Putting a Tag on Everything That Moves at SXSW

The Mobile Tag Is Quickly Replacing the URL in Marketing Communications

By Published on .

Erin Jo Richey
Erin Jo Richey
On the ground at SXSW, mobile tags are everywhere. During this annual mixer of parties and geekery, there's nothing odd about being handed a cocktail with a QR code slapped on the glass. From posters promoting parties and musicians to the buses driving by and the coffee cup in your hand, mobile tags abound.

In the space of interactive marketing, "mobile" is everything that goes with you. This presents both challenges and opportunities for creativity when tasked with marketing to an audience on the move. In this young arena, mobile advertising needs to be like magic. With new tools to use, new environments to explore and new games to play with, creators have the opportunity to produce campaigns that feel less like advertising and more like a fresh integrated experience.

On a basic level, tags like QR codes or the Microsoft Tag are just a link between a consumer in an environment and the presentation of supplemental information. Used creatively, the tag itself can be designed, colored and placed in unique locations. The action of scanning a tag with a camera phone doesn't dictate what format the linked-to content must come in. In the Pirata Boat Race users scan a QR code with their iPhones to select a racing boat and transform their phones into oars. Up to 10 people can play at a time, gathering around a computer screen and navigating their ships forward using the phones' accelerometers.

Although not part of a branded campaign, the Pirata Boat Race combines multiple technologies into a novel experience that can be enjoyed alone or as a group. Some brands and products lend themselves nicely to integrations with tags. Creatives have suggested Ikea might benefit from including actionable tags on the boxes of especially complex furniture. A scan of the code could lead the would-be builder to instructions or an online video for putting the item together.

A tag itself is just one component in an interactive campaign, filling a role similar to a URL in traditional online advertising. Among the various mobile tag types, there is room to play with colors and styles, leading to screen-printed tags on t-shirts and giant tags on the sides of buses. The proprietary Microsoft Tag incorporates multiple colors for an eye-catching design.

PSFK, in its Future of Mobile Tagging report, suggest that tags can be used in a variety of scenarios. Awareness tags, like many of those slapped to street posts during SXSW, build brand perception and capture the attention of people on the move. Information gathering through mobile tags can give consumers quick access to hidden information about products or services, such as ingredients, reviews or history.

Mobile tags can also directly facilitate purchases of physical and digital goods, such as movie tickets, vending machine snacks or music downloads. They are also already in wide use for loyalty points programs and simple giveaways. After a purchase, tags on products can lead consumers to "like" the item on Facebook, share the product with friends or leave a review directly on the merchant's website.

As with any other strategy, conversion is important; you have to give people a reason to scan a mobile tag, and you should measure the effectiveness of the campaign. Tags with a more prominent and central location within a magazine or poster ad tend to get more scans, with a response rate of around 5%-15% for QR codes in magazines offering things like promotional contests and product giveaways, said panelists at a PSFK salon on the topic. Those that think mobile tags only appeal to a tech-savvy niche would be wrong. While audience and demographics matter, the people that scan may not be the people you expect. For instance, tags placed within magazines like Real Simple received more scans than tags within Wired.

The salon also featured creative ideas from various agencies on how nonprofit Unicef could leverage Microsoft Tag technology to increase awareness and fundraising donations. With ideas that ranged from placement on water coolers to incorporation of tags onto belt buckles or jewelry, the technology is open for play and experimentation.

Erin Jo Richey is a digital analyst and user experience consultant. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/erinjo.
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