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Can A “Physical Cookie” Sweeten The Bricks-And-Mortar Shopping Experience?

The Physical Cookie is like web ad tracking in your pocket.

Can A “Physical Cookie” Sweeten The Bricks-And-Mortar Shopping Experience?

Cookies. A lot of people hate them. Brands love them. But while some may not like the idea of having their online lives tracked for marketing purposes, they also don’t feel like getting random adult diaper and chocolate milk ads while they check NBA scores online.

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A program from Finnish property investment company Sponda and agency TBWA/Helsinki aims to bring the particular skills of a web cookie–tracking people to (ostensibly) provide relevant marketing–to the beleaguered shopping mall.

Last fall, they distributed more than 14,000 keychains enabled with RFID technology to people in Helsinki’s biggest shopping malls. Electronic readers around the mall were able to read the Physical Cookie keychains and collect the user data, analyzing it in real-time and using in-store digital screens to show ads and offers based on the data. There was no sign-up or registration needed to join the program, people just had to grab the keychain and go.

While most loyalty programs only recognize you at the cashier, according to Sponda, the Physical Cookie does it as soon as you walk in the door to combine real-time marketing with a loyalty program. The results of TBWA’s test case saw a more than 21% increase in people’s shopping time. In its case study the company noted: “Since we don’t need personal information, name, sex, address, occupation, etc, it is a marketing-as-a-service type of experience . . . Instead of annoying push notifications our shopping environment reacts to the customers behavior, offering more relevant messages and making the retail space smarter.”


The reason they chose a keychain, over a card or Apple’s iBeacon technology, is that both your phone and wallet are already packed with cards and apps, and they found the keychain to be an easier opt-in for people, allowing more targeted interactions than iBeacon. That said, the technology isn’t confined to a keychain, the RFID tech can be put in almost anything.

With the trial done, a company spokesperson says the team is now aiming to launch in the U.S. and around the world. Sponda says it began its global sales (licensing) last week and talking to retailers in France, Dubai, Saudi-Arabia, Turkey, among others, and is currently building a test store in Germany.

About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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