Is Pepsi's augmented reality stunt the real deal?

A clever use of face-tracking technology, or a branding blunder from the soft drinks giant?

We've all seen brilliant examples of augmented reality - the melding of live action footage with CGI to create something verging on the magical. And they've often been used for pranks, such as this hilarious stunt by Adobe and another where Pepsi made commuters jump out of their skin. But now the soft drinks giant has taken advanced face tracking technology and – apparently – done something truly mindblowing with it.

In the video, unsuspected patrons of Bayswater Cinema, London, fall victim to a Halloween prank when washing their hands in the bathroom. Staring into the mirror, they see a live reflection of themselves looking like a deathly ghoul or vicious werewolf, making them jump out their skins.

Viewers, though, aren't wholly convinced. The video's posting on Facebook has attracted a storm of criticism, with commenters suspecting that the whole thing has been staged by actors. There's also disbelief over whether such advanced use of real-time rendering is even technically possible, and speculation on how members of the public could have been filmed without any visible cameras in the bathroom.

Whether this is a well-made fake or the best-ever use of AR, or a mixture of both, instant disbelief is not generally what you want your advertising to inspire. So with this augmented realty ad Pepsi may have underestimated the scepticism of today's tech-savvy, socially-connected generation...


Tom May is a freelance writer and editor specialising in design and technology. He was previously associate editor at Creative Bloq and deputy editor at net magazine, the world’s best-selling magazine for web designers. Over two decades in journalism he’s worked for a wide range of mainstream titles including The Sun, Radio Times, NME, Heat, Company and Bella. Follow him on Twitter @tom_may.