QR Code

How QR Codes Are Advancing Adtech

The Coinbase Super Bowl ad catapulted QR codes into the center of the adtech conversation. The previously uninitiated may have viewed the ad as an error before they realized the floating, multi-color QR code was actually a marketing campaign. But the lo-fi approach was one of the Big Game’s most memorable moments.

But QR codes’ influence on adtech will not end with Coinbase’s Super Bowl campaign. I checked in with Frank Maguire, VP of insights and strategy at programmatic adtech company Sharethrough, to discuss the benefits and future of QR codes in adtech.

How can QR codes play a role in online-to-offline marketing?

Historically, it has been very difficult for marketers to directly attribute TV ads to sales or ROI. Even with the growth of connected TV, most marketers we speak to still mostly measure CTV success based on incremental reach since attribution models are either too complicated or not reliable. QR Codes on TV ads help provide a clearer attribution path since advertisers can track scans the same way they track clicks to their website and the subsequent behaviors that follow such as bounce rates, pages viewed, leads captured, and sales recorded. Additionally, if marketers use QR Codes that link to trackable in-store actions like coupons then marketers can also track offline sales.

QR Codes can also help with similar online-to-offline measurement challenges with OOH and DOOH advertising. We, hopefully, won’t be seeing more QR Codes on highway billboards (since that’s dangerous), but we are seeing them on more stationary OOH positions like bus stops, where consumers have the time to take out their phones and scan. 

How are advertisers using QR codes for CTV campaigns specifically?

Advertisers are using QR codes in CTV for 2 main purposes.

First, advertisers essentially want to make their CTV ads clickable. 

Before QR Codes grew in popularity, there was some hope in the industry that the remote control would become more like a mouse and we could make CTV ads clickable, the same way that instream ads are. That turned out to be too complicated both because of the many different TV operating systems and remote types and because using a remote like a mouse did not become a standard consumer behavior. But the pandemic-induced comeback of the QR code cemented it as the ideal method to drive engagement from TV ads since consumers are now more familiar with how to scan QR codes and since 79% of consumers have their phone in hand while watching TV, it is the most accessible tool to drive engagement on TV ads.

Now that QR codes make CTV ads essentially clickable, advertisers are using them in similar ways they use clicks on digital ads such as driving to store locators, product information pages, coupons, sign up forms, quote pages and more.

Second, advertisers want to improve consumer attention towards their TV spot.

Our studies on Understanding Consumer Behaviors During TV Commercial Breaks confirmed that TV ads have an attention problem since 76% of people don’t actively pay attention to TV ads. But since 79% of people have their phone or other device in hand while watching TV, advertisers have an opportunity to turn that distraction into an opportunity to improve attention. When we tested consumer attention to TV ads with and without QR codes, it confirmed that hypothesis since TV ads with QR codes showed a 12% increase in attention. That alone is reason enough to include QR codes on TV ads since attention leads to better message recall and awareness that are critical to TV ad success.

What did you think of the Coinbase Super Bowl ad? 

Aside from the perfect timing, the Coinbase Super Bowl ad was a great proof of concept that QR codes and TV ads are fit for each other. It only took one QR code to deliver over 20 million hits on Coinbase’s landing page, rise from 186th to 2nd in the App Store and become one of the top five most discussed brands on Twitter. While most advertisers cannot expect results like that with every QR code, it was an eye-opening moment for marketers that consumers are ready and able to scan QR codes on TV ads and that QR codes help improve attention to their spot.

Are there generational issues with QR code campaigns? How do you suggest brands navigate that?

Aside from the 55+ age group, our research did not show a large generational gap in both knowing how to scan a QR code and likelihood to scan a QR code on a TV ad. 62% of adults 55 and over know how to scan a QR code vs the average of 79%, and 58% of those 55 and older said they would scan a QR code on a relevant TV ad vs the 76% average.

So, brands should feel comfortable that the majority of people in all generations know how to scan a QR code and are willing to scan a QR code on a relevant TV ad.

Any research to share on QR codes and marketing?

Here is the summary of key Sharethrough findings:

  • 76% of consumers don’t pay active attention to TV commercials
  • 79% of consumers use their phone or second screen while watching TV
  • 79% of consumers know how to scan a QR Code
  • 76% of consumers would scan a QR code on a relevant TV ad
  • TV ads with QR codes showed a 12% increase in attention vs TV ads without QR codes
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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Joe is an ad/martech veteran who has covered the space since 2015 and regularly consults with companies in the space on content and communications. You can contact him at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.