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IDEA #21 –

The Problem: What about all the commercials and advertisements you see — maybe you’re looking for a new car and see a billboard for the new Nissan 350z — and you’d like to check that out further online, but you’re in your car now. Or you’re watching a TV show and see a commercial for a new video game you’d like to check-out later. Or you’re reading the newspaper and see an ad for a new laundry detergent offering a $1 off coupon at their website.

But you’re likely not going to drop everything to hop on your computer — you’re likely going to forget about these things.You’ll likely have to see those ads several times (industry studies show 8 times), before you’ll really remember. However, there is potential to capture your attention the first time — in those few seconds. I call these, impulse interactions.

The Idea: Wouldn’t it be great if there was a unique code for each of those ads? I could simply send the code as a text message, or call a phone number and input the code. That’s it, done. The code gets tied to my account and next time I’m at my computer, I could login to my account to view all the ads/offers I had “bookmarked” offline. I’d see a link to the website for the Nissan 350z — and a link to that $1 off coupon for laundry detergent, etc.

The Competition: Well, this idea is being done already — but still hasn’t taken off. There’s Aboutcodes (was using codes inputted in voice calls; they are not operating currently). Then there’s a company called QTags that are using a 5-digit SMS USShortcode (which can get expensive — $1000/mo rental for the number, then typically $2500 minimums with the SMS gateway provider, and then another 3-5 cents per incoming/outgoing text message).

I still don’t know the number of phones that can send/receive emails as standard text messages — but I think the majority of phones can, it’s just that users don’t realize it. For example, if you have a Verizon Wireless phone — someone could send a 160-character email to your phone, which you’d receive as a normal text message. The format for a phone number of (555) 321-1234 would be ‘’. Other carriers have similar functionality and formatting.

Launch this: I think someone should launch this with the free email texting service — yes, the user still pays any text messaging fees they have to, but you as a company won’t. At first, I’d offer the reminders functionality — people could send themselves reminders easily. In future, hopefully you could get some large advertisers to include codes in their billboards, commercials, ads, and it’d really take-off.

Great value to all involved: It’s a great thing for an advertiser — you’re connecting people from an offline ad, to online to view further information. And the advertiser doesn’t have to show prospects their ad 8x before the person remembers it — they show it once.

You wouldn’t want to share your users’ information with advertisers though — only aggregated demographic data I’d share; you want your users’ trust. You won’t have trust by selling them to advertisers. Just enable users to remember things they want more info on — and enable advertisers a way to let them remember their offering (and view more info online later).

Also, QTags charges advertisers — they have to. But if you did this free method, advertisers could freely create and use codes — you’d want them to. Then you’d likely have some competitive advertising on the website — or these advertisers would pay to block-out competitors from ever being seen on the website next to their ‘bookmark’.

[Thus what I’m saying is — if a user ‘bookmarked’ offline the ‘Nissan 350z’, then Mazda could offer their ‘Mazda RX-8’ next to any bookmarks for ‘Nissan 350z’, or Nissan could pay us a fee for each bookmark of Nissan, so that we didn’t show the user any competitive ads].

I have tons more of the process and value proposition to advertisers over at my Aboutcodes website.

FYI — I created Aboutcodes, which at the time I had no clue QTags existed. It wasn’t until I showed up at the Digital Marketing Expo in NYC in April 2005 when I saw their booth there, that I realized we were doing the same thing. The only difference was, I had built the entire thing in VXML — so you’d call up the toll-free number I had, it would recognize your phone number, and you’d input your code (codes were all numbers or you could have text — but used the numbers on the phone keypad corresponding to the text).

I shut-down the service due to lack of capital. I figured everyone has a phone, so everyone could type a code into a phone — whereas some older people still have no clue how to send a text message. This is still the case 2 years later, but I needed a big ad agency — or some big companies to support the business by using my codes in their ads, commercials, billboards, etc. I didn’t have the means to get those big fish. I still don’t.

There’d also be the investment in teaching the world what Aboutcodes are — but maybe something like this could eventually take-off and get word-of-mouth “understanding” (of how it works). I have tons of monetization ideas for this. I mean, imagine the convergence of the offline world, online. Amazing powers.
I still love the idea.

Methods of Remembering: If you need or want to remember something, what do you do? (Seriously, I’m curious — post a comment about your method).

There are different types of methods I remind myself with — and at different times. Currently, if there’s a website I want to remember to check-out later (because I don’t have the time at that moment), I am using a tag called ‘L8R’ (“later” in geek-speak) in my bookmarks.

