Millennials may one day use “Pongr” as a verb the same way we use “Google.” What does Pongr mean? To Pongr something means to take a photo of yourself with your favorite brand, be it Mountain Dew or your Ford Focus, and send it to Pongr.com in order to get rewards from the brand’s company.
Pongr launched in October, 2010 and is purposely not an app for your smart phone, which the creators admit confuses those they consider the “tech elite.” Not an app, you say? No, it’s a website with which anyone with a camera phone can interact with. A user sends a picture to [brand name]@pongr.com (for example, firstname.lastname@example.org). If that company is a client of Pongr’s, a user may be able to unlock deals for free merchandise or get exclusive offers through using Pongr.
For example, the people with the three most “Liked” photos of Mountain Dew each day on Pongr get a coupon for a free two-liter soda. At the end of the week, whoever has the most Dew Bucks gets a free hoodie.
“We provide a way for brands to connect with their fans via photos, to offer incentives and rewards for sending photos. As long as there’s been social media, people take photos of stuff they like,” said Cox. He said things get lost “out there on Twitter” or on brands’ Facebook pages, but Pongr exists as a place for fans to come and be noticed. It’s about simplicity and using technology the majority of users are already comfortable with.
“Our platform is really to plug into a brand’s existing marketing campaign,” said Cox. “For Pongr to work best for a brand, the brand needs to be telling people to use and make it part of their campaign.” Cox said Mountain Dew has been doing this to some extent, which has resulted in a huge usage increase for the site.
If you send photos of a brand that isn’t yet working with Pongr, you can still play the game and move up the ranks of the company online. For example, I sent a photo of myself eating Taco Bell to email@example.com. I became “hired” as a Taco Bell “intern” on the site and earned Pongr Bucks. The more photos of Taco Bell I send in, the higher I will move up in the game until I become the CEO. It’s the hopes of Pongr’s creators that Taco Bell and other brands will get wind of their consumers’ fanaticism on the site and reach out to reward them.
The original idea for Pongr was for someone to be able to take and send a picture of an item with their mobile phone, and then someone behind the scenes at the company would look up where the item could be purchased the cheapest. In 2008, when the first iPhones were just coming out, Cox, Thompson, and co-worker Neal Checka began tossing around ideas for what they could do with mobile phones, photos and image recognition.
“We indexed the cover art for every book, CD and DVD on Amazon,” Cox said, “but it didn’t really take off because people were in the habit of using their phones for that kind of stuff.”
Many people draw similarities to Pongr and FourSquare. “FourSquare’s all about venues, but you can’t check in with the brand. We’re about checking in with the brand of Starbucks rather than just checking in at a location,” Cox explained. Pongr also pulls out exact location information your phone might send with your Pongr’d photo before posting it to the site. “We were going to put location, but didn’t want that creep factor of Foursquare, so now we just do city and state.”
Behind the scenes, Pongr is run from both Boston and Des Moines because Cox eventually moved back to his home state of Iowa. He and two developers work together in downtown Des Moines because “remote software development isn’t fun. Sales, marketing, business development all makes sense to have in the East coast.” Thompson is the more social, smooth-talking mouthpiece of the company, with quite the mustache, while Cox is more reserved, a self-proclaimed geek. Thompson runs things in Boston, including Pongr interns, and travels often to New York to work with ad agencies.
Cox admits that there aren’t many brands involved with Pongr right now, though there are hundreds that people Pongr photos to anyway in order to play the game. The company is in the process of making Pongr Bucks worth something for these players who won’t be seeing rewards from their favorite brands any time soon.
One of Pongr’s dream clients is Apple, Inc. because of the fanaticism of the company’s users.
“Imagine if Apple said, ‘The first person to become CEO of Apple on Pongr gets a new quad core MacBook Pro.’ Or if by the end of the week the person with the most Pongr Bucks gets a free iPad 2. It’d be interesting to see the photos Apple fans send in if it’s all about incentives.”
The product proof is, I’ve found myself wanting to eat more Taco Bell in order to move up from my Pongr “intern” status. I’ve also made it a sort of Bucket List item to become a founder of a brand on Pongr because unlike CEO status, it can never be taken away. The site is saturated with Mountain Dew photos and aside from my own photos, I’m not that interested in what others are Pongr-ing. Since I fear for my arteries, I’ll take a break from the Cheesy Gordita Crunches and instead look elsewhere for another company in which to move up the ranks in Pongr. All you have to do is find a brand and snap a pic, and if you take one minute to look around your life, it’s almost scary how many there are.