This article first appeared in the September 2011 issue of Marketing magazine.


It’s been nearly seven years since I first started evangelising mobile as a ‘powerful one to one ubiquitous marketing and loyalty channel’. I recall the very first pitch trying to sell MMS messaging for a membership drive and spending most of my time explaining MMS, mobiles, why they’re important and very little time on the execution and objectives.

I had spent hours the day prior trying to find articles on mobile messaging. It was an arduous endeavour scouring the web in search of anything positive and any kind of case study from anywhere in the world. Armed with a few very vague case studies, I stepped out to educate our potential clients.

Today, I am on around 10 mailing lists that deliver me no less than a combined set of over 20 new case studies, not for the month or the week, but that day! There is a plethora of online portals and blogs documenting myriad mobile campaigns all with some new or interesting twist – campaigns using mobile from Tonga through to Kenya and Vienna to Boston. This ‘mobile thing’ seems to have taken off!

Unfortunately, in the last six months or so I’ve been pretty unexcited about what the marketing creative people have come up with to help a brand leverage the mobile. There is nothing new or exciting and, in fact in many cases, there is a misguided reliance on the ‘novelty’ factor, which is far from meaningful when the consumer is so advanced.

The consumer intrigue and mobile ‘gimmick’ approach should definitely be left for the historians to file alongside the early adopter campaigns. I have been so disappointed in the lack of creativity in many mobile executions recently that I wondered if the creative thinking task had been given to my accountant! Sure, mobile has now earned itself a seat at the table for loyalty program management and membership engagement, but, as for creating a buzz and some new ideas, there hasn’t been anything that striking. Until now…

In the last few weeks, I have been lucky enough to be exposed to two mobile initiatives that have resurrected my passion and drive for this medium. Both have made it to the top of my anecdote list and feature heavily in my planning and strategy sessions as examples of what can be achieved with some modern world creative thinking.

The first is in Korea and was the brainchild of advertising agency Cheil Worldwide. In fact, it is so interesting that I believe it has the potential to blend and morph online/offline shopping in a new kind of hybrid model that potentially could see it as a common retail implementation. The second mobilisation of worthy note was a local Australian company that had this holistic vision with mobile being at the core for a theme park immersive experience all tracked and managed via the mobile. What was interesting about this project was the integration of the mobile to physical assets, RFiD (radio frequency identification) tags and registers.

First to Korea: the company was global food giant, Tesco, which for a variety of reasons was being out ‘gunned’ in Korea in the supermarket game and needed something to change. More stores, more advertising, lower prices, more specials, gimmicks and giveaways were just some of the typical retail tools, but none of these were designed to generate revenues as much as divert feet in the door for a short period on the hope of brand migration – tired and glib propositions that some consumers may take advantage of and then revert to their old patterns.

But Tesco and Cheil Worldwide instead created something truly amazing. Cheil printed massive long posters that looked just like the shelves in a normal Tesco (known as Homeplus in Korea) store, complete with all the various products that customers would expect to find in a supermarket. The photos or posters represented a supermarket aisle in every aspect with repeated brand products and very bright lighting.

These long and very bright posters were then mounted on the walls in subway stations to create a virtual supermarket in the subway. It looked like a continuous aisle of products in the general order and mix you would find at the local supermarket. The consumer would then use their mobile to scan the two-dimensional barcode next to the shelf tags and order. At the end of the process, the consumer would pay and the goods would be delivered directly to the consumer’s home. Wow.

There are a few references to the program online, but this more recent site has the best photos.

Would you use this virtual online/offline shopping approach? I know I would. I have attempted to use online supermarkets for a while, but I lose that ability to browse effectively. At the same time, I find the hassles of filling trolleys, unpacking and the whole process just outright frustrating. So imagine being able to walk up to a virtual aisle and snap a two-dimensional code to order and the whole thing is delivered!

Tesco claims to have had over 10,000 people use the virtual supermarket. In fact, I read in one report over 20,000 shopping experiences were registered. But it’s Korea, so without a benchmark of consumer responses on other campaigns, it’s hard to know how good this result really was. But step back for a moment and reflect on the process. It’s morphing traditional in-store shopping habits with online benefits. I personally believe it could revolutionise and revitalise many retail and advertising processes.

With Christmas coming up, imagine being able to wander around a major department store snapping barcodes and ordering products with your mobile and then having them all optionally wrapped and sent to your house a day later. You still get that wonderful retail discovery experience wandering around the store, but don’t have to struggle with long register queues, lugging 10 shopping bags, trying to watch the kids and then mimicking a packhorse and playing ‘Frogger’ in the car park.

As a retailer with expensive sidewalk frontage on a busy street, you can now turn that window front from a visual display into a 24-hour ordering opportunity. Think of those standing waiting for a bus at 7pm in front of a pharmacy. Why not have a virtual aisle of products across the window enabling consumers to scan the codes, order and have them home delivered a day or even two later. Would I pay a premium for delivery? You bet I would. The convenience and especially the lack of queuing at registers would be enough for me!

