Microsoft Tag Gives Consumers a New Way to Gain Information, Take Action from Mobile Phones

REDMOND, Wash. – Sept. 17, 2009 – The 2010 Ford Taurus’s advanced features range from radar-based cruise control to EcoBoost green-friendly acceleration to a Blind Spot Information System. In all, the Taurus has 10 class-exclusive, consumer-oriented technologies.

This presented Steve Ling, Car Marketing Manager for Ford, with an unusual challenge: How do you explain these complex features without giving consumers information overload?

Companies can use these colorful, two-dimensional Tags to turn cell phones into “sell” phones that assist in the promotion and sale of products. By transforming traditional marketing media into live links, they can provide detailed information, promotional offers, and entertainment online.

The solution: Microsoft Tag, Microsoft’s new “bar code-on-steroids” that unlocks a whole new way to give consumers useful, relevant information. It provides animated tours of the Taurus’ slick technologies on a mobile phone wherever and whenever consumers want to see them—all by just hovering their phones over a colorful symbol provided on marketing brochures, ads, catalogs, or in-store displays.

Ford is not alone. Companies ranging from publishers, retailers, hotels, restaurants, consumer goods manufacturers, and entertainment companies, such as Best Buy, Procter & Gamble, and LionsGate Entertainment—even Kobe Bryant—have signed up to use Microsoft Tags since the technology was unofficially introduced in January.

Kevin Kerr, Industry Technology Strategist at Microsoft, says Microsoft Tag has the potential to build closer ties between consumers and advertisers. Tag also can help turn consumer interest into consumer action, and it can help identify which parts of an advertising campaign are generating income and which are not.

The power of Microsoft Tag

A Microsoft Tag is a new type of bar code, optimized for reading on mobile phones, with symbols that can form trillions of combinations. And that’s what gives Tag its power. When a consumer downloads the Microsoft Tag application and then snaps a picture of a Tag, the application performs an action, such as opening a Web browser and taking the consumer to a URL or dialing a phone number. Consumers can receive multimedia information, discount coupons, purchase options—virtually any consumer marketing or sales activity. Consumers can also make their own Tags, linking them to their Facebook pages or simply sharing their contact information in a new and fun way.

The Tags can be small enough— as small as the size of a dime—to be used nearly anywhere in an ad or other marketing material. And because their colorful appearance can include a company logo, Tags can fit into posters, billboards, brochures, display ads, point-of-purchase displays, catalogs, and more.

Microsoft Tag connects Ford customers to video animation content, showcasing many of the innovations featured on the 2010 Ford Taurus including its new EcoBoost technology, featured here.

Embedded bar codes that provide a consumer with more information aren’t entirely new. But the high-capacity bar codes created by Microsoft Research feature several innovations. Microsoft Tags are the first to use color to make the Tags both more efficient and more attractive. They can include logos, photos, branding, or other marketing content directly in the Tag. They work with the relatively limited, fixed-focus cameras on many mobile phones, so the snaps of them can be blurry or at an angle—expert photography isn’t required. Lastly, Microsoft makes the process of creating and using Tags easy for companies and consumers alike.

To deploy Tags, marketers need only fill out a form on the Microsoft Web site, including the URLs or phone numbers they want their Tags to contact. Microsoft automation produces the Tag in a form that can be inserted into promotional materials. Tags can be in color or black and white, to accommodate a broad range of marketing uses. Consumers simply go to to download the Tag application, and then they’re ready to snap away.

A new way to market

In the case of the Ford Taurus launch, Microsoft Tags direct users to videos less than a minute long that demonstrate the power and operation of features such as EcoBoost, which uses direct-injection technology for up to 20 percent better fuel economy, 15 percent fewer CO2 emissions, and superior driving performance versus larger-displacement engines; Collision Warning with Brake Support, which uses radar technology to monitor traffic ahead and alerts the driver with a visual “heads-up” display on the windshield and an audible warning tone that mutes the audio system; and Blind Spot Information System (BLIS), which warns drivers of vehicles approaching their “blind zone” by illuminating an indicator located in the exterior mirrors. BLIS works in conjunction with Cross Traffic Alert, which warns the driver of approaching vehicles when the car is in reverse.

Marketers, including those at Ford, see Microsoft Tags as helping them to reach key audiences in ways not possible before. “The target customers for this car are ‘substance seekers’ who want as much information as possible—and this technology gives it to them the way they want it: on their own terms,” says Ford’s Ling. “This is an absolute breakthrough in the technology of marketing a car, and helps us in our mission to completely reposition the Taurus as the most technologically advanced vehicle not only at the price—but at twice the price.”

In the past, Ling says, Ford might have devised a traditional launch that included print ads with a lot of information on the car’s new technology. “But it wouldn’t be interesting or customer-driven—customers wouldn’t be able to focus on the additional information they wanted, when they wanted it. Now, they can.”

“We’re also impressed by how the consumer interacts with the Microsoft Tag technology,” says Lew Echlin, Car Communications Manager for Ford. “The download is quick; there’s no need to reboot—it’s a low-impact app. And it’s visually exciting. When the consumer snaps a Tag, the phone literally traces the outline of the Tag and turns green when it identifies it—it’s like an F-16 locking in on a target before firing.”

Analytical capabilities built into the Microsoft Tag system mean that, as Ford’s use continues, it will be able to generate information not only about which of its videos are viewed the most, but also which marketing media—such as in-store posters or newspaper display ads—are the most popular points of origin. This will help Ford to refine its advertising budget for maximum effectiveness.

Meantime, other major companies are using or plan to use Microsoft Tag technology:

  • The Amsterdam transit system puts Tags at bus stops. Riders snap the Tags to get up-to-date bus schedule information.

  • The Hardee’s restaurant chain used Tags to distribute food coupons that offer free fries and soft drinks with a purchase of the company’s “Thickburgers.”

  • LionsGate Entertainment used Tags to promote its current release, “The Gamer.” The company has distributed tattoos incorporating Tags that people can wear. When the Tags are snapped, the consumer is taken to more information about the movie.

  • Procter & Gamble in June launched a “Snap and Get Rid of Dandruff” campaign in Turkey, in which consumers could snap Tags on the company’s Web site to win prizes and to be taken to Web sites for more information on hair care.

  • Kobe Bryant uses Tags to connect with his audiences in new ways and to promote his upcoming 2K10 game-off with Carmelo Anthony.

  • Practicing what it preaches, Microsoft is itself using the technology to promote sales of its video game Halo Wars™ for the Xbox® video game system. Snapping the Tag takes consumers to the site, where they can order the game. Microsoft Tags will also appear in most of the 10 Xbox titles the company plans to release this fall.

Says Aaron Getz, Product Unit Manager at Microsoft, “Microsoft Tag technology is important because the consumer’s life is more mobile today than ever before, and this technology extends the traditional marketing relationship to the mobile environment. It lets people interact with the world around them and take advantage of their existing mobile phones in a new way.”

“We’re seeing companies making highly innovative use of the technology today—and we’re only at the dawn of this technology,” says Kerr.

Ford’s Echlin agrees: “We’re using the most technologically advanced marketing tool to promote the most technologically advanced Ford available. It’s a match made in advertising heaven.”

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