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We spend a lot of time thinking about the mobile shopper and the world she lives in. Here are some thoughts...

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As featured on (albeit with a slightly censored headline)

Now here’s a conundrum for you: Verdict recently made some headlines with their finding that only 2% of shoppers had bought an item online whilst in a store. They thereby dismissed showrooming as a myth.

Walmart, however, sees a very different picture. In an interview with Wired, their CEO notes that 12% of their online sales now come from people standing in a Walmart store. Not surprisingly, he LOVES showrooming.

There’s quite a gap between these two world views, attitudinally as well as numerically. But I know which one I back. To explain why, let’s establish some first principles.

When you boil it right down, what smartphones are fundamentally ‘about’ is empowerment. They give us access to the infinite resources of the internet, magnified through the lens of social networks and geo-location, 24 hours a day. The intelligent utility of native apps adds further icing to the cake. This represents a massive shift in the balance of power from producers to consumers; what some are calling the start of the C2B era. 

This shift is particularly evident in Retail. Nowhere do Supply and Demand dance together more closely; so it shouldn’t surprise us that the supply of ‘new’ resources via shoppers’ smartphones is having a pronounced impact on how, what, where and when people want to buy. This is a genie that’s well and truly out of the box, and the phenomenon is only going to accelerate from here.

As a hard-bitten, hard-driving retailer, Walmart (and Asda) has been quick to grasp this truth. Not only do they recognise there’s no point playing King Canute; they know that “showrooming” and mobile in general represent a superb opportunity to grow share-of-mind and share-of-wallet – especially if you can move faster and smarter than competitors.

The Walmart statistic I quoted above becomes particularly interesting when paired with another of their datapoints: shoppers with whom the company has a relationship via smartphone make four more trips and spend 77% more in stores per month than the average customer. In other words, Walmart has powerful evidence to suggest that using mobile to enhance the physical shopping experience can actually drive in-store and online sales simultaneously. Which is, after all, the point of this whole omni-channel thing.

So: how do you go about turning showrooming from a threat into a commercial opportunity? There is potential right across the shopper journey; but a good starting point is to focus on the key objectives of Occurrence and Recurrence.

Occurrence (ie persuading a shopper to buy this now) is primarily a matter of satisfying immediate needs: having the right product available at the right price with no service barriers. Mobile offers two big wins here. The first is contextually relevant push marketing: using geo-location via an app or a Wi-Fi network to drive people towards items that, based on an individual’s prior shopping history, have a much better than average chance of meeting their needs. Carrefour in China, for instance, uses location-sensing technology to deliver 1:1 messaging and help shoppers track down the product they’re looking for.

The second is the endless aisle: making it convenient and compelling for people to buy something from you online even if it’s out-of-stock in the store. Target USA does this well. Their app allows you to receive daily deals, create shopping lists and check out whether the item you want is available in your nearest store. If it’s not, the mCommerce alternative is immediately available.

Mobile also has a powerful role to play in driving Recurrence, especially in terms of the softer side of the value proposition. I’ve written elsewhere about the different ways in which it can help rejuvenate loyalty programmes, injecting some much-needed ‘surprise and delight’ into standard model entitlement-based schemes and giving members what they really crave: the sense of being uniquely and relevantly privileged.

On an even more fundamental level, Mobile has the ability to add new dimensions to the in-store experience (as brilliantly demonstrated by Starbucks’ Digital Network) and / or elevate a retailer’s service promise to a whole new level. See, for instance, Nieman Marcus’ app which allows high value customers to connect directly with preferred store staff. Wouldn’t we all like to make that really, really clued-up sales person our personal shopper at the touch of a button?

I think there are two things in particular that stand out across all these examples.

The first is the extent to which they embrace the fact that smartphones have given shoppers an unprecedented level of control over their relationship with retailers. Far from resisting this, the companies in question have worked hard to give their customers an even greater degree of control. They understand that empowerment is a key source of competitive advantage.

