How can you shop at a mall without going into a store? The answer: with your cell phone camera.
You point your phone at a display billboard and it will scan a bar code that's on the ad. Then it connects you to a Web site where you can place an order for the product on the billboard and pay with your credit card number. You don't get to carry the stuff back to your car, though; it's delivered by post to your home.
L.A.-based UpCode USA has launched this technology in conjunction with CBS Outdoor. The partnership's first ad campaign is for the DVD movie "All In." CBS has put ads for the movie on mall signs where consumers can scan the bar code and instantly view the film's trailer on their phone, or enter a contest to win a DVD of the movie. There are signs up now in the Los Angeles area, including at the Hollywood & Highland Center, South Bay Galleria in Redondo Beach and Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.
"This program will show advertisers and media companies a new way of communicating with prospects and how to add value to their existing marketing," said Jerald Cavitt, chief executive of UpCode USA, the stateside subsidiary of Finland-based UpCode.
The company uses the technology more widely in Europe, where consumers can pay some bills and even add credit to their parking meters with their UpCode cell phone programs. The film promotion is the company's nationwide "beta" test for the technology in the United States.
The UpCode system also gives advertisers information about who responds to their ads, because telecom companies have databases on cell phone numbers and registered device owners.
"It turns a poster into a marketing survey," said Brandi Milloy, vice president of business development at UpCode USA.
For consumers, security looms as an issue for mobile e-commerce.
"There really should be grave concerns about making purchases without security," said Dan Hoffman, chief technology officer at SMobile Systems in Chicago and author of the book "Blackjacking: Security Threats to BlackBerry Devices, PDAs and Cell Phones in the Enterprise."
Hoffman said that while security software is common on PCs, it's still uncommon on mobile devices.
Because phones vary so widely in their security, UpCode has its own protections. Milloy said the system has five forms of user authentication, including voice recognition, encryption and cell phone chip security.
The technology opens up lots of marketing possibilities since the codes can be read not just from mall signage, but also print publications and TV screens.
The technology has already taken hold in Europe, where mobile phone technology has been adopted faster than in the United States. European moviegoers use UpCode to buy movie tickets off posters in theater lobbies. Local governments use it for payment of utility bills; when residents receive their bill in the mail, they can scan a bar code on the letter.
For travel, consumers can point their phones at a sign in the airport, scan a code and book airline tickets or hotel reservations.
One of the most popular applications in Europe is for parking meter payment. A user scans a bar code on the meter. Later, the person can make extra payments via the cell phone and the message goes to the parking garage attendant or parking police, who then know the person has paid.
"Rather than leaving a meeting to feed coins in the machine, I can recharge the parking meter by phone," Cavitt explained.
UpCode makes money in two ways. When the technology plays a purely promotional role, as in the case of the "All In" DVD, the company gets paid along with CBS Outdoor for marketing the film. Cavitt said he charges advertisers between $1,000 and $50,000, based on the complexity of the campaign.
For mobile e-commerce applications, such as movie tickets, consumers pay UpCode a "convenience fee" for each transaction, starting at $1 and going up, depending on the client company or government entity.
For larger transactions, such as airline tickets, UpCode handles the money the way a credit card company does and takes its cut from the merchant.
Rick Goulding, producer of "All In" and president of Florida-based Goldmill Productions, became fascinated with UpCode after meeting Cavitt at a trade show in Las Vegas. He decided to promote the technology along with his movie, a poker drama starring Louis Gossett Jr.
Goulding hopes the cell phone trailers will inspire people to buy the DVD at Wal-Mart, Blockbuster and other stores.
But besides the mall sign campaign, Goulding has put bar codes in his movie. Every time people watch it, they can scan the bar code and learn whether they have won prizes, which include shirts, karaoke machines and cash.
"It's more than a gimmick, it's part of the film," Goulding said of the UpCode system. "We had the idea that advertiser-based product prizes would entice people to come back to see the movie again and again."
The UpCode system may not reach every target demographic.
"In reality, the youth are the ones who text message all time," Cavitt said.
He's confident the U.S. market will accept the new technology and he is busy signing partners to promote it. Last week, UpCode announced a deal with Illinois-based Goss International Corp., a large commercial printer for newspapers and magazines. Under the program, advertisers in Goss-produced publications can incorporate bar codes in their ads, with UpCode providing the bar code technology and Goss providing a Web site where advertisers, agencies or publishers can track and process the mobile phone responses.
"Print continues to deliver a very strong return on investment," said Toby Clarke, Goss vice president, "and this interactive capability improved by UpCode enhances the value of print."
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