Last spring, many who ordered pizza online from Papa John’s could take a 1972 Z28 Camaro for a spin. The classic automobile was not real but part of an augmented-reality campaign used to celebrate the company’s 25th anniversary.

The national pizza chain was allowing users, through their Web cams, to virtually drive the Camaro, a car that John Schatter, founder of Papa John’s, sold to start his first restaurant.

“We were looking to use augmented reality and potentially send something viral into the social media realm,” says Papa John’s spokeswoman Tish Muldoon.

Several quick-service industry giants have started using augmented reality to enhance their marketing initiatives.

In 2009, McDonald’s created an augmented-reality marketing campaign around the blockbuster movie Avatar. Burger King implemented augmented reality into an online marketing campaign that called for users to hold a dollar bill up to their Web cam on their computer. The banner ad recognized the money and interacted with the user.

“It [can be] very successful from a buzz standpoint,” says Cosmin Ghiurau, the founder and editor of, a Web site that keeps tabs on how augmented reality is being implemented. Augmented reality “can add another element to just getting a little toy with my Happy Meal.”

The new technology, which creates virtual elements using cell phones and Web cams, is a high-tech and engaging marketing tool that can be used like other marketing solutions. It can promote a product or gather information about the consumer, such as dining habits or demographic information, when he logs on to experience it.

“It can be something very basic to get the feet wet to gauge your audience and your customer’s response to it,” says Kelly McIvor, a mobile-marketing professor at the University of Washington Graduate School of Communication, where he teaches a class on mobile media and communications.

“So when you do want to commit to something more substantial, you have a much better feel for it.”

McIvor says the quick-service industry can fully realize the potential of augmented reality by using it in conjunction with other established marketing tools.

For Papa John’s, Muldoon says augmented reality was a marketing success and created a strong buzz for the pizza brand.

“It showed us that if you have something unique, people will stay on the company’s Web site longer,” she says. “It was engaging. It’s keeping our brand on the top of mind.”

By Brendan O’Brien

News, Ordering, McDonald's, Papa Johns