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Pongr invites you to snap pictures of your favorite brands, get promoted to CEO

Posted by Scott Kirsner  September 23, 2010 08:45 AM

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Screen shot 2010-09-23 at 7.42.53 AM.pngIn the same way that certain people aspire to become the FourSquare mayor of their favorite coffee shop, will they vie to become the "CEO" of their favorite brand? Pongr, a Boston start-up planning a big promotional campaign during Advertising Week next week, hopes so.

Playing Pongr doesn't require an app on your mobile phone — you just snap a photo of an advertisement or product, and either e-mail it or text it to the company. Sending in a photo of your favorite Ben & Jerry's flavor after you've demolished a pint of it, for instance, might get you a reward from the company (like 10 percent off your next purchase), or it might help you gain status within Pongr's system. Your goal is to ascend the corporate org chart from intern to CEO. Pongr founder Jamie Thompson says that the photo-based game is a way for marketers to identify the biggest fans of their product, and build relationships. And through the magic of social media, of course, Pongr players can also share the photos they've taken with friends, generating even more brand awareness.

"People already like to take pictures of themselves with brands," Thompson explains. "So if you're a Sephora enthusiast, and you're inclined to take your picture in front of their lipstick poster, with Pongr you can do that and see if Sephora is going to give you anything in exchange."

Pongr's image-recognition software examines the photos that are sent in, comparing them to pictures in its database, and then it generates a scripted response, whether it is more information about the product, a special offer, an entry in a contest, or just status points on the way to becoming CEO of that brand. (Thompson says that you can take pictures of ads, objects, logos, or even TV commercials, and have Pongr's software identify what's in the image...as long as it's part of the company's database.) Thompson says that taking a picture of something is much more elegant than having companies plaster barcodes or QR codes on everything and then asking consumers to scan the code with their phones. (But how well and how consistently the company's image recognition technology works will be key; I haven't yet been able to test it.)

The company, founded in 2008, originally planned to use its image recognition technology to help shoppers conduct price comparisons on products, and either buy an item in the store or online through the shopper's mobile phone. But the price comparison space started to get crowded, and so the company began to focus on how marketers could better connect with consumers through photos taken on mobile phones.

The company's slogan is "The picture-sharing game with real-life rewards."

Thompson says Pongr recently raised another $500,000 from angel investors, including Chris Maeda, former CTO at Kana Software. The total funding Pongr has collected, Thompson adds, is "just under one million." The company has nine full-time employees, spread across Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa. Last month, the company worked on a promotional campaign with Hearst's Marie Claire magazine to give readers more info about products featured in the September issue.

And next week, they'll be demoing the game to ad agencies and marketers at New York's Gansevoort Hotel, as part of Advertising Week.

Here's a zany company video that offers an overview of how Pongr works:

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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