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Shazam Could Replace The QR Code

QR Code Death

Admit it: The QR Code is never going to catch on with mainstream users. (Hell, it’s barely getting used by advertisers, and we’ll try anything once.) Asking people to download and use a 3rd party app so they can scan a code to get mysterious content related to an ad is a bit much, and until Apple decides to include a QR code scanning app with every iPhone, they’re just not going to get used by more than a fringe minority of the mobile audience.

That said, the reason advertisers want QR codes to take off is clear: We live in an increasingly mobile world, and with campaigns spreading across multiple mediums, there needs to be an easy way to connect analog content with digital content so we can create a more interactive and immersive experience.

While NFC holds promise as a potential solution, it requires broad adoption by phone manufacturers, and there’s little indication we’ll see that any time soon.

So is it time to face the facts and admit that it will never be easy to connect ads to a mobile experience?

Not exactly.

Shazam

Enter, Shazam.

Shazam debuted as an app that recognizes the audio from music and reports back on what song is currently playing. The technology has since been repurposed by companies like Old Navy, General Mills and News Corp. to recognize commercials, allowing viewers to tag the audio of a spot and receive additional content from the brand.

If you haven’t experienced one of these enhanced ads, check out this Pillsbury Crescents commercial which returns recipes to users who Shazam the ad when prompted:

While this works well in a controlled environment like the living room, there’s no reason the same technology can’t be used in other places to connect ads to a mobile device.

See where I’m going with this?

Calvin Klein recently teamed up with Shazam to create in-store sound installations, and proved that the process can be used for more than just tagging TV.

The interaction is simple: When a customer is near the branded podium, they open the Shazam app and scan the song that’s playing through the speaker. In return, they receive exclusive content like in-store promotions, a complimentary download of an exclusive song, and a Calvin Klein holiday wallpaper for their mobile device.

According to David Jones, VP of Marketing at Shazam:

Calvin Klein is an iconic fashion brand known across the globe, and Shazam is incredibly excited to work with them on their new holiday campaign and in-store sound installations. Shazam’s partnership with Calvin Klein marks the first in-store-only program utilizing Shazam, and demonstrates how retailers can take advantage of Shazam’s discovery service to help build an enriching, interactive experience with shoppers this holiday season.

While I like what this campaign represents, I think it’s just a small step in the direction of what could be a major competitor to QR codes and NFC.

Calvin Klein Shazam

Imagine out of home campaigns that use small speakers to play audio that’s beyond the reach of human hearing, but can be picked up by the phone to connect the ad with a mobile experience. The audio could be customized by region to offer location based ads, or the app could simply tap into the phone’s GPS capabilities for the same effect.

Now imagine an outdoor scavenger hunt that uses custom Shazam tags to ensure that users are where they say they are, and delivers rewards in exchange for seeking out the branded experience. Or how about a sweepstakes that uses the audio tag to tell the phone if the user is a winner. Or a bus stop ad that entertains with a song while also allowing the brand to quickly connect on a deeper level when users activate their Shazam app.

These are just a few examples of what’s possible with the technology, and I’m sure we’ll see others as advertisers start brainstorming, but the idea is that it’s as simple as adding a speaker to an existing ad, and letting Shazam handle the rest.

So why is Shazam different from what we’re asking people to do to interact with QR codes?

While the process is similar, the key to Shazam’s potential success is the 165 million users they have already acquired through their music tagging service. Unlike QR codes, which require apps that have no purpose but to scan QR codes, Shazam has already established value to the user, and people are familiar with the process of using Shazam to tag content for additional information. It’s a short jump from the existing behavior to the new behavior, and millions of users are already primed to make that jump.

The Shazam logo can become synonymous with additional content, and that content doesn’t limit brands to the data that can fit in a shortened and codified URL.

Since we’ve already seen big brands test out Shazam for tagging TV, and initial reports are that they’re happy with the results and looking to do more, I wouldn’t be surprised to see those same brands follow Calvin Kleins’ lead in the next few months by testing the waters of out of home tagging. Assuming both advertisers and users get value out of those initial interactions, the behavior should stick, and we will finally have a technology that millions of people can use to extend the ad experience to their mobile device.

