Down The Mobile Anti-Marketing Hole

It started innocently enough. It was a cool June day on the streets of New York where outside of Penn Station some street marketers were passing out samples of Speed Stick antiperspirant. When I got to my hotel room and unpacked the cellophane bag I noticed that the promo included a 2D code I was prompted to snap and send to a short code.

Ok, fair enough. The theme of the campaign is "Different Strokes for Different Folks," to promote three kinds of Speed Stick for a range of sweating types ("what's your pit type?"). And to the marketers' credit the concept of the 2D code is aligned with the brand message. The offer suggests that by using the 2D code I will be able to "make a 2D code that belongs to you and you alone."

Eliding the obvious question of sentient beings (Why the hell do I want my own 2D code?) I decide to play the brainless toady brand marketers often imagine me to be and initiate the process. And while I am playing the doofus, how about if I also pretend that I am not versed in mobile media and marketing, and that a 2D code still looks to me like some silly screw-up of a digital image download.



But, of course, without standardized 2D code readers embedded on phones, using this system in the U.S. is a bothersome kludge. You have to text "SPEED" to 87415 in order for the WAP push to initiate the process. I do so and get the link, which opens my iPhone browser to land on a Speed Stick page. I have a choice between getting a 2D card reader or getting my own 2D code. Choice #1 kicks me to the App Store to download a "BeeTagg" multi-code reader - which, according to App Store users, merits two out of five stars. Speed Stick really hasn't told me much of anything about why I want this poorly reviewed reader or what possible purpose it might have on my deck. In fact at this point I am a few minutes into a process that has yet to inform me sufficiently why I really am here.

Let's pursue the other path down the brand rabbit hole. Back at the Speed Stick mobile landing page I try the other option to get my own 2D code (whatever the hell that is). Now I get asked for my mobile phone number and my email "to register." What Speed Stick will be doing with both email and phone number, I don't know yet. I get an email with a link and a password to enter. You're kidding me. I have to copy or write down a password now and I still don't know what I am doing if for? More to the point, this process has now kicked me around three media and multiple platforms: a print card, SMS, app download, WAP push, mobile Web site, email and finally a Web landing page.

Is anyone keeping count here, because I lost track a while ago of how many things I had to click and places I had to input information to get to a payoff that is still ill-defined.

So I get to the speed Stick Web page. Newcomers without login information get a "What's Your 2D Code" prompt to find out what this is all about. The result is form to fill and a right-hand text description that easily can be mistaken for a useless Terms of Service agreement. For those of us who already went through all the above steps, we get to fill in our name and then get a pop-up with the same three graphs of unadorned explanation for what a 2D bar code is and can do. Finally, after all of that I get the privilege of reading a short story. I know, I sound cranky, but this has been a long brand adventure and I am getting hungry now. And then more forms; selecting a social network to send the code to. After this you can track how your code is being used.

You can tell there is the core of a good campaign in here somewhere. Ultimately the idea is that people are passing their 2D code around and being ranked on-site for how many times they get hit. I am sure the program is still too young for us to assess numbers, but so far the top ten add up to about 60 scans total. I applaud those who were hearty enough to follow through on the whole process and get their own code. I couldn't follow you. I gave up. I had to eat.

Is this campaign just too clever by halves? I am sure that in outline and in pitch sessions it hit all the right buzzwords. The campaign aligns the technology with the brand message. It leverages numerous touchpoints (WAP, SMS, email, Web). It taps into social networks and uses viral distribution. It appeals to its male target's native competitiveness and quest for popularity. If it works and catches on, the campaign harvests a crapload of data.

The problem is, it's a pain in the consumer's ass to execute. This campaign not only turns me off to the brand, it turns me off to 2D codes as well.

I have never been a fan of slapping these things anywhere. I much prefer image recognition technology for this. UPC codes and the like were made for machines, not people. And most UPC codes are confined to packaging, where they can be tucked away out of sight or restricted to a single page of a magazine.

