Codes About to Break

By Dec 01, 2009

Face it: If you use your mobile phone mostly for talking, you’re old

Today’s phones are morphing into Swiss Army knives of communications capabilities, and marketers are starting to take notice.

Take cameras. More than half the mobile phones now deployed in the U.S. have them. Yes, they’re great for capturing that celebrity sighting or documenting your fender bender. But U.S. marketers are now putting them to work bridging the gap between print or outdoor ads and online content.

The key is 2D barcodes, black-and-white checkerboard tags that can pack many times more information than a standard UPC stripe. When captured on camera and decoded, these codes can deliver content straight to a phone.

2D codes have been in wide use in Europe and Asia, but they’ve just begun to make significant inroads here. New York-based ScanBuy offers downloadable software that can read the codes on the phone and a platform that lets marketers build codes and track their conversions.

Volkswagen inserted 2D codes into a brochure for its 2010 GTI. Users who have the software app on their phones simply snap a picture of the code, send it with a button click, and get a Web site landing page returned to their phones, complete with video of the car in action.


“Marketers are dying to link their materials, whether packaging or media, to the mobile device, because it’s what everyone is carrying around in their pockets,” says ScanBuy CEO Jonathan Bulkeley.

One problem: Only smartphone users can customize their phones with the ScanBuy software. To get around that limitation, the company is signing manufacturer deals to get its software pre-installed and recently announced pacts with Samsung, LG, and Sony Ericsson to build the app into phones for Sprint.

Another 2D platform, JAGTAG, solves that download problem by not requiring one. Users of non-smartphones — “feature phones,” they’re called — can take a picture of JAGTAG’s codes and send them as an e-mail attachment or a multimedia message to the company’s servers. There the picture will be decoded off-device and the proper content returned to the sender.


Toyota used JAGTAG codes in a mobile campaign at Giants Stadium before several games this fall. Attendees were handed fliers printed with JAGTAG codes and told to snap a picture and send it to a short code. In return, they received a multimedia message from Giants quarterback Eli Manning. (Toyota is an official sponsor of the New York Giants.)

JAGTAG CEO Dudley Fitzgerald says it will take three to five years to get a critical mass of feature phones with factory-installed code-reader software, while his app-less tech can reach about 80% of the U.S. cellphone population. “Our platform makes this something brands can use now,” he says.

One complication still confronts wide use of 2D barcodes, however. The codes are proprietary and not readable by rivals’ software. So consumers may find themselves having to take several passes before they can get that content with just a snap of the camera shutter.

To read more of this story, go online to http://chiefmarketer.com/technology/1122-mobile-barcode



A Q3 2009 survey of female iPhone users by mobile ad network Greystripe found that:

  • 59% let their children use their iPhone
  • 41% download entertainment apps for their kids to use
  • 21% download educational apps for the kids

Got a mobile marketing tip to share? Contact Brian Quinton at brian.quinton@penton.com