Inside the real world of Blippar

19 Jun,2014

 

Founded in 2011 and based out of London, Blippar has rapidly grown across markets with offices in US, UK, Turkey, Japan, India and Spain. Blippar is the leading augmented reality app turning physical imagery, print and products into instant, interactive digital experiences using image recognition technology. With over a million million consumers and 100s of leading brands and media-owners including Pepsi, Coke, L’Oreal, P&G, Conde Nast, News International and Metro newspapers, Blippar entered India formally a few months back. Co-founded by Ambarish Mitra who wears the title of Global CEO,  Blippar announced the acquisition of Layar, one of the pioneers in the AR business, on Wednesday. Excerpts from an interview with Mr Mitra.

 

Congratulations on the Layar acquisition. What does it mean for an organisation like Blippar?

To me, Layar has always demonstrated that it shares our vision of an augmented world. Now working together as one team, we will further define what consumer augmented reality needs to be, and what will be required to deliver it on a global scale as an intuitive daily behaviour.

 

Tell us a little bit about Blippar and how it’s been doing..

Blippar is an image and object recognition platform which allows users to interact with the physical world and objects in the physical world . How we are defining physical world is things you see as a human. It could be from physical objects to outdoor ads to TV to print to product. The typical triggers which we are walking through the road and takes attraction.  And what happens when you blip something, and in order to simplify the whole augmented reality for you: whenever you’re using your phone camera and a layer of additional information appears on the physical world, it almost enhances it. It could give you additional information, it can give you recipes, it could give you coupons, videos, games. It can give you either information or entertainment, whatever one’s trying to promote. The philosophy behind building the business from a commercial point of view is almost 75 to 80% on an average towards media is still above the line. It’s driven by print, outdoor, press, TV, in-store signage and rest of the stuff. That’s truly very broadcast-based and it’s not very measurable at all and you really cannot pull any additional content from it. What Blippar enables or acts as an enabler for the consumer is look at a poster and get additional information or buy tickets or look at a press ad and book stuff or get deals to go and redeem it at a physical store. So, it really converges all of the above the line media into a single offering.

 

Does it work better with certain kinds of products and services?

It works really well on everything but it’s being used well for. It works amazingly for end products and for print media, so, so far we’ve seen tremendous success in these two verticals where almost every leading conglomerate worldwide from P&G to Unilever to Pepsi, Coke, Pizza Hut, Dominos, Nestle…  everybody is using It for multiple channels. And Blippar has often appeared in multiple channels in the West where we were a part of all the media buys. We were a part of outdoor, we were a part of TV, we were a part of press. They were able to give a unique proposition out of each one of those channels and also at the same time measure effectiveness. We usually put a big question in front of all the advertisers who spend in media that: Do you know actually what happened to your newspaper ad today? Like, you did print, but what happened?

 

We have very clear propositions for them. One is, we will really engage your users. If you sell stuff, you can inspire your users, give them an experience out of that ad. Secondly, you can measure the effectiveness of the channel. Who blipped, for how long? Was page 17 in magazine X more effective than Page 19…

 

Wouldn’t this upset the intermediaries… the all-important media agencies..

On the contrary. It’s making them happy. I wouldn’t have a business model if this wasn’t successful. In fact, it’s for the first time a business is waking up the world of media that print media actually works. So what’s happened is today the only major measurable way of media effectiveness is primarily been driven by Google on the digital side where you know you’ve spent X dollars and Y amount of people connect to you and you know very clearly your user acquisition cost. But Vogue  magazine doesn’t know that. And if Vogue magazine is sending 22,000 unique users to an advertiser’s webpage, there’s no difference between Google and Vogue. There’s a price to be paid and you just know your Page 19 and Google are going to give as many users. The results have been so optimistic that the world of media has actually opened up to it and Blippar‘s proposition has been very widely accepted by Hearst Media and Conde Nast and Telegraph Media Group and New York Times and all these guys where they act as media partners and they in fact upsell.

 

While  your website does have some success stories, could you give us an example of someone who has benefitted hugely?

Take BBC Match of the Day, it’s a massive sports magazine in Britain and the target audience is between 14 to 24. It covers sports. When the magazine went out, 37% of the readership converted into blipping and that level of media conversion, no one’s used to. Each user blipped on an average 5.8 times and spent 9 minutes of pure engagement out of that magazine. When you’re blipping, you couldn’t be doing anything else. It’s a very opted-in behaviour. It’s not like you’re driving and blipping or watching TV. So, if you add those minutes up, it added up to about four to five hundred thousand minutes. That level of engagement out of the issue is unheard of in any form of media or in history in any form of marketing. This behaviour is being repeated across several titles. Of course, when we worked with BBC, all their titles have now moved on to Blippar from Match of the Day, Teen Sport, Music, BBC Radio Times, the entire portfolio. That’s not because Blippar is cool. It’s because Blippar is measurable and data-driven, beyond being very engaging.

 

Are all these numbers available to the advertiser?