The second is the way in which they demonstrate the confidence and competitiveness of the true retailer. Showrooming may well help shoppers uncover weaknesses in terms of price or range or service more quickly than they would otherwise; but that’s just a case of accelerating the inevitable. It’s how markets work. If your value proposition is right, however, the smartphone-wielding shopper represents an excellent opportunity to drive impulse, increase conversion, build dialogue and incentivise frequency. Which sounds very much like a retail marketer’s dream.

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The Sponge Leap Motion controller arrived this week.

The next day we got an email announcing 1,000,000 downloads of Leap Motion apps in the three weeks since launch.

What’s Leap Motion? In their own words: 

"A tiny device with a huge idea… The Leap Motion Controller senses your hands and fingers and follows their every move. It lets them move in all that wide-open space between you and your computer. So you can do almost anything without touching anything. It’s the tiny device that just might change the way you use technology. It’s the world’s most natural technology that just might change the world. "

Which is a pretty big claim. 

A year ago, when we first saw the video of this thing we were skeptical.  It just looked too good. We’ve been trying to get Kinnect to work for years and the whole gesture thing still seemed like science fiction. But this tiny unit, looking a lot like an apple product (from the old days when they could really surprise), was just so smooth! 

So when it arrived it was out of the box in a heartbeat; a swarm of sticky hands flapping over it like seagulls round a bag of chips in a toddlers fist.

Now, it’s true, this may be the future. And it may change the world. In fact, it probably will, because most things that change the world are bloody tricky to use to start with.  When the first mice appeared they were confusing, but they were essential to navigate visual interfaces which required pin-point accuracy.

The Leap is stuck between two worlds – the cursor and the gesture controlled.  It allows you to navigate through your computer using the same select and click process – but it’s not very satisfactory. It’s the old joke about dogs walking on their hind legs.  It’s not surprising that they do it so badly – it’s surprising that they do it all.  It’s a novelty.  

Check out the Leap Motion version of iTunes, Airspace. It’s hard to say what those 1 million downloads comprise, but more than half of the available apps are for games, so it’s clear where much of the developer time has been spent. 

Games allow a much wider exploitation of gesture than screens designed for mice, but they’re also the way we traditionally learn new skills. By making it a game we don’t notice that we’re learning a new vocabulary and a new way to interact with a machines. 

There’s a technique to it that has to be learned: Point and hold.  Spread and close fingers.  The dismissive wipe. The revolving index finger.  This is a vocabulary of commands for which the interfaces barely exist. 

But because the developer kit is downloadable and free to use, we’re looking at a huge, global laboratory creating a new language of gesture and working towards the next phase of technology – a language that both machines and humans understand and converse in.  

Which is what makes Leap Motion’s vision of the future just a little scary: Imagine if technology finally figured out people, instead of the other way around. We can imagine that – and it’s not necessarily a reassuring vision of the future. History shows that when the slave become smarter and faster than the master, generally something bad happens to the master. We've created machines to service our needs, why wouldn't the machines, given sufficient intelligence and opportunity return the favour?

Just a thought.  But let’s not let it spoil the moment. Right now we have Beats to Bash and Balls to Boom. Um Num!

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We’re feeling very proud and a bit smug right now.

Drum roll Sponge launched not one but TWO promotions on our brand spanking new Shopper Marketing Platform.

The first promotion, Sol ‘Bucket List’, is an in-pub competition running in 850+ outlets across the UK. The aim is to encourage repeat purchase and engagement with the brand’s ethos of embracing your ’Espiritu Libre’.
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Each bottle is fitted with a branded neck collar with a unique code, the customer texts this code to the competition shortcode and they receive an SMS response letting them know if they’ve been a lucky winner of VIP festival tickets or a round of beer (which can be redeemed instantly at the bar). We built a bespoke and fully responsive microsite for the handling of all prize claiming meaning that customers can do this instantly on their mobile handset or later at home on their desktop – another way to make the process as seamless as possible.

The instant on-site engagement this promotion offers is the central attraction for the brand as it brings the power of digital to help drive the interactions and conversations that lead to sales – something vital in the highly competitive world of on-licence trading.

The second promotion, Weetabix ‘Lucky Lockers’, is an on-pack promotion designed to convince Mums that Weetabix provides the best back to school Fuel, reduce cupboard lingering and drive frequency of consumption. 


