Manufacturers To Market To You Via Messages Hidden In UPCs

Stickybits is a social network that combines your phone’s camera, a web connection, and UPCs to leave virtual notes and images scattered all around you like invisible sticky notes. The important question, as always, is can it be used to sell stuff? Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Campbell’s, Frito-Lay, and Ben & Jerry are all planning to find out in social media campaigns this summer, reports Brandweek.

The process is pretty simple: you scan a product UPC using the Stickybits app, and if anyone else–either another user or the company itself–has attached any content to that code, then it’s transmitted to your phone.

As for how it will be used, it varies. Frito-Lay is going to use it to push PR about its involvement with local farmers. Coke is using it to try to spread a video promotion. Campbell Soup will launch a sweepstakes in July that will incorporate it.

But do you care? I tested Stickybits and found it fun, but perhaps a bit tedious; I don’t really need another way to interact with my groceries right now, it turns out. I did wonder, however, about whether anyone has thought to use it to deface or protest a brand with virtual graffiti–and then I wondered if anyone else would care enough to discover it later.

Perhaps most important, though, Stickybits’ co-founder says they’re going to monitor the streams and remove porn–so no you can’t put boobs on everything.

“Code Read” [Brandweek]


Edit Your Comment

  1. jgarfink says:

    I gotta be honest – when I buy groceries, I don’t often pay attention to the UPC. Mostly I just eat the food.

  2. dbaker0810 says:

    Is it just me, or does this sound like a more modern version of the CueCat?

    • Bativac says:

      That’s the first thing I thought of. And the CueCat went over real well, didn’t it?…

      • jamar0303 says:

        On the other hand, a similar concept has gained almost universal acceptance in Japan. The main difference being that instead of dedicated scanners they used cellphones. And tailored the content to fit.

    • TPA says:

      Same thought I had… ‘though not having a dedicated device might make this usable. Case in point: Google Goggles for their Android phone. Nice to be able to scan an ISBN # for a book and see it come up on Amazon. Esp. for textbooks.

  3. ElleAnn says:

    Seems overly complicated… And really- what percentage of Americans actually have smart phones? The media would make it out to be everyone, but I think it’s under a quarter of all Americans.

  4. Tim says:

    So the messages aren’t actually hidden “in” the UPC. They’re on the web somewhere and scanning the UPC searches for the messages. Right?

    Also, “UPC Code” is redundant, unnecessary and superfluous, since “UPC” stands for “Universal Product Code.”

  5. SkokieGuy says:

    If I don’t want to get advertising messages from my cable TV, I certainly don’t want to get one from my broccoli.

  6. Grabraham says:

    I wonder if it would let me link bras to boobs. That would seem to be appropriate to me! of course I like boobs.

    I really really do like boobs.

  7. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    I have to say my favorite UPC “codes” are those on stylish card decks intended for magic tricks. I have a few decks where under the UPC there’s a reveal of a card, so, all I’d have to do is force them onto a 3 of Spades and do whatever patter I want and then make them look at the box where the numbers under the UPC spell “3 07 5P4D3S”.

    I’d like to see this Cuecat Zombie system be used for neat things like this, too.

  8. Bativac says:

    So am I reading this right? We’re supposed to take our “smart phones” (I don’t have one — I’m using a four year old phone that was outdated when I bought it) to scan bar codes on products to reveal secret messages?

    This sounds like some kind of corporate thinking. “People will love seeing witty messages or outrageous imagery when they scan bar codes!” Nobody asked “why would anybody want to scan the bar code on their bag of Fritos, unless they’re a cashier?”

  9. Murph1908 says:

    Combine this with the rebate system, and I’d be all for it.

    Scan the barcode of the item you just purchased.
    Scan a barcode on the receipt.
    Phone sends your contact info automatically.
    Rebate is sent to you with little hassle.
    If not, the history of your submission is saved on your phone for easy follow-up.

  10. LD says:

    More and more people are using their smart phones to scan UPC codes, as there are apps/widgets that will let you comparison shop with other stores in the area by doing so. This is a natural progression to that. Anything you can imagine doing, they can imagine invading with commercials.

  11. Azzizzi says:

    I’m sure this kind of thing will appeal to a certain group of people, the same people who are always saying, “Check this out,” every time they get a new app. Some of them are neat, like the price-matching feature mentioned above. This one has some potential if they let it mature first with some interesting content rather than jumping straight to marketing.

  12. theblackdog says:

    Awwwwww man, but what if I wanted to get boobs on every UPC I scanned?

  13. Ben says:

    Man, remember the days when you’d get commercials for free with no work involved? It’s so hard now. You need a smart phone, you gotta scan the UPC into this one app, and on and on.

  14. aloria says:

    A conference I recently attended had little bar codes on all our badges. I went around scanning everyone’s badge with my Droid and letting them know what theirs said– mostly Futurama quotes. I personally thought it was sort of cute, but then again I am a major dork.

  15. Jemaine says:

    If one doesn’t have a “smartphone”, will this still work? If so, whoo hoo.