It’s real time, it’s very much very Google Analytics in style. It’s like if I Blip now in this room and you’re the advertiser, you’ll see this Blip happening in this complex. Everything that a mobile device can capture gets captured and presented in a very digestible and a very visually beautiful format where marketers can take instant decisions.

 

When you started out, there were other such offerings in the business already, right? How are they doing?

The technology existed but the business model didn’t. We were the first augmented reality business model in the world which had a clear proposition that how it could be used for consumer and business benefit. So we literally started this revolution of Blipping as a behaviour where consumers and brands converge and they have a unique experience together. It’s now becoming an industry but we were the first players to do it and we’re the market leaders of this space.

 

What percentage of the market do you have?

Literally, we’ve made the market. So our business model is almost a monopoly. There are other people who do something similar. But what they don’t do is they don’t offer a unified offering. They offer SDKs and White Labels for a brand to have their own AR experience but in Blippar’s case, Blippar is the end browser like Twitter or Facebook so users go onto Blippar and brands also push their content into Blippar. It’s not that I create a bespoke experience for you in your own app environment. We don’t do that. Others are doing that and I wish them all the best but this is our business model and globally it’s being very well accepted by more than 1,000 brands and publishers now.

 

What made you come to India? Besides the fact that you are of Indian origin, a platform like Blippar obviously requires good connectivity and you know our speeds can be awful.

Look, connectivity is a macro problem and the picture’s only improving. I’m a big believer of looking at all forms of indices and as long as the curve is upwards rather than downwards, those are the positive things. Smartphones are only getting smarter and the networks are only getting faster. They’re not getting slower. Blippar was itself built on a 2G network infrastructure, so we’re able to support it in most countries. And it’s a technology challenge we’re constantly overcoming and it happens to work. Of course it won’t work if your phones on Edge connection, but anywhere Twitter or Facebook would suffer, Blippar suffers too. So there’s no rocket science there.

 

What kinds of targets do you have for India?

Goals or financial targets?

 

Well, in terms of the various markets, how much of that would you want India to bring you in business?

I definitely anticipate that in the next 8 to 10 months the Big 10 to work with us. The 10 FMCG holding companies pretty much own 70% of brands worldwide. Also, we anticipate a significant multi-million user growth in India where multiples of Indian users would be using this as an everyday behaviour and accessing content. We also have ambitions at least to have 2 to 5% of publishers whether it’s in multiple languages in local markets or nationwide national newspapers or magazines to have interactive sections on their media pages either commercial in nature or editorial. To work with both. So these are the sort of goals we have. And goals are driven already by some groundwork we’ve done with Arnav Ghosh in the last six months and the symptoms of that groundwork are extremely optimistic which sync very well for commercial purposes I’m here.

 

In specific terms what would you say India would be vis-à-vis the U.S. market?

US is perhaps a wrong example. For any market in the world, US is big. The U.K. market is 7% of the U.S. market and the UK is no small market. So. the market can be looked at in two ways. One is reach, another is revenue. And we’re definitely attracted by the reach aspect from a global perspective, but at the same time I think revenue perspective as well will be very attractive if we keep local P/Ls in mind.

 

While you speak about the Top 10 FMCG majors, are there any sectors you think that could embrace a platform like Blippar in a bigger way here than the others?

I think FMCG would embrace it in a bigger way because it’s a very product-led world and FMCGs have a big influence in the Indian consumer mind and they advertise a lot. But two predictable sectors are connected to cricket and movies, we’ve already tried this in America which is a very sports crazy and sports savvy economy where entertainment and sports really engage users in a way. And of course brands automatically for marketing reasons come in the mix but if you’re looking for really good content, people want that additional content about things they are naturally engaged with and we personally feel that would be a major enabler for exclusive additional content in areas like films and cricket.

 

Unfortunately, both these sectors don’t pay.

Yeah. But think about it. They may not pay, but somebody might pay for it. I don’t want to promote any given brand but let’s say the Captain of India has to give some exclusive comment to only drinkers of a certain cola brand. You have to Blip the Cola brand to get that exclusive footage. Straight after the game! The cola brand would pay for it but the concerning cricket body or the team wouldn’t pay for it. Do keep in mind that we’re a very unique proposition. For us, the physical world is limitless. And remember, the physical world is still way bigger than the digital world. You can activate content out of everything.

 

Will you be targeting your international customers who have a presence here in India or homegrown ones too?

We’re looking at both. I think we will inherit the international ones to a great extent having worked with them globally in all our markets. That’s already in progress at some level. On local brands, Arnab’s having great conversations already, we’re targeting all the relevant ones to start with. But, for us it’s a key criteria to work with brands who have envisioned themselves. The reason for our success is we’ve been quite fussy as a platform. We’ve chosen people who’re the right people to represent. Because, this is so new, you shouldn’t give bad content experience on something that’s so new else it’ll have a fatal end to it. One reason for our success is that we’ve curated and controlled that environment. We’re not just giving this platform to anybody. There’s actually an element of privilege to start with and once some good casework is done, we’ll pretty much proliferate it and make it more en masse.

 

 

 

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