If I have an idea, but I’m in my car or in bed — I call myself, go into voicemail, record a message, and it’s sent as a ‘.wav’ file to my email. Next time I’m at the computer, I listen, and jot a note of it and send as an email to myself — and tag the email with a label I setup in my Gmail account called ‘Ideas’.

Sometimes I’ll send myself an email as a text message from my cell phone — particularly if I’m somewhere where I can’t talk (it’s loud or I’d be rude), or it’s just a quick note that I can text.

  • James D Kirk

    I’m a big “re-user” type of person. I figure, if I can get a second or third use from something, be it used as it was originally intended, or something specific to how I operate, all the better for all involved (namely, me!)

    So, when it comes to “idea capturing”, if you will, at my desk/home office, I save all of the envelopes that get mailed to me every day. Well, only the ones that are pretty much blank on the back. After I get a stack of them, I simply staple along the top, and I have a note pad that I am able to jot stuff down on.

    Yes, I could just simply use a “real” note pad, but there is something about the process of re-using the envelopes that makes the process of capturing the ideas that much more valuable in my mind, anyways.

    Away from the comforts of the desk/computer, I really don’t have much of a “system” that is very reliable. Perhaps that’s better stated as a system that I use with any real consistency. I do like the idea of the concept, and actually started developing a similar “philosophy” a few years ago, but it just didn’t excite me enough to continue pursuing. This, however, because it advances my thoughts, seems a bit more viable.

    I could be wrong, but…

  • Greg Harris


    Another great idea! As a mobile marketing company, we are trying to educate the advertisers on the value of adding a keyword to their print ads for exactly this reason.

    If you’re reading a magazine at a doctor’s office, you should be able to easily send a text message to get a link to the mobile site, or a coupon.

    I think it’s just a matter of time before it becomes more popular. We are being approached more and more by newspapers and magazines interested in offering it to their advertisers. The issue now is that the advertiser needs to know this technology exists, and how it can benefit them.

    Keep up the list! I’ve already seen a few of my ideas here that I never got to developing.

  • rulepark

    We dun remember the advertisement, but now we need to remember the code. I dunno if this idea could work. When remember an advertisement, I usually got intrigued by the uniqueness the way it present.

  • Eric Nagel


    Since I worked with you on AboutCodes, I’ll reiterate my question from then: which comes first, the chicken (the users) or the egg (the advertisers)?

    Think of a parallel medium: television. There are users (viewers) and there are advertisers. “The first television advertisement was broadcast in the United States at 14:29 on July 1, 1941, when the Bulova Watch Company paid $9 to New York City NBC affiliate WNBT (now WNBC) for a 20-second spot aired before a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and Philadelphia Phillies.” ( The station, however, was founded in 1928. They had to wait until they had enough viewers before they could approach advertisers. (We move quicker today… don’t wait 13 years before you get advertisers involved!)

    Now you’re recommending free advertising, which is a great idea… just slap some AdSense on those pages, and you’ll instantly get competitive, yet complimentary, ads on the pages. Advertisers can pay to have the AdSense ads removed.

    I still think you need to offer something else… some unique content, or a unique way to deliver content, so users start using this before they use it to remember ads.

    I guess think about where peer pressure rules and break into that market: teens, college students. I don’t know where to take it from there, but I think you need the userbase, first, then work on advertisers getting involved.

  • Zach Leatherman

    There is a service that will transcribe audio into text for you.

    Also, there is something called semacode which is (in my opinion) an easier implementation where you use the digital camera in your phone to take a picture of a barcode like object that represents an online URL.

  • az1324

    Remember the cuecat? That company also had another product which was an audio mark in certain TV broadcasts. I don’t remember all the details but essentially you would hook up the audio output of your TV to a PC and the PC would decode the audio mark and display the intended content.

  • esnagel

    az… CueCat’s were great… free and you could hack them to do other things.

    Vista has a problem on its hands, with the computer listening to what you’re doing or what’s going on in the room around you:

    “Microsoft has admitted that speech recognition features in Vista could be hijacked so that a PC tells itself to delete files or folders.”

    “Based on the initial investigation, Microsoft recommends customers take the following action to protect themselves from potential exploitation of the reported vulnerability:

    * A user can turn off their computer speakers and/or microphone.”

    Great solution – just turn it off.

    “Doctor, it hurts when I do this”
    “Then don’t do that”

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  • Reminders

    Great idea! I’d like to try incorporating into my site I like it!!

  • Steve Poland

    Stickybits was another startup in this space.