Hidden ASCII Art Generates Buzz For Dante’s Inferno

Dante's Inferno ASCII Art

When the team behind the Dante’s Inferno video game hid ASCII art in the source code of many popular websites and then waited for that art to get discovered, they were taking a huge risk, but sometimes big rewards can only come to those that are willing to take equally big risks. The risk was mitigated by the fact that their campaign was innovative and well targeted, but there was still the chance that their idea was going to fall flat, or that consumers were not going to be receptive to the idea of hunting for what essentially boils down to fancy looking banner ads.

Hell Is Closer Than You Think

Before we dive into the campaign however, let’s do a quick history lesson: ASCII art, or art made with text, has been around since the early days of the computer. Back when printers weren’t able to make graphics, someone figured out that various characters could be combined to simulate them instead, and ASCII art was born. Because of its lengthy history and quirky nature, ASCII art has remained popular in the geek crowd for many years, and coders are even known to hide ASCII art in the source code of their websites so that other geeks will stumble across it and discover the hidden art while looking under the hood of another coder’s site. This type of ‘hidden reward’ is also found in video games, where coders will hide objects or inside jokes in hard to reach places or behind lengthy button combinations in what’s affectionately referred to as an Easter Egg. The goal for both is to reward users that dig into a website or explore in a video game beyond what the typical user would do, so that whether it’s hidden code in a website or a hidden Easter Egg in a video game, those that discover it feel like they have earned access to some sort of exclusive content or reward.

With that history lesson out of the way, lets look at how Dante’s Inferno combined the geek’s love of ASCII art with the gamer’s love of Easter Eggs into a unique and innovative ad campaign that generated a ton of buzz for their upcoming release.

Dante's Inferno ASCII Art - Death

The campaign featured six pieces of ASCII art that were hidden in the source code of various video game and technology websites. One of the first of these sites to get discovered was Digg (by Brent Csutoras) with the initial discovery leading to a large scale search that uncovered a number of other pieces of art scattered across the Internet in places like IGN, GameSpot, Daily Motion, Games Radar, and WWE. One site, Kotaku, even discovered art hidden in their own source code after a reader tipped them off to the campaign, which the editors claimed to have no knowledge of. In addition to the art itself, each hidden ‘ad’ also contained a URL and a password to a secret site, and by collecting all six of these passwords, users could visit that website and unlock a special bundle of content that included music, wallpapers, posters, concept art and more from the upcoming game.

Reap Your Earthly Rewards

What’s interesting about this campaign is that it was very risky, since the ads could have sat unnoticed for a lengthy period of time before being discovered, and even then, they would have to be almost exclusively passed around by word of mouth, since there is no way to view them except by manually selecting to view the source code of a website. Thus, the campaign would have been dead in the water if it had not generated the buzz that its creators were hoping for. In addition, there is no way to track who views the source code of a website or the traffic generated from those views, except through a very rudimentary URL tracking system that uses custom URLs to track the source of visits. Thus, the only way to judge the results of this campaign is to track how many users download the special bundle, and what kind of buzz the campaign generates. (It’s interesting to note that Dante’s Inferno decided not to track what sites users were grabbing their codes from, since the same URL was used across all sites, and secret codes were shared among sites as well.) Another challenge is that while bundle downloads do indicate the total number of people exposed to the campaign, they can’t differentiate between a user that actually viewed the ASCII art in the source code of a website, and a user that simply found or was given the six passwords on a gaming forum or other less involved medium and then used them to unlock the bundle.

The result of these challenges is that for a campaign like this to work well, it has to be used for the right product at the right time and with just enough luck thrown in to capture the interest of the right audience long enough to make an impression. Judging by the blog reactions and user comments about the campaign however, this seems to have struck just that balance, with comments ranging from “I am pretty impressed by this campaign” and “it is an advertising campaign and quite a clever one if I must say so myself” to “The latest stunt is eerie, and gets bonus points for both creativity and giving the fans some fun bonuses.” Even Digg’s Chas Edwards, Digg Publisher and Chief Revenue Officer was quoted as saying, “Since Digg’s early days, ASCII art has been ingrained in our site’s culture. We’re thrilled with the opportunity presented by our partnership with Electronic Arts and the Dante’s Inferno team — incorporating ASCII art into advertising on Digg, while providing the 40 million users in the Digg Community first access to the promotion code.”