Each pack contains a unique code which can be entered into a bespoke website to see if they’re one of the lucky winners of A Night With The Sharks, a £500 trolley dash in Hamley’s or one of 100’s of other exclusive prizes. Enter the same code again within a week and the user receives a second chance to get an instant win prize AND an entry into an exclusive weekly draw.

The repeat use of the codes in this promotion is crucial for the brand as it encourages mums and kids to take the product out of the cupboard again rather than moving on to another brand rival.


Both Sol and Weetabix have made use of our Shopper Marketing Platform in very different ways but with the ultimate goal of engaging with their customers to convert those who simply ‘buy’ their products into loyal customers who will return time and time again.

To find out more about how the Sponge Shopper Marketing Platform could be used to engage with your customers, please contact

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You're hungry. You’re in a strange part of town. Nigella's nowhere to be seen.  

What do you do? Luckily, the smartphone revolution means you never need starve again.  And even more luckily you’re not too choosy (it’s late and you’ve had a few drinks) so... pizza then.  And deliver it. I’ll join you! Let’s search...

With its brand heritage Pizza Hut is top of mind, and bingo! is there, right where you need it.  It’s clean, clear and it knows why we’re here - taking us straight through to the delivery section.   

Which is where it strays off-piste, asking us to enter our postcode to search for the nearest restaurant.
But like I said, it’s a strange part of town - you don’t know the postcode.  Why can’t Pizza Hut use the phones ability to locate itself?  There’s a nice promotion for the Man of Steel Big Box Deal, but it doesn’t click through anywhere.  It’s basically a doorslam unless I can discover my postcode. 

But blood sugars are low, let’s try someone else.  Got to be Dominos.
Looks promising - ‘Hello Pizza lovers’ welcomes the home page. Oh.  There’s that postcode thing again - I suppose we really should regress back to the days of stamps and envelopes if we ever want to eat again.  After a few guesses we give up.  You’re getting grumpy now, I might leave you to it.  But let’s give it one more stab.

Kentucky Fried Chicken!  Uh. No mobile site and I can’t read that small.

Wagamama!  Doesn’t seem to load anything - is that my Windows phone or ... ah who cares.

Pizza Express!  Now here’s progress... still no auto find, but at least there’s some concession to our modern mobile ignorance. A two-step drop-down process lets me pick region and city and returns a restaurant that seems really close according to the map.  And it’s got a phone number I can tap to auto-dial.  

Let’s order! You speak to them. I’ll have whatever. 

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A big Jay-Z fan? Possibly. Possibly not. 

Either way, you may like to keep a keen eye on his upcoming album launch and, more specifically, the interesting role that Samsung will play in its release schedule. 

'Magna Carta Holy Grail' is the rapper's 12th studio album and he has interestingly joined forces with Samsung to give away 1million copies to Galaxy S III, Galaxy S4 and Galaxy Note II users via a dedicated app three days before its release in the ‘traditional’ physical and online formats.  The move will make the album a platinum-seller instantly and again highlights the importance of mobile in the entertainment and content delivery space.
Data from the Citrix ByteMobile Mobile Analytics Report for Q2 2013 highlights mobile music services – particularly internet radio – as one of the key emerging mobile data categories. In the most recent quarter, 12% of all mobile data volume in North America came through mobile music platforms. 
So how do artists, manufacturers and the mobile or music industries in general adapt to this? Jay Z himself puts its quite well when he says "We don't have any rules, everybody is trying to figure it out. That's why the internet is like the wild west. The wild, wild west. We need to write the new rules."

On the surface it certainly looks like the collaboration is a win-win situation – Samsung get the opportunity to chisel away further at Apple’s mobile market share and instant association with mobile music, whilst Jay-Z can potentially loosen the reigns of iTunes dominance and make a reported $5m from Samsung for exclusive access to the album.

It’ll be intriguing, however, to see how Apple and other players will react. Many artists rely upon (or are shackled by?) Apple to ensure iTunes exposure, will this move affect the exposure Jay-Z receives?

