RFID Can Be Fun!

rfidTalk to any Wal-Mart vendor about RFID tags, and his eyes will start to dart around the room, his feet will shuffle, and he’ll say “uh” a lot. He’s either nervous about how to meet Wal-Mart’s upcoming RFID requirements, or he’s pretended it will go away and you’ve just reminded him that it won’t. For some people, however, RFID tags are fun.

Today’s New York Times published an article about billboards that give Mini Cooper owners personalized messages as they drive by. The enabling mechanism for these messages is an RFID tag in the driver’s key fob. From the article:

The boards, which usually carry typical advertising, are programmed to identify approaching Mini drivers through a coded signal from a radio chip embedded in their key fob. The messages are personal, based on questionnaires that owners filled out: ‘Mary, moving at the speed of justice,’ if Mary is a lawyer, or ‘Mike, the special of the day is speed,’ if Mike is a chef.

Of course, this raises privacy concerns, but,

‘There’s no piece of this that’s invasive,’ said Trudy Hardy, manager of Mini’s marketing department. ‘It’s a completely voluntary program, and there is zero confidential information in the fob.’

This is a fun use of RFID technology and it gets us closer to the day when we all do the “Minority Report Walk” for real (remember Tom Cruise walking down the street as signs called to him by name and projected his image?). Even more fun are billboards that display your own message when you drive by (in your Mini, of course). This inventive bit of loyalty building was covered earlier by engadget:

Users can select a custom message to be encoded on their RFID chip, and when they cruise near an overhanging MINI billboard, their particular message lights up for the world (or at least nearby motorists) to see.

Every fun use of RFID technology that gets consumers to willingly carry a little homing beacon around, makes it that much easier when the time comes to convince them that it’s really in their best interest to beam their presence around a store so they can receive special offers tailored just for them, and so signs can present ads for their favorite retailer that just opened a new store around the corner. There will always be privacy concerns, but that’s why innovation is so important. Nobody will carry a RFID tag around just because you want them to, they’ll carry one around when it helps them get something they want.

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