"What the hell are you looking for?" barks my fiancée in her now-familiar bride-to-be tone of impatience. Four weeks out from a wedding and everything takes on new urgency and little things get writ large. "I am not marrying a shoe fetishist, am I?"
Well, while she shopped for the right pair to match the wedding dress, I was rooting among the shelves for QR codes. I admit that a guy taking phone cam pictures of shiny black stilettos is going to raise some questions. But my understanding was that Macy's had been instituting in-store mobile codes that shoppers could activate.
"Focus, please! Or I will call security on you," she warned.
Actually, the fetish association is not misplaced. It is no small thing that in-store 2D codes require a weird public act of consumer devotion. You are not just browsing items. Suddenly you are taking a picture of a poster, a tag, a shelf. You are making a declaration of interest. For a lot of shoppers that may be trivial, but many others like me tend to keep it cool in store aisles and feel a bit conspicuous scanning a code.
I am not sure I ever found Macy's instances of the program they have been touting lately. I did find a QR code on a tag attached to MissMe jeans. It kicked me over to a nicely designed mobile-friendly site that invited me to rotate the iPhone to enter the site and then either download an app or watch a video. So far, so good. Then the video started. My fiancée was not impressed, and her reality check is worth noting. "Why am I standing in a store watching a video of some bleached blonde in oversized sunglasses?"
She was right. It was just a three-minute brand video. Nicely done, but what is the point of giving it to someone in a store? This is not the first time this has happened. In fact, she has gotten used to so many unsatisfying results from my relentless in-store 2D scanning that she gasps when I pull out my phone. In the aisles of Barnes and Noble, a Microsoft Tag was on back of an historical thriller "Stardust" that looked intriguing. Again, it kicked me over to a very attractive trailer -- that wanted to go on for seven minutes. Seven minutes! "Stop that," my fiancée said. "Would you bring a TV to watch in the middle of bookstore?" Worse, am I really going to sit in a bookstore and watch a seven-minute video in order to find out what the book is about?
In Macy's, she just walks away. "Why don't they give me something I can use here while I am shopping?" Her advice is on-point. "Tell me what goes with this piece of clothing. Show me what else in the line I might like. Why the hell do I want an ad? I am already looking at their clothes."
I am not sure where it got into marketers' heads that consumers regard video clips as some kind of reward. "Click here to watch a video." Because there isn't a lot of that stuff around? Hurry, before it runs out?
Which is not to say all public shows of 2D scanning are for naught. ING Direct has a billboard series that features a QR code and pays off the effort with a $25 deposit to a newly opened savings account. The creative in the out-of-home advertising effectively communicates what consumers will get for their time. Likewise a lengthy trailer makes sense on the other end of a QR code when it is exactly what the user expects and it actually tells the viewer something they didn't already know. Loath as I am to use porn as an example, adult video maker Digital Playground started adding codes to its DVD boxes and marketing materials. And in this market, trailers make sense, largely because porn is so bad. The trailer made a necessary product point that this porn studio was trying to restore story and scripting to the genre. Obviously this is a trailer experience you would have to activate carefully, but I think that expectation is built into the genre.
My point is not that 2D codes are futile. Far from it. But they are a platform that ordinarily communicates little to the consumer up front and is going to be held accountable as a platform by consumers for what gets delivered. In other words, the platform as a whole is poorly served by pointless executions. In scores of codes I have been scanning in recent weeks, the rendered media simply make no sense to the mobile situation. Granted we are still in the gee-whiz stage of 2D codes, where some people just get a kick out of seeing their phone interact with the physical world this way. But if my handy focus group of one is any indication, audiences will get jaded and wary very quickly over these experiences if marketers don't work harder at relevance and utility. It won't be too hard to undermine a promising technology by tricking adventurous mobile users into watching just another ad.
And before I finish discussing the simple practical aspects of in-store mobile executions, I am compelled to mention again the persistent drag on all of this.
"The video went quiet, what happened?" my fiancée says.
"It is buffering."
Data network performance in large windowless stores sucks, and this always (I mean always) undermines the in-store mobile efforts I keep trying and trying. Retailers who say they want to activate the mobile experience simply cannot forget the most basic technical piece: that it actually has a hope of working.
Believe me, fixing this will make my world a nicer place.
"Buffering?" she asks now in total disbelief. "We are sitting in a store watching a phone in order to wait for an ad to buffer? You need to think about your life."