Lars Cosh-Ishii
Jul 29, 2015

The digital story that surrounds you right now: Ingress

In our current Innovation Issue, we listed augmented reality gaming, and specifically Ingress, as an area with the potential to change the way brands approach their audiences. Here, mobile technology expert Lars Cosh-Ishii explains why the platform has such big implications.

Ingress merges the physical and digital worlds through large-scale gaming events
Ingress merges the physical and digital worlds through large-scale gaming events

The Ingress platform by Niantic Labs, operating as a startup within Google, has managed to place a graphic skin over the physical world in multiple compelling ways: it's dynamic, immersive and fun.

Founded in 2010 and led by John Hanke, who spent six-years building and running Google Earth and StreetView, the product opened for general release in December 2013. His team has secured a passionate global following and checks key boxes from user-generated content via mobile to location-based profile data capture and community engagement.

With over 8 million downloads reported as of late last year, the platform is clearly gaining traction. One might say this is where Second Life meets Real Life, and the canvas of potential is both infinite and relevant.

While the platform's current focus on gaming, with a cheeky ‘The world around you is not what it seems’ tagline, it’s a good bet efforts to-date have already developed a range of expertise that could easily be used across other vertical segments.

To be sure, it would make for a fascinating case study on strategy and tactics ranging from design of the human behaviour element to consideration of technical capacity needed (with huge data volumes updating) and edgy conspiracy storyline on campaign roll-out.

This hybrid offering first came across my radar in spring 2014 when global HQ organized an energetic event for 150 participants in Ishinomaki—a Japanese coastal city heavily damaged in the March 2011 tsunami—and then managed to attract more than 5,000 members for a gathering in downtown Tokyo last December.

In June 2015 Ingress’ return to Sendai saw just over 3,500 people join and two major corporate partnership announcements: The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi, with 1,700 branch locations, and national wireless operator SoftBank Mobile, with 2,600 dedicated stores in Japan, have both literally jumped into the game with custom Portals and, importantly, useful bonus tools for players.

The logic for brands considering opportunities in this new alter-world order should be rather compelling. If the traditional outdoor display method is essentially a drive-by shotgun approach on fixed locations, the ability to insert targeted creative on virtual spaces, at any site and in real-time, is more akin to sharp-shooting. Naturally this need not be an ‘either/or’ discussion, however, the access to analytics along with social currency and media-value earned, it could at very least provide another benchmark to calculate impact.

As with every digital evolution there has always been tension between the Enlightened and the Resistance—aptly named teams in this case. The balance of benefit for all with vested interest to consider revolves around participation and mutual merit. While current mechanics are focused on GPS position and user activity profile, it’s not a huge leap to suggest adding an image-recognition function (think power-up via iconic logo scan), which would bring yet another unique dimension to explore.

It will be interesting to see who Ingress has in the pipeline for additional corporate involvement, from which industry sectors, and how that next wave will contribute. Meanwhile, there is little doubt that there will be bright lines related to user privacy details and critical attention required to maintain the core value proposition for members.

Perhaps as a result of living in Japan for many years, where the past and future are always present, it’s fairly obvious to me that Ingress will ultimately enable a turnkey solution—platform as a service—for clients to create their own branded portals. Actually, the next steps along that path seem well underway with the new Endgame project, based on a book by James Frey and Nils Johnson-Shelton, the Ancient Societies universe. Expect amazing mixed-reality experiences ahead.

Lars Cosh-Ishii is director of Mobikyo, a Tokyo-based mobile intelligence provider

This article is part of the Campaign Innovate series, a collection of articles that examine the way innovation, startups and technology are affecting the advertising and marketing industry.

Campaign Asia-Pacific has also launched the Campaign Innovate competition, an event that aims to provide a platform for Asia-Pacific's startups to pitch to some of the world's biggest brands. 


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