Gluttony

Hiding an ad in the source code of a website is a great example of a company that’s willing to think outside the banner, but does the success of the Dante’s Inferno campaign mean that hidden ASCII art is a viable option for other ad campaigns as well? In this case, I don’t think that you could duplicate the results of this campaign in the near term, as the success was due in such large part to the combination of right place, right time to the right audience for the right product. However, if enough time goes by and users once again forget about a company’s ability to hide ads in places as remote as the source code of a website, I think we could see another campaign or two reach a similar level of success by using a similar idea.

So why can’t companies just start hiding ads in the source code of all of their favorite websites and then wait for people to find them?

  1. There is a very small percentage of people that even know how to view the source code of a website, and even then, it’s not a guarantee that they will like ASCII art.
  2. Much of the buzz around the Dante’s Inferno campaign was driven by the novelty of the idea, so each subsequent implementation will have substantially less buzz as people get accustomed to seeing ads hidden in source code.
  3. If people don’t care enough about a product to go searching for hidden art with secret codes and mystery websites in exchange for exclusive content, then the campaign will never get seen by more than a handful of consumers who accidentally stumble across it.

The take away from this campaign is that it’s important to always keep your eyes open for new and innovative ideas, and to be willing to take a risk on a new format that might drive a lot of interest in a product, even if that format can’t be directly tied to traffic or sales. In addition, because the lack of direct tracking means you will never know the exact impact of a risky or non-conventional campaign, you must find a new way of defining your reward (besides just traffic and clicks) so that you will know if the risks were worth it, and if the campaign was a success.

The Good:

  • Unique and innovative campaign generated a massive amount of buzz.
  • Exclusive content motivated users to seek out additional pieces of hidden art and pass along the campaign to others.

The Bad:

  • Results would be difficult to duplicate, as much of the buzz was driven by how innovative the idea was.
  • Limited tracking means the success of the campaign is based on a single number (in this case, bundle downloads) and that the awareness generated by the ads themselves, separate from clicks, was all but impossible to track.

The Future:

  • Unique ad formats that reward the viewer are sought out by consumers, rather than needing to be forced upon them.

Hell Is Nigh

Surf Report Puts Oakley In Surfers’ Hands

Oakley Surf Report

Surf Report is a new iPhone app from Oakley and Surfline that provides mobile access to surf reports, community news, photos, wallpapers, and Oakley Team Rider bios. With it, Oakley hopes to secure its place in the hands and minds of every tech savvy surfer on a daily basis, and to reinforce their brand as one that caters to the needs of extreme sports enthusiasts.

Take the mystery out of checking the surf with technology engineered to be on the go with you. Check swell direction. Monitor the weather. Chart a 2–day forecast. Get your daily mobile surf report for your favorite beaches – thousands worldwide. And do it all from the comfort of your iPhone or iPod Touch.

Surf Report does just about everything a surfer could want, including saving your favorite surf spots for up to the minute info before you start your surf commute (including air temp, water temp, tide charts, swell breakdown, wind, and sunrise/sunset when available), using GPS to locate nearby surf spots should you find yourself in unfamiliar territory, directing you to those surf spots using the Google Maps, showing current conditions for when Mother Nature wants to rain on your surf parade, continuously updating the forecast to help you time that precious few minutes between the storms, and even predicting the forecast a few days out to make sure nothing gets in the way of those killer waves.

Oakley Surf Report Detail

With a lightly branded button, splash screen, and Team Rider bios, Oakley has managed to create an attractive, functional, and useful tool without over-branding or over-selling. They know that by providing value to their user, Surf Report will get used, talked about, passed around and enjoyed. They also know that with surfers especially, an over-branded application would have gone unused or even cursed, so they were smart to partner with a trusted source like Surfline and let the app speak for itself.

The Good:

  • Light and appropriate branding doesn’t annoy the user, yet still reinforces the brand’s message.
  • Being useful, simple and full-featured means this application will be used frequently.
  • $0 price means a low barrier to entry, putting Surf Report in the hands of anyone that wants it.

The Bad:

  • Relies on a third-party for data, though users will blame Oakley if something goes wrong.

The Future:

  • Mobile applications allow a company to provide useful information to their customers, frequently reinforce their brand, and stay on the cutting edge of technology.

Oakley – Surf Report

Surf Report (iTunes)