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Code Read

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UPCs, those bar codes featured on packaged goods, are turning into an unlikely new media opportunity as Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Kraft, Campbell Soup, Procter & Gamble and others link with mobile technology providers.

Proponents of the technology say it provides a new stream of consumer communication, but critics say it will be of limited interest. At the moment, many major packaged-goods marketers are dipping their toes in the water with low-key pilot programs.

Perhaps the highest profile use of the technology right now is in the Cola Wars. PepsiCo has an early “strategic partnership” with Stickybits, the provider of a free mobile app that uses bar-scanning technology to attach digital content to physical objects, while Coca-Cola is in talks to form a partnership with Stickybits. Currently, Coke is running a program in which a Stickybits-enabled phone can scan a Coke can and see a stream of comments and content from users and from Coke. Such content includes a “Coke Mythology” video that promotes a summer campaign centered around the soft drink’s “secret formula.”

PepsiCo, meanwhile, is using Stickybits for its Pepsi and Frito-Lay products. Consumers who scan UPCs on those items can find out more about Pepsi Refresh Project community funding efforts. If they scan a Lay’s bag of potato chips, for instance, they can learn about the brand’s partnering with local farmers. Bonin Bough, director of social media at PepsiCo, said PepsiCo is assembling a council, headed by digital influencer Gary Vaynerchuk who is also a Stickybits advisor, to help devise adoption plans and broader marketing and promo strategies.

“There is something so potent here, such a huge opportunity in using universal codes that are already out there. Everything we interact with in the physical world can now be part of conversational media,” said Bough. “Someone can scan in the U.S. and someone can scan in Asia and be part of the same conversation.”

Other marketers like Campbell Soup have also signed up as “strategic partners” with Stickybits (Stickybits’ preferred description of the relationship). Campbell's first use of Stickybits is expected to appear July 8 in conjunction with a sweepstakes. The interactive use of the scanning technology will also be linked to the company’s fall campaign for its new soups and redesigned labels. Ben & Jerry’s is also in talks to employ Stickybits, sources said.

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