February 24, 2011, 2:56 PM

O’Brien plays Tag with 2-D bar codes

The water sports brand is using the codes to lead in-store shoppers to web content.

Lead Photo

Once her smartphone is equipped with the free Microsoft Tag reader app, a shopper can hold her device over the 2-D bar code, dubbed Tag, which will link her to a video of an O'Brien water sports product in action.

Pete Surrette had been browsing magazines and increasingly coming across little colored squares in advertisements. The squares were 2-D bar codes, which come in various flavors. This particular flavor, the only one that comes in color, was from Microsoft Corp. and called Tag. Surrette noticed, for example, that on some ads for movies in Entertainment Weekly magazine, a reader could hold her smartphone camera over the Tag code—after downloading Microsoft’s Tag reader app from one of the various smartphone app stores—and the smartphone screen suddenly starts showing the trailer for the movie.

Surrette, vice president of sales and marketing at consumer brand manufacturer O’Brien, got to thinking that 2-D bar codes could be used with equal force in selling his company’s water sports products. Instead of a movie trailer, a Tag on the box of a Screamer tube can lead a smartphone user to a video of the tube in action behind a boat, with tips on how to use and care for the product. And that’s just what he did.

Today Tags are featured on the boxes of various products on display in retail stores. The area around the tag features an image of a smartphone and text telling the consumer where to download the Tag reader app if they don’t already have it. Through his secure account on the Tag web site, Surrette has already seen an array of scans across the country. Tag analytics show him specific geographic “hotspots,” places where Tags are being scanned most frequently. Then he can figure out which store in the area is ground zero.

“Tags are a very potent ‘silent salesman,’” Surrette says. “We’ll be launching programs soon with Dick’s Sporting Goods where they feature our Super Screamer on their end-cap displays. We’re incorporating Tags on the header cards in the displays and on all of the product boxes. They’re great sales tools.”

Everything in the Tag system, from creating an account to generating Tags to watching performance through analytics, is free. Microsoft has said it will monetize Tag in future by charging for more in-depth analytics. Surrette picked Microsoft’s Tag over other two-dimensional bar codes, such as Quick Response, or QR, codes, because he believes in five years Tags will be the de facto 2-D bar code standard.

“I liken it to the days of VHS and Beta, or CDs and albums—when things shake out, Microsoft will rise to the top,” Surrette contends. He says because a merchant can customize the look of a Tag and because Tags are in color, they stand out better than other 2-D codes when displayed. Further, because he sees big names like Ford and USA Today getting behind Tag, he believes the momentum is with Microsoft.

“Once more companies and industries get a hold of this technology,” Surrette says, “they’ll see there’s a wealth of information you can deliver with these codes. These codes have more potential than the common universal product code labels.”

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