We’re also wondering if this is the start of a new strategy from Samsung. We imagine this will need to be more than a one-off exclusive in order to encourage people to buy their handsets – surely the possibility of early access to just one album isn’t enough to encourage you to buy a handset no matter how big a fan you are?

Let’s see shall we…

Here’s a rundown of the promotion including a very good promo clip (although it’s hard to distinguish if this is an ad for the album or a prolonged Samsung ad set to his backing track): 

And, for giggles-sake, here’s ‘11 Times Jay-Z Used A Phone That Wasn’t A Samsung Galaxy’ :
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As featured by the IMRG, 5th June

When the iPhone launched in 2007, it took us all a while to understand the seismic impact that smartphones would have on the retail landscape. When we did, our first instinct was to see Mobile as an extension, perhaps even the apotheosis of the eCommerce Revolution. Having access to the web 24/7, combined with the unique advantages of apps, surely heralded the ultimate triumph of Online and the final nail in the High Street’s coffin.

Whilst Mobile has demonstrably accelerated eCommerce’s growth (it currently accounts for £1 in every £5 of UK e-retail sales), counter-trends are now emerging which are of at least equal significance.

One of the most significant dynamics in marketing today is the blurring of the digital and the physical (which may be as good a description as any of what ‘omni-channel’ really means). The way these forces are colliding and converging is throwing up some fascinating data points:

• Opening a new store can increase John Lewis’ online sales in the area by 30%
• A staggering 86% of Halfords’ online sales are now for collection in-store
According to TNS, we’re the most avid showroomers in the world; 68% of the UK population use their phone in-store

What facts like these illustrate is that the world is no longer separable into Physical and Virtual spaces. Mobile allows shoppers to inhabit both simultaneously, which means the relationship between the two is undergoing profound change. This is the Paradox of Place.

Geo-Location creates rich opportunities for marketers to exploit this shift. There are five key areas for focus, each representing a different shopper mission.


Mobile search is extremely purpose-driven. According to a recent study, 66% of smartphone searchers intend to make a purchase within a day. It also tends to be highly location-specific. 50% of searchers are looking for results within walking or driving distance. You need to be on their radar.


Our analytics consistently show how store locator and stock availability are key traffic drivers for mobile sites. On Evans Cycles, for instance, mobile users are on average x2.5 more likely to use such functions than desktop users. You need to ensure you are fully discoverable.


Digitising physical environments allows shoppers to interact with your brand proposition: see Burberry and Victoria’s Secret. It can also get the tills ringing: Revolution Bars increased sales of Bacardi Mojito cocktails by 164% with a simple mobile Facebook check-in promotion. Having worked hard to attract footfall, you need to invest in converting the opportunity.


None of us can be in more than one place at one time. As a naturally scarce resource, Location is something retailers need to incentivise. One option is a multi-brand solution like Shopkick. Another is to use in-store Wi-Fi as a means of identifying and rewarding individuals. You need to thank shoppers for their presence.


Finally, geo-located content in-store can remove struggle from the shopper journey: by improved navigation; by empowering customers (and staff) via access to product information and reviews; or by providing cost assurance, as Best Buy do by guaranteeing to match Amazon’s prices. Smartphone-enabled shoppers have high service expectations, and you need to exceed them.

As featured by the IMRG on the 5th June. Read Article
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As featured by the IMRG, 17th April

When it comes to retail marketing, you’d be hard pressed to find a hotter topic than ‘showrooming’ right now. In one sense, this is a bit odd. You could argue that the behaviour’s existed for as long as there’s been brand and retail competition. Certainly were on to it way back in 2009 with their famous ‘Now buy it at…’ poster campaign.

So why the current focus? Well, in a word: smartphones. They’ve made showrooming vastly more prevalent (and visible). Their growth has turned a fact of life into a significant business issue.

No Passing Fad

A recent survey by JiWire found that 94% of smartphone-empowered shoppers use their device in-store; 60% of whom are comparing prices. Not surprising, then, that 80% of US retailers think showrooming depresses their sales by 5% or more (source: Edgell Network). Nor that Amazon and eBay are reporting stellar growth in mobile revenues.

