QR Codes For TV: Insights From An Insider

Suddenly, QR codes for TV campaigns have never had so much buzz.

You know the reason: The bouncing QR-code Super Bowl ad that pulled so much response that it crashed Coinbase’s server.

But the reality, as I first reported here in November 2020, is that QR codes have been seeing an upsurge in the U.S. since the pandemic presented a pressing need for no-contact solutions for payment and other purposes.

That coincided with the big boost in connected TV (CTV) viewing and advertising driven by lockdowns starting in Q2. Result: After the usual limited use of QR codes by CTV advertisers during pre-pandemic Q1 2020, the number of advertisers using them and the impressions generated rose by double- to triple-digit percentages in subsequent quarters of the year.



CTV ad platforms report that the growth trend was not just a flash in the pan. And with smartphone saturation reaching new levels, eMarketer/Insider Intelligence has projected that the number of U.S. smartphone users scanning a QR code will grow from 83.4 million this year to 99.5 million in 2025 (chart above). They also did a 2022 marketing/tech trends survey that found 75% of respondents saying that they’re interested in using more QR codes in the future.

Retailers, quick-serve restaurants and supermarkets looking to drive consumers to offers, ecommerce sites, menus and the like have been the most prevalent users, but CTV advertisers in a variety of categories are starting to employ this user-friendly interactive device to drive viewers to second-screen experiences of many types.

The codes’ attractions include the ability to increase attention to ads and drive action or conversion with a simple mobile phone scan, without disrupting the viewing experience, capture user data seamlessly, and drive analytics for tracking and optimizing performance. (Using static QR codes is free, but after free-trial periods, dynamic codes usually require a subscription.)

We asked Tim Armstrong, founder and CEO of QR code tech company Flowcode and a former CEO of AOL, to share some thoughts on usage trends and a few points about best practices and common missteps.

Flowcode has been testing QR codes in TV campaigns since its launch more than two years ago, and Armstrong — no slouch at marketing himself — stressed that advertisers shouldn’t “go it alone.” They can best optimize use of the codes by leveraging the knowledge and best practices gleaned through numerous campaigns over time, as well as analytics and proprietary code-tech advancements or features, he says. (For example, Flowcode claims to be the only code that incorporates its privacy policy to let consumers and brands know how their data is used.)

Asked why QR codes are gaining in popularity for TV campaigns, Armstrong said that when people scan the codes, “they are choosing to interact with a brand versus being algorithmically served. They are choosing who to share their data with and the level at which they opt in. We also believe that for businesses, connecting to customers directly is more profitable and effective than renting user data from the big tech companies that leverage brands’ data against them and sell it to their competitors.”

Who tends to initiate QR code trials for campaigns? What types of coordination are needed?

“There are a lot of different people in the QR ecosystem because of the multitude of use cases,” Armstrong says. “Who at your company is thinking about what the customer wants most? The answer is different everywhere.  

“Among the TV advertisers, content owners and networks we work with, marketing sets the KPIs and creative puts it into the wild, working with our team on elements including code time on screen, call to action, code placement, scan education, post-scan experiences and more. But the initial decision to try QR codes may originate with bold CMOs, or even CEOs, who want a more direct relationship with the customers they serve.”

As for what works and doesn’t work with QR codes in general and TV in particular, here are some of Armstrong's key points:

* Create engaging experiences. “Creating interactive and shoppable TV with QR codes is not about putting a small code on the bottom corner of ads or content,” says Armstrong. “It’s about creating memorable and engaging content experiences. QR codes don’t automatically make people care about your ad or content, but they do let people instantly connect with your ad or content and take action.

“From a shoppable TV perspective, the branded code that corresponds to the brand or the item being sold on screen creates higher scan and conversation rates. It’s also about the data and analytics that help brands understand the calls to action and the creatives being tested.  

“When working with partners, we focus on being deliberate about code size, code placement, call to action, post-scan experiences and scan education. QR codes do the navigation for you, and it’s important to send viewers to content in context, like a specific landing page or product description page, not your homepage.”  

*The bigger the code, the better the performance.  

*Longer time on screen and prominent, explicit value propositions, like a discount or giveaway, increase scans. “Scans will always be proportional to the value exchange. Direct call to action is key, and viewers prefer surprise and delight over ‘learn more’ or ‘scan for more information.’” 

*Placements of unique codes help brands understand comparative analytics. Unique codes and data sets can be used to track and evaluate individual variables such as different offers, creative or calls to action, and channel placement. 

*Smart use of visual and verbal “scan education” can lift scan engagement by up to 10 times. These can be graphic inclusions in the code itself, or worked into voiceovers or the ad script. 

“The most successful marketing comes with a clear and distinct instruction for the viewer,” Armstrong sums up. “QR scanning is no exception.”

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