OLDSMAR — Jim Ronecker grabs his iPad and passes it over the surface of a political flier. Presto, a video touting a candidate's message suddenly starts playing on the tablet computer.
Ronecker, Oldsmar's mayor, owns a commercial printing and graphics business. He's launching a new product for political candidates — "augmented reality" campaign postcards.
The technology uses QR (quick rseponse) codes, black-and-white pixilated barcodes, to turn printed campaign material into a video broadcast platform. Voters can scan a code on campaign literature with their smartphone to view regularly updated, custom videos from a campaign.
"The nice thing about the technology is you can literally change the message on the fly," Ronecker said. "You can change the video every half-hour. You can change your message daily, a lot cheaper than a television commercial."
Ronecker, whose company is called On Demand Printing, developed the product with a British partner, Hargreaves Media Ltd. They debuted the technology two weeks ago at a Paul Ryan rally in Oldsmar, distributing thousands of postcards embedded with Romney/Ryan campaign videos. They were hoping to attract the Romney campaign as a client.
The first client, it turns out, is Pinellas County Commissioner Neil Brickfield, who's running for re-election. He's in the midst of handing out 20,000 door hangers that use the technology.
"The instructions are printed. So you use your cellphone to scan the QR code, which activates it," he said. "Then, if you go across my logo, a video will pop up on your cellphone or iPad."
Brickfield's campaign literature has links to videos that highlight his endorsements.
"I see great potential in this," he said. "This is the future of campaigning. You can change the message as fast as you can formulate a YouTube video and get it online."
Ronecker says other candidates are expressing interest. The price of the high-tech postcards depends on how many a client orders, although Brickfield said it is "not prohibitively expensive."
While it's new to the United States, British candidates have used the technology. Ronecker was introduced to "augmented reality" not long ago when British media entrepreneur George Hargreaves called. He was looking for a Tampa Bay printing firm to produce samples of augmented reality campaign literature to circulate at the Republican National Convention.
Hargreaves' company provides the technology, and Ronecker's firm handles the printing services.
With a strategy like this, Ronecker's main challenge is bridging the generation gap. Younger voters tend to be more comfortable and experienced with doing things like using smartphones to scan QR codes than older voters.
But Ronecker is working on simplifying the process to prevent any possible frustration.
"My 15-year-old could do it in a second," the 48-year-old mayor said. "It took me a minute at first, but I'd never worked with QR codes before."
Mike Brassfield can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 445-4151. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.