2D codes threaten to go everywhere. And there is nothing aesthetically pleasing or directly communicative about them. They are just a big fat eyesore that engineers and geeks might find energizing. The rest of us just want to peel them off of our otherwise pleasant-looking world. The prospect of a world filled with these things is too unappealing to ponder.

As someone who wrote years ago about the mind-blowing prospects of connecting the physical world to the digital world via the cell phone, I am a big fan of the basic goal here. But well-meaning campaigns like this remind me how far we have to go before the process is smooth enough, and the technology is ready for consumers to consume. We need time to eat.

18 comments about "Down The Mobile Anti-Marketing Hole".
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  1. Dean Collins from Cognation Inc, June 18, 2009 at 11:43 a.m.

    Yep and here you have the crux of the problem with most mobile marketing campaigns...... poor marketing people.

    QR codes will always work better than image recognition Steve but that argument is or another day.

    Lets just get the industry up to speed on how to build better marketing campaigns.... and what not to do, this article is a good start..... anyone want to "out" the creative team who implemented the SpeedStick campaign? (the fact they chose beetagg instead of QR tells me they didn't do their research to begin with).


  2. Cassandra Branson from FK Interactive, June 18, 2009 at 11:53 a.m.

    Steve, ok, ok. You have now fully convinced me that QR tags, which I believe is what you encountered, is NOT the way to go for our mobile campaign initiative.

    QR tags are far from fully functional in daily use, and half the time the apps for mobile devices don't recognize them. What should be coming to market more fully is NCF wireless, which requires much less user interaction, and works more or less via bluetooth-type technology.

    The issue is, we're really only fully going to get access to it once mobile telecom companies and credit/merchant account companies resolve their respective problems with a), tracking details correctly, and b) respecting privacy.

    According to companies like ThinAir, NCF can be built into clothing, packaging (without ugly barcodes), and other things that won't interfere with our consumer experience. It's already working in wayfinding and retail locations around the world.

    For now, at least in the US, however, we are 'tethered' to QR codes and RFID tags as 'stamps' on our theoretical consumer foreheads.

  3. Dennis Mcdonald from McFunk Corp., June 18, 2009 at 12:08 p.m.

    Ha ha, they got you to write a blog post about the experience!

  4. Isidora Forrest from Kai USA Ltd., June 18, 2009 at 12:08 p.m. a consumer, I would hunt them down and make them go through their own process until they begged for mercy. Something the poor consumer clearly did not receive in this wrongheaded muddle.

  5. Steve Smith from Mediapost, June 18, 2009 at 12:28 p.m.

    @dean I am with you that 2D codes are the most efficient way to do this, but there has to be a better way. This is the CueCat all over again.

  6. David Saggio from Lehman Millet, June 18, 2009 at 12:58 p.m.

    I too was completely frustrated by the multiple steps and meandering process of this campaign.

    It's a good illustration of not understanding that speed is a factor in engagement. If you need more than 3 steps to complete the process, you're dead.

    Great article.

  7. Michael Andrews from IT Tech, June 18, 2009 at 2:17 p.m.

    NeoMedia Technologies grandfathered this technology back in the mid 90’s and have been doing mobile code scanning and comparison shopping via barcodes long before any other company in this space.

    NeoMedia on ABC & NBC News circa 2004:

    NeoMedia has a rich patent portfolio that covers scanning barcodes with a camera enabled mobile device to connect to the Internet, comparison shop, and/or retrieve online content.

  8. Steve Smith from Mediapost, June 18, 2009 at 2:57 p.m.

    @ david - and I forgot to include the supreme irony of the campaign - how mismatched the brand is ("speed" stick) with the mechanics of the ad.

  9. Rainer Kruschwitz from mine, June 19, 2009 at 4:20 a.m.

    Steve, great post! But I think you didn't get the real purpose of the campaign: It's supposed to give you the opportunity to test the effectiveness of the Speed Stick through a back-breaking process.

