Cracking the code of a marketing craze

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Vancouver firm uses new technology to turn smartphone users into environmental activists

Gillian Shaw

Darren Barefoot, a partner at Capulet Communications, is behind the Big Wild campaign that uses posters bearing a strange code. People who scan the so-called QR code using a smartphone are directed to an online petition to save the Flathead River Valley. Photograph by: Bill Keay, Vancouver Sun, Vancouver Sun

There are mysterious symbols popping up on Vancouver lamp posts. It’s a secret code that only initiates of new technology can unravel. And unravelling they are — pointing at the symbols with their smartphones, which read the two-dimensional code and deliver a message.

QR stands for quick response. It’s a technology that’s only starting to reach Main Street, North America. Perhaps the most visible example is a giant billboard in New York City that displayed a cryptic code viewers had to scan with their smartphones — to reveal a Calvin Klein ad showing lithe, underwear-clad models.

In Canada, the Big Wild has become the first environmental organization to tap into the QR craze. It is hoping to build an online and offline buzz and prompt people to sign a mobile-friendly petition aimed at saving British Columbia’s Flathead River Valley.

While QR codes may only be understood by the more technologically inclined, their use is growing and they can be found anywhere from flyers to posters to restaurant bills.

“It’s huge in Japan,” said Darren Barefoot, a partner at Vancouver’s Capulet Communications, which created the QR campaign for the Big Wild, a conservation movement founded by Mountain Equipment Co-op and the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. “My favourite example in Japan are the QR codes on burger wrappers,

which you can scan to get nutritional information.”

The codes can draw a link for users between their online and offline experience.

“We’re always looking for new angles, new strategies and new approaches to get people’s attention,” Barefoot said of the decision to poster Vancouver with the Big Wild’s cryptic message. The campaign is also being rolled out in seven other Canadian cities.

“We wanted to try out a campaign with these QR codes and add an element of mystery,” said Barefoot. “They are unbranded posters.

“The idea was that we would entice people; the people who might scan the codes are technologically minded so they would know about the code and know what to do with it.”

It’s an inexpensive way to deliver a message.

A QR code could link to a phone number, a web address or a short text message. Among QR services are ones that let you put a code on your contact information, so people could scan the code with their smartphone

and automatically add you to their contacts.

The codes are used in Japan for commerce, allowing such transactions as scanning at a vending machine and having the charge go straight to your phone bill. And it’s now possible to pay some bills here simply by using your smartphone as a scanner.

In Vancouver, Mobio Identity Systems is using the technology to deliver everything from snacks to football fans to payments for pizzas.

“If you download a scanner to your phone and scan a bar code it is going to take you to a website,” said Mobio founder and chief executive Clovis Najm. “Ours go on to managing the interaction for the user.

“For example, Habitat for Humanity uses our bar codes on T-shirts that people working on their restoration sites wear. When you scan the bar code you can donate money immediately.”

Mobio also counts NFL and NBA teams among its clients. Fans of the Jacksonville Jaguars will be able to order food to their seats, simply by scanning in the code on their program. Scanning the code will produce a menu, let the buyers choose an order, then the items will be delivered to their seats.

“The QR bar code is great for basically signifying to somebody they are going to go to the Internet on one level, but when people see the Mobio sign, they know there is some sort of interaction or transaction that will occur,” said Najm.

Several Vancouver stores, restaurants and businesses use Mobio, either as part of a promotion or for such transactions as paying for a meal.

A list of locations that use the Mobio application can be found at getmobioid. com/locations. The Mobio iPhone app is at getmobioid. com.

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