buzz going about this project, I went up to the mall with a few student interns to shoot the video that you saw. This was the first time anyone had done any augmented reality at Jordan Creek Town Center, and the mall staff has been extremely helpful throughout the project.

Most of the people in the video, and others I have talked to, have never even heard of augmented reality, so their reactions are always “wow, how does this work” or “that’s amazing.” The technology is new enough to people that it almost has a shock factor to them because they have no idea what to expect.

3) How much did it cost Simpson College?

Really the only cost of this project, other than my time, was the cost of the banner hanging at the mall and a secondary sign that explains how to download the app and make our banner come to life. There was no additional cost for the augmented reality aspect of this project. I do not have the numbers in front of me, so I can’t give you an exact figure.

4) How do you measure results?

Much like a billboard, typically it would be very difficult to measure the effectiveness of a banner like this. While we can’t measure the impact that it has with people walking through the mall, we can tell how many times the QR codes on our secondary sign have been scanned to download the app. Unfortunately, we’re unable to see how many people have actually viewed our “aura” or how many people have followed Simpson College’s channel within the app.

[Karine’s NOTE: At the end of the AR video, viewers are prompted to touch their screen and directed to Simpson website homepage, so I suggested to Greg to tag this link to track conversions. He followed my suggestion and added a campaign tag to the link, so he will now be able to measure how many people completed the call to action from the AR banner]

5) Any lessons learned on using augmented reality you can share with the rest of the higher ed community?

I was not too familiar with augmented reality when we started this project earlier this year, but after this project I think we are definitely going to be looking at other ways to incorporate this interactive feature throughout our marketing efforts. Whether its another banner, our viewbook or our alumni magazine, the potential for augmented reality is unlimited. You can take a static marketing piece, make it interactive and really engage your audiences with augmented reality.

Have you heard of or are you working on an augmented reality project in higher ed?
Let’s us know by posting a comment below so we can all get a better idea of what is out there!

4 Responses

  1. Eric Olsen says:

    “To help get some buzz going about this project, I went up to the mall with a few student interns to shoot the video that you saw.”

    That line made me very curious on how authentic those excited and in-awe participants in the video were? Because since “most of the people in the video, and others I have talked to, have never even heard of augmented reality”, I can’t imagine they were overly willing to download a new app to participate on their own – out of sheer curiosity? Maybe they were?

    Excited to hear about the potential for Apple to make AR native on its devices. I’d feel much more comfortable playing at that point.

  2. Greg Votava says:


    Thanks for your response and for checking out our augmented reality project.

    I had three student interns at the mall to mainly answer questions and help others if they needed it. I had them actively watching the video on their devices first and, as often happens when you see people doing something like that, interest in what was going on soon caught on. If my interns were asked what they were doing, they explained it and told them how easy it was.

    There is also a poster stand right under the banner with an easy four-step set of directions to download the app and see the video. No one was forced to download the app or given any incentive to do so – they did it willingly – and each of the reactions were authentic.

    I share you’re excitement about Apple making AR native. It would eliminate a few of the steps currently necessary to make this work, but overall, it’s an easy process especially for our primary target audience of 15-20 year olds.

  3. At the University of Birmingham in the UK we have used a skinned version of the Aurasma app for the last 2 years – primarily as a way to bring our printed prospectuses to life.

    The feedback we’ve had has been great and we are looking at other ways to use the technology in marketing and adding value to our campus experience.

    If Apple did make this native (aswell as including NFC technology in their devices) I think this is going to be huge!

  4. Karen Buck says:

    Congrats, Greg & Oscar (hey, Oscar!), and the rest of the team at Simpson. While Eric also makes a good point, it’s great to see people trying new things. If nothing else, you’re creating an impression that Simpson is a place where students can try new things and experiment.

Got a question or comment?