  10. Warren Billington from 5th finger, June 19, 2009 at 4:51 p.m.

    Marketers continue to want to push technology for technology sake without regard for user experience. How many times do I hear a new client say we want an i-phone app without any appreciation of their brand objectives, the profile of their customers and consequently the technology they have at hand. Novelty versus utility. With the above, the same can be achieved by cutting out the majority of steps by using SMS to deliver mobile site content and maximise reach at the same time. Or at least give the consumer the option to do both/either.

    This technology can be effective if its implemented as part of an ongoing communication strategy. If a brand continues to promote QR codes ie in print magazines on a regular basis, then once a consumer has downloaded the reader (albeit in an intial clunky way), subsequent experiences are maximised. Think user experience.

  11. Cal Morton from Fulcrum Mobile, June 19, 2009 at 6:25 p.m.

    And think how far you'd get if you weren't bothered about 'immersing yourself in the Speed Stick brand experience'... that's armpit territory after all.

    To me the article wasn't really about 2D/ QR codes, it was just typical of so many campaigns...insulting that the agency would think I care that much. They fail to ask themselves the simple question, If they weren't getting paid to, would they?

    "And there is nothing aesthetically pleasing or directly communicative about them."

    Exactly! Mobile is about communicating, or should be at least, it is still a phone after all.

    Cheers, Cal

  12. Walter Adamson from NewLeaseG2M & Social Media Academy, June 19, 2009 at 10:07 p.m.

    I agree with Dean Collins, QR codes work beautifully, speedily and extremely functionally by their millions every day in Japan - just go pick up the weekly Yahoo Magazine there for example, or every mornings huge pile of advertising sheets.

    It's the marketing stupid! And the people who do not eat their own dog food.

    Walter Adamson @g2m

  13. Dean Collins from Cognation Inc, June 19, 2009 at 10:08 p.m.

    Hey Steve (re CueCat reference), it's a shame you have this mentality - show me a cue cat that can stream a video, initiate a sms, initiate a web form etc etc.

    Dont throw the baby out with the bath water because Speedstick did it wrong.....

    Happy to sit down with you anytime for an interview to discuss.

    Dean Collins

  14. Anne Gallagher from Catapult Marketing, June 20, 2009 at 12:32 p.m.

    The fundamental flaw with the Speedstick campaign (and others like them) is that they gum up the works with SMS. Basically like waving semaphore flags on boats for twenty minutes before turning on your telegraph machine.

    The beauty of 2Dcodes is that they don't need that back & forth of texting, once you have the reader in your smartphone, that code can take you directly anywhere with no drag of "go here, now go there, now do this..."

    Yes, there is the initial 5 minute slow-down of installing a reader. But more and more phones are going to be released in the U.S. with them pre-installed (like Japan and Europe), and once you've got it in your smartphone, there's no need to ever get bogged down in that SMS spiderweb.

    As others here have noted, the problem here is in the marketing, not the technology. Once more public awareness starts, it will be clear how cool this is, and how many possibilities there are to both pull consumers easily to things they are interested in, and push them time-saving conveniences like couponing, ticketing, etc. This ain't no Cue Cat.

    And there are ways to tweak the design of 2d codes so that they are more pleasing to the eye - the world is not doomed to looking like a giant grocery store.

    I for one won't miss the SMS drag at all. And as far as being bored enough to want to know someone's idea of my "pit type," well, I have no comment.

    Cheers, Anne

  15. Andre Szykier from maps capital management, June 22, 2009 at 6:25 p.m.

    The real question to ask is:

    "what value does this have for me?"

    I read the article twice, probably as long as it took the author to go through the hoops and still can't find the "what".

    QR codes and 3G phones make sense if the code contains useful content. It's just a bar code on steroids.

    It would be an ideal form of personalized electronic coupon used at POS scanners (tracks the offeree and the offer); however, while most laser POS systems can be made capable of capturing the 2D code, the back office systems cannot.

