The 411 on mobile snap technology


iMedia Connection


A slew of new companies have come out with camera phone-based technology. You snap a photo of a product or promotion and receive information on the item in return. But how viable is this form of mobile marketing?


To assess the potential for mobile marketing just check the data. Metrics company comScore reported in March that the number of consumers who used mobile broadband technology to access the internet increased by an astounding 154 percent in the fourth quarter of last year compared with the same period in 2006. JupiterResearch predicts mobile marketing will grow from $708 million in 2007 to $2.2 billion in 2012. But these numbers belie the fact that marketers still have a big hurdle of consumer perception to overcome. Unlike the computer, where pop-up and banner ads are commonplace and even expected, mobile users continue to view their cell phones — and cell numbers — as extremely personal. In that context, marketing efforts can have the unfortunate result of coming across as invasive, violating a consumer’s privacy. In short, not the greatest way to build a brand.

But fortunately for marketers, a few new technologies for mobile are emerging, designed to help consumers cross the barrier between the real world and the virtual realm. These tools try to anticipate consumer desires with their ability to interpret images and codes from the world at-large via camera phone; they then return a variety of product and promotional information to consumers. Here, a roundup of the techniques and a few sample campaigns:

2D barcodes or “QR” codes
Mobile users can now convert visual images, for example from magazines, photos, or billboards, into detailed product or brand information. Consumers with camera phones can snap photos of the two-dimensional barcodes produced by companies such as Scanbuy, Tagit, and Mobile Discovery. With the help of downloadable software, the phones communicate the codes to databases that return information or special product offers to consumers.

Mobile Discovery has already conducted test campaigns with its codes in Wired and Billboard magazines. 

An ad in Wired:

From Billboard:

In late March Mobile Discovery launched yet another campaign with QVC and Gannett, turning Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, into an immersive marketing environment. The company posted barcodes on billboards, flyers, posters and bus stops, so students could upload codes to find campus activity information, subscribe to a Gannett newspaper, find a bus schedule, or enter a QVC contest.

Unlike the American public, Japanese consumers have been familiar with this form of 2D barcode for the past several years (also known as QR or Quick Response codes). Companies as mainstream as McDonald’s have used the codes to pass along information, such as a breakdown of nutritional information to customers. After purchasing a burger or other fast food product, Japanese consumers can scan the barcodes on the food packaging with their phones to learn what they’re really eating. 

Simple photos
Another type of image recognition technology relies on simple photos, instead of codes. Companies such as Fotolink, Daem Interactive, and Mobot all allow consumers to take pictures of advertisements or brand logos and send the photos over any carrier’s network. In response, the companies send ringtones, coupons and other promotional materials to the users.

To celebrate its launch, Fotolink conducted a campaign for PepsiCo’s new Mint Mischief Frito-Lay chips in India. The company set up bluetooth kiosks in malls throughout the country, where mall visitors participating in the campaign could earn ringtones, wallpaper and product coupons. This type of technology may have a broader appeal than the barcode-based recognition programs since it does not require advertisers to develop or incorporate special codes into their ads.

Spain-based Daem Interactive has also conducted trial campaigns of its self-described “augmented reality” technology. In one example, owners of Daem-approved phones could snap pictures of photographs appearing in Barcelona newspaper El Periódico. Participating readers received more information about the photos, along with a promotional text message from the country’s Professional Football League.

Making mobile make cents
Despite their promise and obvious user appeal, aside from limited test campaigns these image recognition tools have yet to be rolled out for consumers on a large scale. 

According to JupiterResearch, 18 percent of advertisers have invested in mobile ad campaigns within the last 12 months, but interactive marketers continue to face significant challenges on the mobile front. The main barrier to mobile marketing is the fact that only 13 percent of consumers have 3G phones, the most advanced and fastest mobile technology, and the best platform for image and sound recognition technologies.

The most effective mobile marketing efforts to date have relied on simple text messaging, because it’s a feature consumers can access without expensive data plans. Messaging also appeals more broadly to younger consumers, even when it contains advertising. JupiterResearch reports that 25 percent of phone subscribers between the ages of 18 and 24 would accept promotional text messages, as long as they provide benefits such as free talk time. A similar percentage of subscribers between 25 and 34 would also be open to mobile messaging.

But to date, more advanced features such as mobile broadband remain cost prohibitive. Other JupiterResearch data shows that individuals earning at least $100,000 were 37 percent more likely than average to use mobile broadband.

In other words, though the younger demographic may be more open to mobile marketing, advertisers wanting to use the more advanced image recognition technologies would likely need to target older, wealthier audiences with more sophisticated — and expensive — phone plans.

Still, many analysts remain bullish about the potential of on-the-go image recognition, particularly the two-dimensional barcodes. “There’s a massive opportunity with things like hangtags in stores and the fact that you can print 2D barcodes. You really can integrate any backend functionality into it that you want,” says Telephia Director of Mobile Media David Gill.

Gill and others continue to favor the barcode route over more generic image recognition technologies because they provide a standardized means of communicating products and offers to consumers. Additionally, the barcodes allow consumers two means of opting in to a marketing campaign. Consumers take the first action by scanning in the bar codes; in response, the direct marketers request that users confirm they want to opt-in before providing discounts or products.

Barcode-based campaigns, Gill suggests, could include such perks as the ability to scan a clothing tag to outfit a Second Life avatar, or create a product wishlist or registry for birthdays and other events.

JupiterResearch analysts highlight a few other promising areas for marketers wanting to venture more heavily into mobile. Short promotional campaigns as well as sweepstakes and special offers are the best starting point, the analysts say. Some research shows that nearly 30 percent of consumers would be willing to accept mobile advertising if accompanied by coupons, especially those for restaurants, events, DVDs or local stores.

Leah Messinger is a freelance writer.


2 Responses to “The 411 on mobile snap technology”

  1. streetstylz Says:

    It should be noted that:

    Scanbuy’s indirect resolution process, which they use for their proprietary EZcode, is infringing on NeoMedia Technologies’ core patents.

    Scanbuy uses the indirect encoding method for their barcode resolution process.

    Indirect encoding (patented by NeoMedia) is the process of linking the target information to an index (364528 for example) and putting that unique identifier into a 1D UPC/EAN or 2D barcode. The code reader on the mobile phone reads the barcode and sends the code data over the Internet to a central resolution server that will tell the mobile phone what action is associated with the index, i.e. access a URL, download media, initiate a phone call, ect.

    NeoMedia Technologies has a suite of twelve issued patents covering the core concepts behind linking the physical world to the electronic world dating back to 1995. These patents cover various linkage methods including: Barcodes, RFID, Mag Stripe, Voice, and Other machine readable and keyed entry identifiers.

    NeoMedia brought suit against Scanbuy. Litigation has been ongoing.

  2. Moritz Says:

    Kooaba developped also a mobile-visual-search, they’ve made some campaigns in the swiss newspaper and you can get (as example) more information about a movie if you just shot the movie-poster. There is’ also a application for the iPhone and most of the other cell-phone. More to come in the next months. For more information and to be update, check out and subscribe the newsletter.

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