This adds up to disruption on a massive scale. But turn round the telescope, and it also represents a huge, possibly unparalleled opportunity for physical retail.

Accentuate The Positive

People want to showroom – so lean into the behaviour in ways that enhance bricks and mortar’s intrinsic advantages of being Sensory, Social, Spontaneous and Service-led. Use the phenomenon to amplify your brand proposition. Exploit it to satisfy your shoppers’ appetite for richer, more interactive experiences.

By ‘hugging’ a showroomer, you’ll create the opportunity to identify customers when they enter your store. Combine that with the latest solutions like Sponge’s Shopper Marketing Platform, and there’s potential to deliver individually relevant content to people whilst they’re in the act of shopping.

Why Wi-Fi Matters

Of course, to start making all this happen, you need the right infrastructure – and Wi-Fi is a key component.

According to JiWire, the availability of free Wi-Fi is becoming a driver for shoppers: three quarters claim it exerts some influence on their store choice. So its provision is simultaneously important to your service proposition and (for the reasons detailed above) a core building-block for in-store mobile marketing.

To understand how brands are responding to these twin opportunities, and to explore what sort of user experience they offer, we conducted mystery shopper visits to 117 retailers in and around Oxford Street.

The findings surprised us.

Opportunities Missed

Just 28 of the retailers offered free Wi-Fi – and far fewer clearly communicated its availability. This seems negligent; you can hardly expect shoppers to thank you for something of which they’re unaware.

Even more significant was Missed Opportunity #2. Whilst half of those offering Wi-Fi took the opportunity to collect data, the sort of value exchange required to ensure high quality was noticeably absent; nor did we find any evidence of brands exploiting the channel to deliver compelling, contextually relevant content.

There seems to be a story behind the story here. Most current contracts appear skewed to the benefit of the Wi-Fi provider, certainly in terms of the user intelligence collected.

As retailers seek to capitalise more fully on the potential of Mobile Shopper Marketing in-store, we can expect to see a step-change in these commercial relationships.

As featured by the IMRG on the 17th April. Read Article

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Come and see Shopper Marketing in action

We’re exhibiting at Retail Week Live and Retail Business Technology Expo this month.

Day by day, Mobile’s influence is growing across every part of the shopper journey. Whilst this is causing many to predict the final death of the High Street, we believe it actually represents a massive opportunity for retailers of all types.

We’re developing a highly innovative Shopper Marketing solution to help retailers (and FMCG brands) capitalise on this potential, which we’ll be demo-ing at Retail Business Technology Expo on 12th – 13th March and at Retail Week Live on 13th – 14th March.

We’ll also be showcasing a range of technologies that can create effective connections between your brand and your customer; and that do so in ways that can help amplify the High Street’s intrinsic advantages of being Sensory, Social and Service-led.

If you’re going to either event, do come and say hello. If you’re not, please email and we’ll set up a private viewing.
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For the smart-phone empowered shopper

There is continuing debate as to whether Technology changes human needs. But what is clear is how fundamentally it impacts our attitudes, behaviours, expectations and how we interact with the world around us. Mobile is a particularly powerful example.

By removing the friction of time and place, smartphones give us an unprecedented level of control. Having perfect information and social connectivity at our fingertips 24/7 represents an enormous shift in the balance of power; and inevitably, this is altering the nature of the relationship we have with brands. Not only are we increasingly demanding in terms of product and service quality, we are looking for new kinds of utility and value. In particular, we are gravitating towards brands that help us get more out of our resources; especially resources like money, attention and location that are generally scarce and therefore highly prized.

Which brings us to the topic of Loyalty Schemes.

Consumer appetite for such schemes is high: two-thirds of UK shoppers now belong to three or more programmes. This is hardly surprising: who doesn’t want something for (apparently) nothing, especially in this economy? And companies are keen to meet the demand, recognising that Loyalty Schemes can help maximise share-of-wallet and, just as importantly, provide insight into how customers shop across channels.

Most brands would say that their programme is commercially effective. So why should they re-invent it?

