Mobile Barcodes, A New Generation of Mobile Marketing

Although not as widely used in the US, mobile-barcode scanning is still gaining traction with mobile advertisers. They’re slowly realizing the potential in allowing customers the ability to scan the barcode that already exists on virtually every consumer product on the market. This, in addition...

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1965 12

Although not as widely used in the US, mobile-barcode scanning is still gaining traction with mobile advertisers. They’re slowly realizing the potential in allowing customers the ability to scan the barcode that already exists on virtually every consumer product on the market. This, in addition to specialized barcodes placed in print advertising presents a huge opportunity.Â

Large, well known brands that produce everyday products that we all use are still spending millions of dollars on advertising, while they neglect the small UPC barcode they already place on all their products. If consumers had the ability to snap a photo of the barcode while standing in the grocery store aisle, it would turn every product that brand sold into a virtual mobile website link. What type of content that consumer receives after scanning the barcode is up to the advertiser, but could include links to WAP sites that engage the user further, product comparisons, health information about a product and so on. The possibilities are endless.Â

Imagine walking into your local grocery store and while walking the aisles and choosing products, you could snap a quick photo of the barcode on that box of cereal your considering and instantly receive a quick coupon and detailed health information. You could even quickly find out if that box of cereal is acceptable to your current diet.  Another example of a useful application would be for traditional print advertisers to incorporate a small barcode into their advertisements, that user’s could quickly snap to save information about a certain event, product, or service, they might otherwise forget quickly. Google has already shown interest in this technology for expanding it’s online advertising business. Â

Most methods currently in use in Japan and in Europe consist of a mobile application that translates the barcode into the appropriate content. Some phones produced even include a separate barcode scanning feature built in. There are plenty of open-source mobile applications that will turn any camera-enabled mobile device into a mobile barcode scanner as well. The application simply takes the photo of the barcode taken with the device’s camera and sends it to a central server to be decoded and then quickly returns the requested content to the device.Â

The problem, with most devices not having the capabilities built in, is how to get consumers to download the simple application needed to read the barcodes. Similar to proximity marketing, advertisers will have to find a way to incorporate their messages into useful, non-obtrusive content the consumer would actually want delivered to their device, instead of finding it as another obtrusive form of mobile marketing. If there could be a good incentive to downloading the application, consumers would be much more apt to adopt the technology. Also, with the use of Android and other open source OS’s and third party mobile applications, barcode scanning could easily come pre-packaged on mobile devices very soon, especially if the company behind the mobile OS (Google) wants users to have the ability pre-packaged for their own marketing efforts.

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  1. oliver

    Hi there

    It is not about a choice between Barcodes or SMS or MMS. With a proper Reader you don’t have to send anything with MMS. >
    that means the service will be free for the user. (exept. online connection costs, while downloading stuff from the mobile Internet of course)

    Or check out this one:
    By scanning the QR-Code, automaticly a SMS will be sended.

    The QR-Code embraces the mobile Internet without any Typing on your keypad.

    Check out or


  2. Giff Gfroerer, i2SMS

    Don’t forget, the readers at the POS (POINT OF SALE) in the United States can not read bar codes off of the screen on mobile devices sent via MMS or other mediums. Different readers in Europe…

  3. justin


    I think you’re right, “normobs” education on how to use barcoding as well as device implementation is the two most important things holding the US back. Since our US mobile eco-system isn’t as advanced as in other countries, it’ll be slow going…

    I think the right place to start is to “turn on” 1d barcodes, therefore people can interact with almost any product around them, and therefore pushing wide-spread usage forward.

    Patric, I think Camclic is on the right track. If companies like Pfizer continue to make their products “interactive” and therefore marketing them as such, people will become interested and start using it more and more.

  4. Amir Rozenberg

    Mobile barcode scanning is one of the more powerful and obvious usability solutions that can change the game for the mobile content industry. Sure, Like any other new application in a new ecosystem, “normobs” education and application preloading is required.
    This is no different from voice recognition solutions (Vlingo etc.), image recognition (like what Vodafone launched) etc.