    That's why Catalina Marketing will continue to survive with their generation-old printer approach. And they don't care because they are not a green-company (printing paper strips that are 99.3% never redeemed).

    Someone will figure out how to make 2D barcodes useful in product marketing and pos redemption. I give the tipping point in 4 years, maybe less with the Z-gen crowd.

    Then we can eliminate paper coupon settlements, freeing up hundreds of redundant workers in Mexico

  16. Jamie Wells from Amazon, June 23, 2009 at 3:50 p.m.

    Good post Steve. Couldn't agree with you more on this one... seems like a real force fit of "hot tech"

  17. Hugh Jedwill from Mobile Anthem, June 23, 2009 at 4:16 p.m.

    Great commentary! As a former brand marketer I can tell you that we are typically not thinking about the brand experience. The "experience" is typically something for retail marketing. Those of us who do think that way realize that executing a new technology has its pitfalls - the biggest one is that many times the technology doesn't work.

    I remember being one of the first at P&G to use the interactive projector screens you see in the train stations in Manhatten now. When it worked, it was a huge hit on our experiential mktg tour, but most of the time it was like my dad's Stingray 'vette - in the shop getting repaired.

    A lot of mobile is like that, too. @Scott's point about SMS is extremely valid from a mass marketing standpoint. Sure, as a brand maven, I love MMS/video over simple SMS. But the number of phones capable of receiving it are between 50-66% and even then the simplicity of the experience exists in less than 40% of the phones (aka, most will struggle to make it work like Steve did with Unilever's coupon).

    So mobile couponing...I'm a huge fan. But this story about Speed Stick was a case study in how brand marketers can fail to understand what their consumers experience. Some ABM thought this is a cool thing to do and delegated it to the tech vendor. They just wanted the business and the Unilever case study on their resume that they didn't worry about the details.

    The irony is not just the last of "speed" for Speed Stick. The end result is a poor brand experience for the consumer. But it's also a poor reflection on mobile as the marketers walks away thinking it's not ready for big time brands. We need to work to fix both.

  18. Jim Dugan from PipPops LLC, July 8, 2009 at 5:19 p.m.

    @Sylvie and @Hugh. We've created a unique new patent pending mobile e-coupon system ( that requires no download, is advertiser-supported and free to the users, allows advertisers to create the e-coupon with full color image and barcode, redeemable by the users at the point of purchase; the barcodes can be any type and also include alpha-numerics for the scanless locations.

    Additionally, the advertisers can edit their own ads from their personal dashboard, see views/redemptions, date/time stamped with locations to track the demographics of the registered users -all of this instantly, in real-time. If the advertiser wants to change the ads 10 times or 100 times a day; all instantly!

    As stated, the site is with a sister site which will contain a calendar of events, the coupons selections (we have over 250 categories); all of this available locally, anywhere in the world, and providing a central platform for advertisers choosing to get in front of the consumers using their mobile devices at that last instant before making a final decision as influenced by the deals is a perfect answer for the advertisers and for the consumers on the go an easy to use one location.

    If the e-coupons deals are available at one central mobile location, why go anywhere else?

    If your searching for a place to eat are you going to go to google to find the location or would you use the search capabilities on GripOffs where you can find the location informatiion plus those that are offering the special deals.

    Fact: Consumers are looking for the best possible deals.

    Finally, two things: One, the businesses that advertertise know exactly EVERY coupon that is redeemed and the instant reaction to the posting using the analytics for the system and second, we are a green company (that's why The Grip is our mascot as he's the poster frog for the Rainforest) - we know paperless is best!

    All of the local deals at one mobile location redeemable at the point of purchase for instant savings is similar to an entertainment type book on your mobile device that you never have to buy to use and remember to take with you.

    Users go to the site at their choice. They're not bmobarded with the 10 click approach to go through all of the hoops just to redeem a new product costing $3.

    GripOffs is more about Two for Ones!

    GripOffs is all about preference.

    Instant - Green - Free - Deals - Slam Dunk!

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