At CES, iBeacons were talk of the town. When the Ratio Labs team participated in AT&T’s Hackathon we explored bringing a regular poster to life when users were nearby, triggered by our little Bluetooth friends.

At an abstract level, the lifecycle of any mobile app consists of User Acquisition (Download), engagement, re-engagement, monetization and then uninstall. One of the hurdles that iBeacons will have to overcome over time, is the User Acqusition problem (you can’t do anything with a Beacon unless there is an associated app installed). For this experiment, we ignored this limitation (we’ll touch on this more in another Ratio Labs experiment) and decided instead to focus on the notion that a beacon has attributes that allow it to convert any inanimate object to something that a mobile app can provide engagement & monetization with at relatively low cost and with little infrastructure in place.

Why a SmartPostr?


Whilst digital signage is on the increase, it still remains expensive to deploy relative to traditional signage. In the future we see digital signage being everywhere, but for now (or at least until we go all Bladerunner on us) there will still be a mix of those two form factors. In that period, we see an opportunity to make those traditional signs & posters a little more… smart.


Enter our beacon. By deploying one of these critters on a regular poster, we were able to trigger a notification when a user was  nearby. The substance and messaging of the notification is key – it must provide sufficient value exchange between the publisher and the user for them to want to engage. In this case we provided a 10% discount on a purchase within the app – this was our hook. In this project we chose to use Qualcomm’s Gimbal beacons, which provide compatibility with the iBeacon standard and a nice service back end and iOS SDK to manage the beacons too. 

We didn’t just want them to get the discount that easily, we wanted to link the physical poster to the digital experience so devised a game using the phone’s camera. In the game, we asked the user to find specific items within the poster, using image recognition provided by the excellent Vuforia API from Qualcomm. 

Since Macklemore was playing at the AT&T event (and he’s a local from Seattle – like us) we decided to use a still from his awesome music video as a poster. It just so happens that the video has lots of interesting things in the poster to build an experience around. When the user completed finding three objects on the poster using their phone, they were rewarded with 10% off Macklemore’s album. We allowed them to charge the purchase directly to their phone bill using AT&T’s payment API.


Quick side story – we think that FedEx in Las Vegas is awesome because they are open 24 hours and their staff printed our poster at 2 am when we were mid-hack.

Here’s a how the final flow turned out:


We were proud to reach the final three teams and have the opportunity to present the product at the AT&T CES keynote in front of 3000 folks!

   If you enjoyed this post, you can follow Team Ratio on Twitter for similar content.