    Despite the education and distribution challenges, mobile code scanning works, and the ecosystem in fact is blooming in the mobile Mecca, UK.

    In the US, sadly, operators and vendors have been struggling to define an ecosystem and architecture that will benefit all. So on code scanning, like on other things, the US is a bit behind.

  5. Samir

    I think all future mobile phones will have this feature.

    People are also starting to add the 2d barcode links on their sites.

    I joined the fun and also have a 2d barcode link on my site.

    Used one of the free services for generating 2d barcode links:

    I think we will see much more of this in the feature.

  6. Patric

    CAMCLIC NEWS 18th of February 2008

    CAMCLIC is demonstrated on the GS1 Global Forum in Bryssel this week. The demo shows how Pfizer have turned on the 1D standard barcode from GS1 on their pharmaceutical packages and turned the package into a interactive experience for their patients.

    During 2008 Pfizer will extend their interactive functionalities in their pharmaceutical packages with information, tools and services using CAMCLIC.

    YouTube link:
    CamClic blog link:

  7. Giff Gfroerer, i2SMS

    Normobs = normal mobile users…everyday folks, not techies like us.

    ie, walk around and ask people on a bus if they know how to send a picture using MMS?

    And yes, you are absolutely correct. The longer the bar code, the more difficult SMS becomes and the likelihood that they will text in a wrong code. Hence, keep it short depending on the campaign.

  8. Jim Chou

    Yes. The normobs are always a concern. 😉 What does that stand for by the way? Anyway, I think what you use depends on the type of application / campaign and its goals. As you point out there are a lot of advantages to SMS shortcodes. End-user familiarity is one. There is also a well established ecoystem and operator support for it. On the other hand the purpose of a bar code is to provide information. Thus, the more keywords that are required the more the bar code would excel. E.g., price comparison applications where you click a barcode and see how much the product is selling for at various places. Another purpose to keep in mind is teaching people (normobs?) how to use MMS. Obviously this is something that operators care about most so would be more related to operator campaigns.

  9. Giff Gfroerer, i2SMS

    Great on using a camera to take a picture of a barcode and send it off. Most definitely potential in the future!

    But this assumes the majority of normobs know how to use MMS. We have found that currently most in the United States do not.

    Wouldn’t it be just as simple to send a key word in the form of a text message off to a short code and receive back the information?

    Are we not adding in one extra step here for the consumer? I am not saying we are because point, click and send is possibly more simple then texting in a code. But for normobs who don’t know how to point, click and send a MMS we may lose some traffic.

  10. justin


    You’re right, if people didn’t have to have any special software and could simply send a text message to receive their barcode content, it would open up the technology to just about anyone with a cell phone.

  11. streetstylz

    Based off the award winning Lavasphere technology developed in Germany by Gavitec, the NeoReader features NeoMedia’s patented resolution technology combined with Gavitec’s ultra-small footprint and platform independent algorithms. It is able to read and decipher all common non-proprietary 2D codes (Data Matrix, QR, Aztec, Maxi) as well as URL embedded 2D codes and all 1D UPC/EAN/Code 128 open source codes. The NeoReader supports direct and indirect code linking, which guarantees maximum interoperability with already existing platforms like 2D Data Matrix Semacodes, and Japanese QR links. This allows the user to click on a variety of codes with a single application installed on their mobile device.

    The NeoReader ushers in and inaugurates a brand new era of innovative mobile enterprise and optical code reading solutions for the wireless industry. Visit to download the free application, and instantly transform your mobile phone into a universal code reader.

  12. Jim Chou

    Hi Justin,

    The problem of downloading the client for many use cases is addressed if the functionality is provided as a messaging (in this case MMS) application. The user would snap a picture of the bar code send it to a short code and the image processing server side. This mode of operation would fly very well in regions where people are already familiar with using SMS short codes.

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