MEDIA FOR THE ONLINE WORLD - The CueCat, a Pur-fectly Fine Internet Technology

I recently received the :CueCat reader in the mail and, like many Internet toys that I run across, I greeted it with both skepticism and curiosity. This reader is a cat-shaped, handheld plug-in device about the size of a computer mouse that scans and reads any product code (i.e., the little black bar UPC symbols that are on virtually every product sold).

The :CueCat reader interacts with supplied software and converts the scanned codes into web addresses that can launch a web browser to the corresponding web page. The basic idea is that—with just a swipe of the reader—it eliminates the need to type in a web address to visit a site and navigate through it to find what you’re looking for.

Once loaded and installed (which had its share of difficulties), I needed a number of practice swipes with the reader to develop the right rhythm to be consistently rewarded with a bing! to indicate a successful scan and a page launch.

My first test was to scan the fifteen or so specially designated :CueCat-labeled ads in Mediaweek magazine (Forbes, Wired, Parade, The Dallas Morning News, Providence Journal, and other print publications also carry :CueCat labeled ads). It was interesting to see where the scans went and how different marketers are integrating this new technology into their sales approaches.

Most of the ads linked to the advertiser’s online media kit, marketing partnership page, or “advertise with us” page. Some ads hooked up to a corporate info page or “learn more about us” page. A couple of ads took me to the company’s homepage. A few ads sent me to a specially created promotion. Lastly, one advertiser utilized this technology to basically duplicate its print ad online.

I also noticed that some advertisers attempted to make the :CueCat label more prominent in the ads while others just stuck them wherever space was available on the print page. I imagine, as this technology becomes more widespread, that the :CueCat label will become more integrated into the actual ad itself or perhaps take a greater direct response/call-to-action approach. As far as the links are concerned, endless possibilities exist. Some advertisers will synergistically tie the web page that was called up back into the print ad that was scanned, either through a special offer or a targeted site page (e.g., a media kit). Others will simply use this technology as a convenient portal to their website and let users surf the site on their own.

Having mastered scanning the advertising world, I required more UPC symbols to satisfy my scanning hunger. I looked around my computer to find anything with a UPC, EAN or ISBN code. I scanned books, magazines, and CDs. Most scans returned the publisher's or record company's site, nothing for the specific titles. Since that was not interesting, I raided my kitchen for cans of Campbell’s Soup, jars of Gerber baby food, Keebler Crackers, and Skippy Peanut Butter (super crunchy of course).

Aside from having a nice snack, I realized that package good marketers, just as print advertisers, will need to incorporate this technology into their promotional plans as consumers will now have a quick, direct way to use the Internet to connect to their products. More food for thought, I guess.

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