Sponge’s view is that the more Loyalty Schemes proliferate, the more shoppers see them as simply ‘entitlements’. This is partly due to familiarity, and partly because the standard Collector model has become commoditised: I receive one asset (points) in exchange for another (money). There’s a predictability and a proportionality about this that feels flat, uninvolving and out of step with the dynamic individuality of people’s digital behaviours.

Smartphones are driving much of that behaviour; and it follows that Loyalty Schemes should become mobile-first if they are to satisfy shoppers’ radically heightened expectations. In other words, brands need to fight fire with fire.

For maximum effect, we believe programmes should be re-invented around three key principles, all focused on delivering Customer Empowerment:

Recognise shoppers prior to purchase

For marketers, mobile has two exceptional advantages. First, a mobile number is a highly accurate and durable identifier: unlike an email address, there’s every probability that we’ll keep the number we get in our early teens for life. Second, it makes location an exploitable part of the mix. Combined, these two things create the opportunity for personalised communication based on geography; for instance, when someone is close to or has just entered a store.

Of course, not every shopper will be prepared to give you access to such information. But many will (perhaps especially existing loyalists), so long as you get the value exchange right and demonstrably use the data to the customer’s advantage. IPSOS Mori and The Logic Group have found that 42% of us want to receive offers whilst in the act of shopping, not afterwards. If you can satisfy this need, you’ll unlock a rich stream of high quality data that can be put to immediate use.

Provide contextually relevant content

Being treated as an individual is inherently empowering; but the magic comes when personalisation is used to deliver an enhanced level of service.

Having secured permission to access a customer via their mobile number, we can begin to accumulate insight and intelligence around that number: their purchasing history, their loyalty status, the frequency of their social activity, and so on. By combining that data with other contextual factors – stock availability, current offers, new ranges, or even the weather – brands can deliver content of optimum value to individual shoppers. And mobile allows that communication to happen at exactly the right time and place.

Create entertaining experiences

‘Surprise and delight’ is a phrase that’s become cheapened by over-use. But it’s still one of the surest ways of engendering the sort of passionate loyalty to which all brands should aspire.

Another of Mobile’s great strengths is its ability to connect the physical and the digital. It’s therefore the ideal medium to amplify the sensory benefits of shopping, especially on the High Street. By allowing people to discover, participate in and share content, Mobile can help create entertaining experiences that will leave shoppers feeling privileged, empowered and significantly more predisposed towards loyalty.

The above isn’t simply crystal ball-gazing. Whilst we’re not aware of any brand that’s executing brilliantly across all three of these principles, a number (especially in the USA) are making significant headway. Manifesting the zeal of the true convert, BestBuy now encourages customers to scan codes to receive discounts, special warranties and deals on ‘open box’ inventory – all delivered at the local store level. Then there’s the Neiman Marcus Service app, which allows shoppers to build 1:1 relationships with their favourite sales associate via email, IM and face-to-face; a commitment to Empowerment which has recently been extended by offering members of their InCircle loyalty scheme the chance to choose the days on which they’d like to receive double points.

Attracting and retaining profitably loyalty customers is fundamental to any brand’s success, and Loyalty Schemes have a clear and significant role to play. But like every other marketing tool, they need to evolve; particularly when people’s expectations are changing so fast. By re-inventing their programmes around mobile-first principles, and by unlocking the channel’s unique ability to empower customers, there is significant opportunity for brands to maximise differentiation, cut-through and response.

This article first appeared on Adobe’s on 25th February 2012
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Why is it such a hot topic?

Last year, Alex was interviewed at the London 2012 European Leaders ‘Hot Topics Events’ about why mobile advertising is a hot topic.

As mentioned, the London 2012 website had over 430 million visitors and 4.7 billion page impressions, 60% of which were via a mobile which is a meaningful statistic for brands and mobile advertising.

However, there are some challenges still that need to be addressed in the mobile sphere;

- Defining what a mobile device is – how does tablet fit in?

- How brands, retailers and mobile marketers can find the right context for mobile and advertising?

- Will there be a convergence of platforms in the future?

- How does the future of NFC look after Apple’s release of the NFC-less iPhone5?

Feel free to watch the video or follow us on twitter for more mobile.
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