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Boston Ad Agency Experiments With RFID-enabled Marketing Strategies

In one example, Allen & Gerritsen married RFID, Instagram and tic-tac-toe, as a team-building exercise for its staff and a demo for its clients.
By Claire Swedberg
Nov 27, 2013

At advertising agency Allen & Gerritsen's two East Coast offices, the traditional pencil-and-paper game of tic-tac-toe has been transformed into a virtual, two-city contest using digital displays and featuring images from staff members' Instagram accounts, along with Xs and Os, via RFID readers and tags.

The company has been testing radio frequency identification technology as one strategy to bring new consumer engagement to the world of marketing. But while its goal is RFID-enabled marketing strategies for its clients, the firm's own employees are having fun with it in the meantime. The company's research-and-development unit, A&G Labs, launched two years ago, has been experimenting with RFID and other technology innovations. Last week, the company installed an RFID system enabling players at two of its office (in Boston and Philadelphia) to engage virtually. The game consists of a low-frequency (LF) passive RFID tag attached to each playing piece, as well as RFID readers built into squares on the board that are linked to the Instagram pictures via A&G Labs software. As employees at the agencies play the new game, the company hopes to demonstrate to clients how RFID could bring greater excitement to marketing.

To create the Pic-Tap-Toe game board, A&G Labs mounted an RFID reader beneath each of a tic-tac-toe grid's nine squares.
In the long term, says George Ward, A&G's senior VP of innovation, the company intends to provide solutions that could utilize RFID or other wireless technologies in a variety of ways. For example, they might be used in loyalty cards that could be identified as a customer enters a store, or a particular department within that store, and thereby enable the company to display offers and discounts on a screen relevant to that individual. "Our short term is to get to know the technology," Ward explains, while the long-term goal is to develop solutions that clients can adopt to further engage customers.

The main purpose of the RFID game, known as Pic-Tap-Toe, was to bring the two offices closer together. Allen & Gerritsen acquired Neiman, located in Philadelphia, in June 2013, and researchers at the R&D lab developed the game to help staff members at the offices to meet each other digitally. Ward says he has been through acquisitions before, and knows that they proceed more smoothly when personnel have a chance to interact—even if they are in remote locations.

The finished Pic-Tap-Toe game board, along with two game tiles, each with a button-shaped LF RFID tag attached to its underside.
As it happened, Ward says, each office had its own wall of nine digital screens, in a common area used for displaying promotional information for clients, such as looping videos of the company's solutions. With RFID, the researchers envisioned, those screens could help employees from the two separate offices to interact, just as retailers and other clients could engage with consumers via in-store digital displays.

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