Here’s a funny story.
So I arrived in San Francisco around 9pm last night (April 14th) and immediately began aimlessly wandering around trying to figure out the best way to get into the city. For anyone who doesn’t know me, sometimes I can look a little… young (over Christmas, I got carded at an R rated movie). Especially when I’m wearing some busted jeans and my “conductor” cap (which was my brother’s, when he was 4).
Anyway, a man approaches me and asks if I’m looking for a cab, saying he’ll charge me less than the taxis for a lift into the city. He just needs to find one other person for the ride. So he asks a tall, well-dressed gentleman, who says sure (as I breath a sigh of relief—the gentleman could TOTALLY take the driver in a fight). Then the driver leads us down all these shady walkways and stairways until we arrive at his car, parked in the airport’s parking lot.
And it’s this crazy-ass tricked out Escalade.
The man and me hop into the SUV and get to talking. His name is Michael Mak and turns out he’s working on an awesome mobile phone coupon project. And he’s presenting at ad:tech. At one of the panels that I’ve been psyched about since I signed up: Tales from the Bleeding Edge.
Just my luck! I told him a little bit about what I do, and then we agreed to meet after we’d checked in to our hotels for dinner and discussion.
So here’s the inside, impromptu, 10:30pm-after-a-long-plane-ride scoop on Michael Mak and his company, bCODE.
Basically, bCODE is an ingenious solution for bringing coupons away from the cut out fraying slips stored in a coffee-stained envelope and straight to your mobile phone. But what’s always been the problem with mobile coupons? The damn barcodes. Either a carrier won’t allow graphics to display on the phone (Verizon), or the screen on the phone doesn’t display the barcode correctly, or you’ve got an old phone with a screen held together by tape and the barcode just won’t scan. Barcodes are only successful about 60-70% of the time, which is really an unacceptable percentage for an emerging technology. Michael learned this the hard way, after spending 4 years and countless dollars trying to get the damn barcodes to prove successful.
BUT THEN, when all seemed lost and Michael was in his office tinkering with his company’s hundreds of old crappy cell phones (alone, at dusk, with a tear in his eye), it came to him. What’s the lowest common denominator when it comes to phones? What will work on any phone, with any carrier? What’s easy to type out if your phone’s screen is too old to scan? Text messages, of course. Short text messages displaying actual numbers and letters. Instead of sending barcodes, bCODE texts a 13 X 3 text message algorithm to your phone. And using bCODE hardware, these text messages are actually scan-able.
And the hardware… um, hello awesome. I’m a creative, and so obviously athletics are important to me. But I had no idea they were important to CEOs as well. Or maybe Michael’s just a special CEO. His scanning screen is slick and sleek and glass and thin – just like we like our technology to be these days. The best part – it displays a pulsing pink light as an indicator and a branding attribute. Oooo, pink! Coupons meet Times Square.
The hurdle, naturally, is getting the bCODE infastructure out there. But Michael Mak’s got plenty of phase two ideas bubbling over that’ll take care of that ☺
Everyone’s trying to get a handle on mobile. Companies want to use it, but they have no idea how or why – they just need it as part of their media mix. The thing about mobile – your phone is always in your pocket, and so has the power to influence you while you’re on the go. And what better influencer than a coupon… not for $1 off toilet paper, but for free drinks all night at the New Orleans Jazz Festival or free décor at IKEA. Let me ask this: If you received an IKEA coupon, while you were waiting in one of their ridiculous lines, and then got to scan said coupon on a pretty glass screen blinking pink, would you use it?
My answer? An emphatic yes.
So the shady Escalade ride actually turned out to be a great turn of events. I got a ride in a souped up… truck, really… and a couple hours alone with the CEO of a company that represents the next generation of mobile marketing.