A lot of marketers are curious about QR codes these days. But there are a lot of things that people need to know about their implementation to make a successful (and trackable) campaign. There is much to be said about the times and places to use QR codes, but one place where you should never see one is on television.
The other day while watching reruns of South Park on Comedy Central, I saw a spot for GoDaddy.com which featured one of their trademark risqué ad campaigns. All of this is well and good, and they’ve certainly done themselves a service for drumming up awareness. But when it comes to mobile, they’ve missed the mark a bit.
The commercial attempts to make use of a QR code in the lower right-hand corner of the screen. While this seems like a good idea, there are a large number of inherent problems with the application of QR codes on television. Here’s a quick rundown of the pitfalls:
The commercial is a thirty-second spot. When I saw the QR code, I reached for my iPhone, swiped it on, opened my QR reader, got off my bum and ran up to the TV. Despite how quick all of that seems, I still didn’t have enough time to get the code in my camera’s sites before the commercial faded to the end plate (which doesn’t have a QR code). In order to make this work comfortably, an on-screen time of at least a minute is required. All of the effort I put into wanting to scan the QR code came from my desire to see if it would work, but a typical consumer may need to be convinced to follow along with the call-to-action. Once the viewer has decided that they are willing to participate in the campaign, how much time will they have to actually connect with the on-screen QR code?
A long-form television commercial (30 minutes or more) would be best application of QR on TV, but the next four points present that even with a longer viewing time, QR on TV is still not advisable.
The size of both the user’s television screen and the scale of the QR code can play a factor. I have a 35 inch television which put the QR code at about 2 inches squared. There is absolutely no way anyone would be able to scan the code without wandering up to the screen and holding out their phone. If you plan on putting a QR code on TV you have to ask yourself, “is my company, product or offer good enough to make someone get off the couch?”
You can never be certain the user has a large enough TV to make the reader function properly. I had to get within 2 inches of the screen in order to make the QR code big enough to fill the sites of my QR app (I use the I-nigma app from 3GVision, which has been the most reliable scanner I have found).
3. Poor Quality TVs.
Right along side the size of the television comes the quality of the set. While flatscreens have snared the overwhelming majority of the television market, not all people have switched away from tube sets yet. Those old tube sets produce scanlines which can render the televised QR code useless.
Typically when I scan a code with the I-nigma reader, it reads the code so quickly that I don’t have time to even see the code on the screen. But in the case of the GoDaddy.com code, the scanlines made it so I couldn’t scan the code at all. This isn’t likely to be a problem with someone who has a high-def television set larger than 35 inches or thereabouts.
QR codes are ugly, that’s all there is to it. Some companies such as Microsoft have made attempts with their Tag code reader to make them prettier but the reality is this: the more they look like a picture the less they’ll look like a call-to-action. In addition, black and white is the most contrast you can possibly have between two “shades” which means that a standard QR code (if left black and white) will be the easiest for cameras to read, especially in low light.
Because QR codes are unattractive, people want then small and our of the way. Much like URLs and 800 numbers, it makes sense to tuck them down in the call-to-action bar at the bottom of the screen. However, because the ad I saw was so short, I had to rewind the ad to get another look at it (which is actually a perk for the brand company), but when I did, the Comcast playback bar was in the way of the code.
5. Tarnishing the Medium.
Television is incredible for spreading awareness. If you have a new product and you want to let people know about it – television is almost always your best bet. But in this case, that logic is flawed. A recent Simpson Carpenter survey showed that over half of those surveyed don’t know what QR codes are. If someone learns about QR codes by attempting to interact with them via TV the failure rate of the conversion is incredibly high (for all of the reasons I mentioned above). This means that people who have a bad experience are more likely to say “oh, I don’t use those things…they don’t even work.”
No one will ever make a commercial telling the masses what QR codes are and how they work, but if people try out QR codes on TV and they fail, your campaign may have lost that person for good.
In summation, the QR/TV match-up just isn’t a good fit. A better plan than that would be to initiate an in-bound SMS campaign (text “daddy” to 12345, for example). Messaging like that is much more memorable than squiggly jumble of black and white squares plus the consumer doesn’t have to leave their couch to interact with the campaign via a mobile device.
Special thanks to Nate Sullivan for sharing the results of the Simpson Carpenter study.