Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Mobile Bar Codes are Here

This morning while on Metro North I found my self staring at a big poster of semi-naked Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Brooklyn Decker. Since I’m an unemasculated male the first thing I noticed of course was Decker’s curvaceous body, but then the geek side of me kicked in and I noticed the 2D barcode next to her.

Of course I knew what to do. I took a picture of the barcode with my cell phone’s camera and sent the picture via MMS to a short code printed on the poster (of course I could have also sent the barcode pic by e-mail). Moments later I received a message back from Sports Illustrated with pics of 6 other clothing challenged models who appear in this month’s Swimsuit Edition.

I’m not sure how many commuters knew what to do or how many actually participated in SI’s campaign, but the high profile presence of this ad and the fact that literally everyone has a cell phone capable of taking pictures and receiving web-based information means a a lot more tags will start appearing on advertising and other everyday objects.

SI’s campaign was powered by JagTag, a New Jersey, based consumer marketing company. JagTag has a unique technological offering which allows users to read barcodes without having to download a special reader. It was really easy to take the picture and get the content returned. (Of course convenience comes at a cost because both the user and advertiser pay the cost of an MMS message. More ARPU for carriers!).

On the downside it seems that JagTag doesn’t have a self-service option. If I wanted to create and distribute a tag I’d have to have a relationship with JagTag

Microsoft on the other hand, which also has a tagging project, does allow anyone to come in and create a tag. It also has some rudimentary business intelligence tools that allow tag creators to see how frequently their tags were scanned. On the downside, Microsoft’s offering requires the download of a proprietary barcode reader. They have one for the iPhone.

What’s neat about both the JagTag and Microsoft tags is that instead of an undecipherable Rorchach-test pattern, the barcodes can be fashioned to look like images users are familiar with. A bikini clad woman in SI’s case or a graphical overlay in Microsoft.

But I suppose in the future we can expect to see information embedded directly in an advertising image. Taking a picture of it will automatically redirect users to a site with additional information, or maybe it will send a user a mobile coupon to try that product.

That’s certainly something that Target Store’s is banking on. According to a story in Gomo News It’s recently launched an effort to install mobile barcode readers in all of its stores. Now instead of bringing their target customer loyalty card with them every them they come to shop, Target customers can present their phone and have their loyalty card scanned-in in the form of a 2D barcode.