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The next time you’re in the supermarket checkout lane, pay closer attention to that mysterious wand the grocer waves over your cereal boxes and milk cartons. Soon the technology of the barcode will break free of its mundane role in the grocery store to become the next powerful tool in interactive advertising.
Colorzip, a company based in Japan, is in the final stages of developing its Colorcodes, which are colorful barcodes placed on posters, television screens, and even t-shirts that deliver songs, videos, or website links instantly through the snap of your cell phone camera. The widely differing patterns and colors are contained in boxes that can be as small as traditional UPC barcodes, and work in much the same way. As soon as you take a picture of a Colorcode, the image is sent to a server and uniquely identified within a master index. The server then sends content back to your phone for you to enjoy.
The implications for such a technology are endless, and it won’t be long before advertisers begin to seek the full potential of barcode branding. Imagine handing someone a business card with a theme song embedded in it, displaying a movie poster with a direct link to its trailer, or creating a direct portal between a television commercial and its interactive website. Mobile phones with cameras and internet access have become a standard accessory, and Colorcodes are getting ready to put them to work like never before.
Colorzip’s website posits that they are “painting an entirely new interactive landscape.” If and when their barcodes catch on in the global market, this statement could be all too true. Their runaway potential may start to impose its own limits. If a TV spot offers its viewers an interactive game through a Colorcode link, the audience might become so saturated in the game that they lose interest in the program they were watching in the first place. A Colorcode patch on the side of a building might give passersby an instant download of the hottest new R&B singles, but a serious traffic accident may result from people wandering around the street with their phones pointed in the air.
My suggestion for advertisers with the hope of a Colorcoded marketing campaign is to start simple. Barcodes are an exciting emerging platform that can take consumers out of their computer-screen and TV-screen stupor and interact with products in the real world. Yet, any content that involves taking a picture and linking to the Internet with a mobile phone is already way too complicated. Eventually, if barcodes prove successful, the hardware technology involved will catch up and make the concept much simpler—maybe even removing the use of phones altogether.