MobiAD Archives

Visual Interactivity:
The Next Great Way To Engage Consumers

visual_inter_mainimage.gifLooking around the world today, it seems as though everything is becoming digital – music, photos, video, ads, TV, books, etc.

And it is clear that the mobile phone is playing an increasingly important role as a person’s means of interacting with this digital world.

In this two-part article we will take a look at a very interesting type of interaction which is still emerging – the mobile camera. The camera can be used in many ways to engage consumers: QR codes, augmented reality, advanced image recognition, plus several others.

The mobile phone is a great tool for interacting with the digital world that is all around us. There are so many ways it can engage us: buttons, touch screens, voice recognition, GPS for location and accelerometers to capture motion. All of these are now actively being used in various clever ways to provide an easy, interesting interface.

But there is one major feature of the mobile phone that has not yet been much used for interactivity: the camera. We take pictures and videos with it, but to date not much more. However, this is about to change. There are a number of new technologies that are just now being implemented that should make the camera a key means of providing consumer engagement within marketing campaigns and mobile services.

In this two-part article we’ll look at several such technologies. In this part we’ll look at 2D barcodes and various flavors of advanced image recognition. In part 2, we’ll look at other camera based technologies, including color recognition, augmented reality, and face recognition.

Beyond Image Recognition

Image recognition has been around for sometime, and there are a number of companies that can recognize an image from a library of pre-stored images. But recently a number of new twists have appeared which will make this even more useful for building consumer engagement.

Image Zoning
One very interesting extension to basic image recognition is the ability to determine the exact point on a image that the camera is pointed at when the picture is taken. This is one of the many visual interactivity capabilities offered by Edinburgh based Mobile Acuity.

As an example, using Image Zoning, a mobile campaign could be set up around a virtual “mobile darts game”. Players would take a picture of a dart board, and the technology would determine exactly where on the board the camera was pointed, and therefore where the dart landed. (see a video of this in the MobiAD article: Ogilvy Innovation Labs: Engaging Clients In The Digital Future)

Another example is a campaign that was run by Vodafone in the leadup to European Champions league 2008. In order to win a ticket to the championship, a consumer would take a virtual “penalty shot” by taking a picture of which part of the goal they wanted to kick the ball to. The system returned an image of the ball going to that spot, and the goal keeper either making a save or the ball going in the net.


This campaign had great response from consumers – 40% participation at an event location and over 3% participation from a magazine ad. It was a unique way to create engagement and won the “Best Creativity” and “Most Innovative Use of Technology” at the 2008 UK Mobile Marketing Awards.

Anthony Ashbrook, founder and CEO of Mobile Acuity, said “The agencies and brands that we talk to are always looking for better and richer ways to engage with consumers. With Visual Interactivity we are taking the enthusiasm consumers have for taking pictures on mobile phones and building this into interactive campaigns that they love.”

Point and Find
Just recently Nokia introduced a new service called Point and Find. This is an image matching service, but it can also take into account GPS information from the phone. Based on the image and where the consumer is, various types of information or content is sent back to the consumer.

One example is at a cinema, where by taking a photo of a film poster, additional material about the film is sent to the consumer. (For more information, see Nokia press release.)

Bar codes

combo_barcode.gifWe are all familiar with barcodes, we see them on products everywhere. But there are some new forms of barcodes, 2D barcodes (for 2 dimensional) that we will be seeing more and more for use with mobile.

To use these codes, you need to have special reader software in your handset. Then, for example, if you see a magazine ad which includes a 2D barcode, you can simply take a picture of the code, and your mobile browser will take you to a mobile web site that has information about that product.

NeoMedia is one of the leading companies in the area of 2D barcodes. According to CEO Iain McCready, there are 3 main varieties of open standard 2D barcodes (QR, Datamatrix, and Aztec). He expects all three of these will be approved by the main standards bodies, and software readers will be able to read all three types.

qrcode_gucci.gifGetting the necessary software into handsets has always been one of the biggest hurdles for the uptake of 2D barcodes, but the emergence of “app stores” has helped a lot (see box below). Plus several handset manufacturers are rumored to have pre-installed barcode readers on their roadmaps.

In Japan, QR barcodes have been very popular for years, and there are QR codes on many items including billboards, magazine ads, even T-shirts. However, the US and European markets have really just started using these codes, and many people believe that 2009 and 2010 will be when they really start to get some traction.

pepsi_qrcode.gifFor example, earlier this year Pepsi put QR codes on 400 million cans of Pepsi in the UK, and BMW has run a successful campaign for its BMW 1 Series Launch (see MobiAD article).

European and US operators are also likely to use a technology called “resolution servers” to make 2D barcodes more effective. Basically, this will provide the flexibility such that consumers can be sent to different locations or provided different content from the same 2D barcode, depending on when it was scanned and where it was scanned, as well as any other information that is known about the consumer.

Thus resolution servers should enable much more relevant and targeted communications with consumers.

visual_kurwen.gifThomas Curwen, Planning Director at Publicis Dialog highlights another key feature of 2D barcodes – their ability to work with other advertising media. “The adoption of 2D barcodes and other image recognition technologies will revolutionise marketing as we know it. For the first time, agencies and clients will see all the detailed click-through reporting we see from the internet becoming available from traditional media as customers respond directly from each ad mailing or pack.”

NeoMedia’s McCready concludes, “The agencies are saying ‘why wouldn’t we put a bar code on every ad?’ They have paid for the space already and it’s a bit like the early days of the world wide web – no one knew what these funny addresses were but over time everyone gets used to them and starts using them.”

If you have an iPhone, try going to the iPhone App Store and download the NeoMedia reader for free. Then use it to take a picture of the QR code on this page, and it will take you to the MobiAd homepage. The whole process including installation takes only a few seconds.
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