Take it one step further and it almost closes the loop on those pesky two-dimensional barcodes that only seem to work in Japan. A poster or newspaper advert can now turn into an ordering system with a simple click of the mobile camera. Many have tried campaigns in this vein, but have never quite got the full process. If I were a retailer, department store or even shopping centre, I’d be looking hard at this new model and working rapidly to create a wonderful hybrid blend of mobile, online and offline traditional shopping experiences.

Need to know more? Then drop me an email and I can explain the back end and the application on the phone etc. Yes, there is a bit to the process, but surprisingly it’s not as complex as even I first thought. This one case study has caused me to sit back and reflect more than any other in the last three to four years. As I said, the potential revolutionary nature of the campaign could in fact change retail forever and provide some incredible consumer shopping experiences.

Now, the next example of a mobile implementation that has really impressed me, and this one is local to Australia. Centryc Solutions has been working in mobile for many years. I’ve worked with the company and alongside it on many interesting and varied campaigns. Centryc has continually evolved, as it learns from each new endeavour and it has ended up in the mobile loyalty and membership area.

Without giving too much away at this stage or stealing its thunder before it presents a detailed case study, Centryc has implemented a full circle consumer ‘theme park experience’ campaign using mobile integrated with in-park facilities and social media. The project is with Luna Park in Sydney, where customers enter the park with a wristband as their ticket, which contains an RFiD tag. This tag is entered into a custom-built mobile web page integrated with consumers’ Facebook pages, which then starts tracking their whole experience through the park, including uploading pictures from rides to their Facebook site and messaging for queue position.

The use of mobile at theme parks around the world has been tried in countless incarnations with varying degrees of success. But what Centryc has done is taken the next step and worked with a number of vendors to integrate access control systems, tickets, in-ride cameras and social media. The implementation, when I saw it, seemed so simple for the consumer and yet was so carefully crafted and engineered at the back end that I got excited.

I want to step back from the specifics of Luna Park and Centryc, which I am sure you’ll start reading about in more detail soon, and instead look at the high level idea and make-up of the project. It has for me some very interesting features, which I think many campaigns seem to forget. It seems obvious, but any kind of call to action for the consumer should contain some benefit to that consumer for participating. As ridiculous as it sounds, so many campaigns are still relying on a ‘consumer intrigue’ factor with mobile to get the consumer to engage. Plain stupid, if you ask me!

So let’s quickly look at what ‘could’ be done in a theme park environment. Customers buy tickets weeks or days prior and are invited to register the ticket numbers or some identification on a website. It links to their Facebook profile or Twitter account. Then the fun starts. Suddenly you can engage with the consumer pre attendance. Remind them in messages to bring hats and other items. Send them a weather forecast a day prior with appropriate umbrella or sun block reminders. Enable them to plan their ride adventures and even book time slots to save queuing.

On the day of attendance, the ticket contains an RFiD tag or consumers are given wristbands with tags to help track their experience. The instance they enter, their Facebook status is updated or a tweet is sent. Immediately, the consumer is messaged to review their plan or to create one and via the mobile website is able to book ride times and review how long the queue is at any specific experience.

Now for the really fun part. After each ride, a photo is snapped of their horrified face, and uploaded to their Facebook page as a new photo album, which is progressively expanded as they wander through the park and the RFiD tag triggers remote cameras, ride cameras and other classic photo moments.

At the back end, the system is monitoring their experience and texting them to invite them to take a break at a particular café, which may be less crowded than another. It may MMS them a specific photo, which they can immediately forward to friends. In fact, the wristband could even act as their currency through their park experience, avoiding the need to carry cash.

At the end of the day, the system then sends a ‘thank you message’ and a ‘park thrill rating’ based on how many rides they went on, which ones and the frequency of rides. If they found themselves a little under the weather and only did a single ride, the park may even reflect some sympathy and text a 50 percent voucher for another visit where they can immerse themself fully.

But that’s not where it ends. The theme park now has the ability to follow up post-visit and engage one last time to ensure customers enjoyed the day. And in the process has them updating Facebook with the park branding, recommending you to their friends’ list and maybe even ordering a few full-sized prints of their favourite photos.

By far, this is an adoption of mobile that really is delivering consumer value, while also enabling the theme park to get closer to its customers. Instead of just a bunch of visitors, the theme park now knows a little more about them from their Facebook profiles and has more understanding of their paths and activities within the park. And for the sceptics yelling ‘privacy’ relax! The legislation around spam is tough enough to prevent abuse or even the contemplation of abuse and, if the consumer gets immense benefits, then everyone’s a winner.

Both the theme park visitor program and the virtual shopping project impressed me. They show some very creative thinking and lots of work to implement, but I personally believe they will both change and guide future mobilisation initiatives. Both examples show how mobile must be integrated and blended, and not used in isolation or for some glib, overused, clichéd campaign tactic . Both campaigns delivered real benefits to the consumer and real benefits to the promoter.

Joe Barber
BY Joe Barber ON 4 January 2012
Joe Barber is a 25 year veteran of technology companies with the last five years focussed on mobile and retail. He is currently CEO and founder of with other notable start-ups under his belt being Third Screen Media, Sniip and Planet Internet. Joe has lived and worked in the US, Malaysia and parts of Europe and talks at numerous trade events worldwide.