In the ever-evolving landscape of technology and advertising, one concept is taking center stage like never before: Spatial Computing. This new approach to consumer interaction merges the digital and physical worlds seamlessly, offering unparalleled opportunities for advertisers and consumers alike.

As industry giants such as Apple and Meta compete fiercely for dominance in mobile and headset markets, and with Qualcomm driving a new wave of wearable technology development alongside numerous startups, it’s clear that spatial computing is no longer confined to indoor spaces: it’s rapidly expanding outdoors. While this expansion brings new technological challenges, it also raises commercial, legal, and ethical questions, involving a broader spectrum of stakeholders.

Traditionally, advertisements are integrated alongside editorial content in the same medium – print ads in magazines, video pre-rolls on platforms like YouTube, and so forth. To date, commercial AR experiences either occur at scale on social platforms alongside user-generated content or as web AR triggered from QR codes. This is distinctly different and presents a unique challenge, since the user has to self-select to see what is essentially advertorial AR content, or even swap between different media – for example, from an outdoor billboard to a web AR experience on their smartphone.

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The Spatial Stack

To really scale, AR advertising needs two things: more large-scale AR editorial experiences and a native commercialization model sitting alongside. The answers to these challenges have recently been met through technological advancements and historical advertising models.

A combination of the Unity game engine and Google’s latest Geospatial APIs now provides a compelling technology stack for a new wave of app publishers to build a plethora of large-scale, editorial experiences across gaming, tourism, entertainment, and many other use cases that use the real world as the canvas for immersive content. So long as these are more fun or more useful in AR, they will inevitably be widely adopted, building the audiences that enable monetization at scale and that advertisers want to reach.

The interaction style for this type of AR commercial content can already be seen. The traditional out-of-home (OOH) billboards and digital screens place ads in locations where large-scale or valuable audiences can be reached. Passive AR ads layered on the world in the users’ field of view will have all the best parts of today’s OOH media and their digital equivalents; reach and scale, impact and effectiveness, brand building and interactivity, all fully trackable. This makes AR the first truly digital OOH medium.

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Permissioned & Programmatic

However, just like traditional outdoor media, laws and regulations mean property owner permission is required to display AR advertising in their locations. What is needed is a globally-scalable registry of property permissions for digital content. These property digital rights are a new and highly valuable set of rights that allow property owners to control and monetize their locations. Accessing these permissions and the corresponding AR ad inventory in a seamless, programmatic way that works with today’s digital advertising ecosystem is essential.

Over time, ad formats will evolve to take advantage of the AR medium, ensuring the upsides of interactivity and engagement are maximized, while avoiding the dystopian sci-fi future we see from Hollywood. This would ensure that ads are frequency and density-capped, avoid health and safety issues, and allow consumers to have control of their data.

The future is immersive, digital, and permission-based. “Welcome to the real world.”

David Bomphrey is co-founder and COO of Darabase.

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