Now it’s become a stage for experimentation with the latest advertising technologies.

Ad technologies these days revolve around brands making the jump from intrusion to permission by being invited onto your most personal of computers, your smartphone. The barrier here is your own laziness: how do marketers get you to “pick up their flyer”?

The SoLoMo podcast‘s Cory O’Brien tipped me off to the crazy things Shazam had planned for the big game.

Almost half of the Super Bowl TV advertisers will be Shazam-enabled with several Fortune 100 brands choosing Shazam to add interactivity to their ads or sponsor key game elements. When people use Shazam to tag ads from the following brands, they will unlock exciting offers and content.

How is interactivity being “added” by the Shazam app? The process is called “audio tagging” and it’s extremely similar to QR code functionality, but it uses aural cues—sounds your phone can hear—instead of a physical barcode your phone can read visually.

Mindblowing enough, but to my mind Shazam’s audio tags still present the same challenges QR codes: they need the user to

  • download and activate software
  • understand what to do & when to do it (requiring visual cues, explanations, etc)
  • platform restrictions (operating system, phone quality, signal clarity & other compatibility issues)

If QR codes had’ve caught on with anyone but marketers, mobile tagging may have settled down to a commonplace activity, like it was in Japan in the last decade.

Instead, innovation is pushing past the phone’s eyes and taking advantage of its ears.

The burgeoning audi tag space—potentially a huge component in social tv—isn’t owned by Shazam. An app called SonicNotify can generate machine-audible tones to deliver second-screen content at concerts, in stores and anywhere your phone might be.

SonicNotify works both with software—your iPhone can be the sound-generator at an event—or with physical beacons that make noise until their batteries die (think “beacon taped to a light standard guerilla-style”).

The nifty—or terrifying—or annoying—thing about SonicNotify is that you don’t have to launch an app to receive content. As long as the SonicNotify SDK is built into an app that’s running in the background or loaded from a previous run, content comes through.

“Content”, much like with QR codes, means anything your phone can do—dial a number, visit a web page, receive a text message, activate GPS, play a video. There’s a lot of creative potential there, for marketers and probably more nefarious persons.

On the bright side, this technology overcomes the user confusion-apathy-and-laziness issues of QR codes AND the short range, hardware-dependant issues of RFID. The only smoother delivery I can imagine is if the software were integrated directly into the phone’s OS (long a fantasy for QR code readers embedded in phone camera software).

A few creative ideas for audio tags, technology pending:

  • Radio DJs could send listeners to contests or to vote on what song to play next
  • Retail stores could deliver coupons for nearby items
  • Bands could link to the iTunes store during shows so fans can buy their tracks
  • Nonprofits could ask for donations in areas directly affected by the problem they’re solving
  • Restaurants could broadcast specials & happy hour discounts
  • Filmmakers could push trailers and second-screen content like SideShows
  • TV producers could link to episodes to purchase on the iTunes store or webisode content online

There’s a powerful convergence of location and context with audio tag technology that has a ton of potential, if the experience ends up being delivered smoothly. Time will tell if this more frictionless hardlink catches on.

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