Zeitgeist has always been somewhat midly peturbed by Ronald McDonald, not exclusively due to the fact that no matter which McDonald’s in the world Zeitgeist chooses to frequent, Ronald is unfailingly always at the very same one. That and the fact that he seems to enjoy sitting by himself on benches, smiling to himself.
For many however, Ronald is an enduring mascot, a brand ambassador like no other. The man has presided over McDonald’s profligate – but morally questionable and nutritionally unhealthy – past since 1963, as well as its more lean, green present form. It still commands massive clout as far as promotions are concerned, particularly for film and TV.
Now though, Corporate Accountability International – whose previous targets include, Nestlé, GE and, fittingly, Target – has designed a website called Retire Ronald that states it is time for Mr. McDonald to join other brand mascots such as the Marlboro Man and Joe the Camel and stop recruiting children to unhealthy acts.
Comparing fast food to cigarettes might seem like a stretch, and Zeitgeist believes it is. To say that obesity rates have shot up in the US since the introduction of Mr. McDonald and directly connect the two in a latent manner – which the site does – is naiive and unrepresentative of fact. Creating a scapegoat will not solve the problem of overweight people in the US. It does also not account for the fact that people in that country are no longer getting fatter. “[S]cientific evidence continues to mount that McDonald’s marketing to kids is no less than commercial exploitation”; well, unfortunately, yes, marketing is exploitative. Zeitgeist would prefer to see as much effort put into policies and websites promoting healthy living, rather than focussing on the removal of an imaginary plenipotentiary, successful as it may be. AdAge currently features a poll on the matter.
From the Winter 2009 Zeitgeist…
Zeitgeist face such an alarming amount of numbers, facts, figures and statistics every day that sifting through it all to find the relevant information has become something of a fine art. Did you know mobile advertising is up almost as much as newspaper is down (18.1% and 18.7%, respectively)? Wikipedia currently features over 13 million articles, (though as reported recently in Le Monde, the rate of growth is slowing). Did you know the average US teen sends 2,272 texts a month, that Nokia manufactures thirteen cell phones every second, that 93% of Americans own a mobile, but a third donʼt yet feel comfortable paying for items with it?
These sorts of facts can help prognosticators look to the near future with a vague certainty toward upcoming trends. However, Zeitgeist is not satisfied with merely peering into the near future. We are always looking beyond the horizon, into the depths of futurology.
Who would have predicted that space exploration would have precipitated the creation of digital hearing aids and cancer detection devices? Who would have predicted that a little-known DoD agency created in a knee-jerk reaction to the launch of Sputnik, would stumble across a way of communicating between computers that would develop into the Internet we know and love today? DARPA lists many of the projects it is currently working on, which aside from their military uses might also have intriguing applications for consumers in the future. Chemical robots that are able to change size and shape in order to fit into different areas and perform different functions and nano air vehicles “less than 7.5cm in size” are some of the more fascinating things in development. Programmable matter could see brand comms with manipulative particles that ʻrememberʼ their position. Paint on your walls could change to a Guinness hue at happy hour. Micro power sources would give client Duracell new avenues of energy storage to explore, and tiny micro air vehicles could be sent anywhere to project video imagery or augmented reality functionality for a product.
Yet, as The Economist points out, despite manifest amounts of consumer products that are military derivatives, “lately some kinds of technology have been moving in the other direction, too”. Drones plaguing neʼer do wells in Pakistan are piloted using modified X-box controllers (it helps if the video feed is protected, however). Moreover, “soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan are using Apple iPods and iPhones to run translation software and calculate bullet trajectories”. While the military has an enormous budget for R&D, little is invested in electronics, hence why the USAF recently bought 2,200 PS3s to form a super-computer. Zeitgeist has already placed an order for a nano air vehicle from GE.
Recently, a prestigious blog (no longer an oxymoron) on advertising questioned whether despite all the hubbub, Augmented Reality might just turn out to be another Second Life: a flash-in-the-pan fad that was explosively white-hot at its inception but quickly lost its lustre when it became apparent that no one was making use of it. Could Augmented Reality [AR] suffer the same fate? Before answering, let us delve first into what AR is all about, as well as look at some uses of the technology.
It might be deemed unfair to make a comparison between Second Life and AR, purely on the grounds that one is an application and one is a technology. The difficulty in sustaining use will be in ensuring a practical and enjoyable use of the technology, i.e. fun without being gimmicky (a la QR codes).
Augmented Reality in its simplest terms is a virtual representation of the real world through still image or video overlaid with aspects of digital content. This content could be in the form of an animation to help show off a product, or it could be imagery showing a location that has been ʻtaggedʼ. Currently AR can be viewed with a webcam or with smartphones such as phones using the Android OS or iPhone. One of the most prominent examples at the moment is Layar. It can tell you where your nearest tube stop is, what the price of the house youʼre standing in front of is, a Wiki for the gallery across the road, a Flickr photo or tweet made nearby. Does all this risk being a little too much to take in though?
There are some singularly fantastic executions that companies have been doing over the past year or so. GEʼs example was the first example that Zeitgeist saw and is beautiful in its simplicity, as well as being a great piece of PR for the conglomerateʼs smart grid that President Obama has recently been tubthumping.
Lego also produced something extraordinary, featuring an ʻexplodedʼ version of one of its products on the back of the box, which then fits together, neatly assembled. Anyone who has ever experienced
any trepidation upon opening the hood of their car will welcome BMWʼs foray into the world of AR. Another example that demonstrates the usefulness for such an application is the work that AKQA produced for the USPS. Last month, Esquire magazineʼs AR issue hit the shelves: “The cover, which will feature actor Robert Downey Jr., will emerge on the screen in 3D and feature flying text and images that animate based on how the magazine is positioned.”
Only time will tell; there could even yet be a future for QR codes. Exciting prospects and practical opportunities for AR abound; the technology will have to convert consumers quickly by being easy to use with very beneficial results. Second Life turned out to be pointless; they built it, people came, had a look around and left. Let us hope the same does not happen with Augmented Reality.