Starbucks in Hot Pursuit of Mobile Users

Starbucks is halfway through a summer-themed promotion that encourages people to deploy their camera phones as part of a mobile scavenger hunt.

Participants in the “Starbucks Summer Pursuit” quiz and sweepstakes opt in to receive a series of SMS questions on their handsets, to which they can reply by sending a picture of the answer. To support the effort, Starbucks has licensed image recognition technology to verify correct responses. Phone users can also text in their answers to the test questions.

Quiz questions and clues include a combination of general summer themes and brand-specific topics. One such clue goes as follows: “Two p’s, two c’s and no h. I’m hard to spell, but easy to drink.” The answer: “Frappuccino.”

Starbucks is promoting the effort via search engine keyword buys, outdoor advertising and nearly three million “invitation-to-participate” cards being distributed at store locations and events around the country. Additionally, an e-mail blast went out to about two million people the company identified as Starbucks fans.

To join the promotion, players text message “SUMMER” to 66268.

The five-week scavenger hunt began on July 10 and will continue through mid-August, when five registered players will be chosen at random to engage in a two-day scavenger hunt on the streets of New York City. The winner and his or her guest wins a trip to Costa Rica.

Other companies have attempted to create real-world scavenger hunts, in some cases using camera phones, in the past. These have generally not taken place in the U.S., or have lacked the promotional support Starbucks has brought to bear for the Summer Pursuit effort. Two years ago, Nike created an SMS-based scavenger hunt on the streets of Manhattan to showcase its Air Force-X MID urban hiking shoe. And Coke has recently used image recognition technology as part of a mobile campaign in Europe.

Starbucks has previously engaged in what a spokesperson characterized as test campaigns using wireless messaging, but this promotion marks the company’s first major foray into mobile.

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