Just in case you just crawled out of a cave, October was Breast Cancer Awareness month. A bevy of brands painted their products pink to draw awareness and raise funds to the issue–including everything from packaged goods to vacuums to the National Football League. My job is to notice companies’ efforts to create meaningful marketing like these tie-ins, and it is also to watch for examples of companies’ clever use of digital technology to bring it to life. So I had to pull over and get out of my car (literally) when I saw this billboard for ConesfortheCure.org a few weeks ago. While certainly clever, this example unfortunately shows how some companies are making basic mistakes with new technology, even when using it for good.
As you can probably tell, this particular billboard features a QR Code in the middle. Also known as a 2-D bar code, the role of it here is to access information via a mobile device. Here’s how it works: First, you must have a smartphone. Second, you download a QR code reader. I personally use this one, but there are many of them and they seem to work similarly. Then you open the reader app and take a photo of the QR code. When it works correctly, you are taken to some kind of content–usually a mobile-friendly webpage.
Confused and exhausted yet? I thought so. You see, QR codes are smart in theory–they can allow you to quickly and easily go to mobile content without having to type in a website on your phone’s browser. But as you might start to notice in my description, problems abound. Here are some of the issues in QR codes overall and in this execution in particular:
- Most people still don’t know what the heck QR codes are.
- Most people still don’t have a smartphone or a QR code-reader app.
- It’s not easy to scan QR codes when you are driving a car. In this case above, I had to literally pull over on the side of the road, activate my hazard lights, and walk up closer to get my reader to work.
- The result is not that impressive. In the example above, the mobile page below was pulled up, offering me the chance to fill out a form, to receive an email, to click to get a webpage coupon to bring in for a free scoop of ice cream.
I would venture to say that very, very few of these billboards were scanned. People don’t have time to do what I did, and the vast majority simply drive by; possibly some notice a funny symbol and then they go on about their lives. It is unfortunate, because the “Cones for a Cure” idea by my beloved Graeter’s Ice Cream brand is a great example of meaningful marketing. But by rushing to try out this new technology, the brand has hurt the impact of the program.
Instead, why not just use the billboard to do what billboards do best: In big words write something like, “Free Scoop when you say ‘Cones for the Cure’” this month at Graeter’s.” Crazy-simple, I know; but it just might work. This is the kind of thing that a commuter in her car might actually notice and remember. No need to go through 10 steps to make a difference and engage with consumers. Or if you want to make people work a little bit to get the free scoop, abandon the QR code process and just ask people to email a photo of the billboard. This is much easier, safer, and more effective. For example, check out this Cannes Lion-winning example from James Ready beer:
New mobile tools and technology are great and very promising, but I fear that companies such as Graeter’s that jump in without thinking things through will end up frustrating themselves and their customers. To be meaningful, marketing must have more than a great idea in the center–execution is everything.