Mountain uses RFID for advertising, marketing

Mammoth Mountain CEO Rusty Gregory, along with the rest of the marketing staff, this season have been fielding calls from Southern Californians who are wondering where the heck the billboards went.

Something must be terribly wrong, they speculate.

Gregory says no, not at all. Things are going well for the ski hill in its marketing, especially with the introduction of the Radio Frequency Identification gates.

The gates, which were pushed by the ski hill as a time-saver for people waiting in lift lines, actually is a bigger asset in advertising and marketing than getting people to the chairlifts more quickly.

“We’re doing it (advertising) more with the RFID system,” Gregory said to the Mammoth Lakes Town Council last week.

“We took all the ticket buyers and had no idea who those people were in the past,” he said. “Now we know who they are and what kinds of people are making those transactions. So we are spending money and directly communicating with those people now.”

What’s more, the marketing wonks at MMSA have a treasure trove of addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, along with skier habits. 

The way it works is fairly straightforward.

A customer buys a daily ticket or a season pass. In doing that, he or she gives up information, which not only is stamped on the RFID-enabled ticket, but also is transmitted to the MMSA database.

Therefore, Gregory said, if the customer wants to know about upcoming promotions, such as discounted hotel rooms and/or tickets, the company can directly contact its core users through snail mail, email or telephone.

It’s a big money saver, Gregory said.

“Instead of buying significant space in the large media markets in Southern California, we’re going directly to our current customers a lot more, with programs that include low-cost air fares, low-cost hotel rooms and other promotions.”

This is the first season that the RFID system has been in effect. In spite of the fact that there have been many fewer ski visitors than was expected, the ski area nevertheless is using the RFID system, and experimenting hard along the way.

For example, Gregory said, the ski area will typically send out a “placebo,” which isn’t an actual deal so much as it illustrates what customers may want but that the ski area doesn’t offer … yet.

“Every week we have four promotions to offer, plus the placebo. 

“So if you don’t see the advertising on billboards, don’t think it’s not being done. Actually, it’s the first time we think (advertising) is effective.”

Radio-frequency identification (RFID), generally, is the use of a wireless non-contact system that uses radio-frequency electromagnetic fields to transfer data from a tag attached to an object, for the purposes of automatic identification and tracking.

 The tag contains electronically stored information which can be read from up to several yards away. Unlike a bar code, the tag does not need to be within line of sight of the reader and may be embedded in the tracked object.

RFID tags are used in many industries. An RFID attached to an automobile during production can be used to track its progress through the assembly line. Pharmaceuticals can be tracked through warehouses. Livestock and pets may have tags injected, allowing positive identification of the animal. 

RFID identity cards can give employees access to locked areas of a building, and RF transponders mounted in automobiles can be used to bill motorists for access to toll roads, bridges or parking.

Since RFID tags can be attached to clothing, possessions, or even implanted within people, the possibility of reading personally-linked information without consent has raised privacy concerns.

In social media, RFID is being used to tie the physical world with the virtual world. RFID in social media first came to light in 2010 with Facebook’s annual conference.

The use of RFID has quite a history.

In 1945 Léon Theremin invented an espionage tool for the Soviet Union that retransmitted incident radio waves with audio information. Sound waves vibrated a diaphragm that slightly altered the shape of the resonator, which modulated the reflected radio frequency. 

Even though this device was a covert listening device, not an identification tag, it is considered to be a predecessor of RFID technology because it was likewise passive, being energized and activated by waves from an outside source.