REDMOND, Washington: Microsoft, the IT giant, has developed a new platform allowing advertisers to add "barcodes" to anything from marketing materials to computer games, and which direct consumers to specific websites when "scanned" using a mobile phone.

Since 2006, the company has modified its barcode system from being a tool through which to transfer information to a more interactive system that embraces emerging technology and user behaviour.

In its most recent form, the service means owners of web-enabled cellphones can "snap" a specifically-designed "tag" using the camera on their handset, at which point they are automatically connected to a campaign website on the mobile internet.

This sort of activity is already quite commonplace in Japan, where consumers can utilise such a method to pay bills and download video content.

Microsoft's "TagReader" currently works on Apple's iPhone and the BlackBerry – two of the most popular smartphones – as well as Nokia's Symbian and its own range of Windows Mobile products.

Mark Kroese, Microsoft's general manager of entertainment and devices advertising, said the system empowers "advertisers to continue their conversations with consumers across any media," such as "posters, book covers, store displays or screens."

If used effectively, it will "take everything advertisers are doing and turbocharge it," as well as offering the ability to track user behaviour in a similar way to measuring online clickthroughs.

General Mills employed the immediate predecessor to the current barcode format on a flyer at the 2009 X Games, which were held in January this year.

As part of the food company's promotion, visitors could scan the "tag" on a flyer to get updates about one of the competitors sponsored by its Totino's Pizza brand, and request free samples of the product.

Hardee's also used Microsoft Tag to offer shoppers buying one of its burgers the chance to download a coupon entitling them to a free drink and small pack of Natural Cut Fries.

Procter & Gamble, the FMCG giant and world's biggest advertiser, has signed on to employ the latest system as part of the marketing strategy for its Max Factor and CoverGirl cosmetics brands.

From this autumn, Microsoft will also include the most recent barcode type in some of Xbox games, having previously run an in-store trial of the programme in Wal-Mart outlets when promoting Halo Wars.

This initiative directed consumers who "snapped" the relevant tag to a website where they could access free material and pre-order the game.

Overall, some 85% of visitors to this online hub ended up downloading some form of free content to their mobile phone.

The Redmond-based corporation intends to add these identifiers to ten of its games this year, with companies including Data sourced from Forbes; additional content by WARC staff