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Creative usage of QR codes in ads or just following the trends- What are Indian brands up to?

As QR codes continue to take the advertising world by storm through its creative usage in the modern technological arena, industry players emphasise how the practice of using QR codes in ads is gaining momentum in the country

With the world advancing towards technology-based options for advertising, QR codes have not only resurfaced in the advertising arena but have become a fad for brands and marketers.

Niraj Ruparel

According to Niraj Ruparel, Head of Mobile and Emerging Tech, GroupM and Tech Lead, WPP, “QR codes have re-surged as a way to integrate the digital world into the physical world at very strategic points and it has already made lots of traditional ways redundant, like the need to have physical menus and waiters in restaurants for collecting orders.”

Ruparel further emphasised that QR codes are not only low tech, easy to distribute and extremely versatile but they can be used for a variety of cases like sharing phone numbers, collecting payments, sending messages on WhatsApp, direct to a landing page, etc. as the user behaviour is ripe for mass usage.

“The click-throughs can be easily tracked as well, giving data to marketers to understand the performance metrics and attribution to different touchpoints. Hence, QR codes are the new normal in advertising and will see increasing adoption in future,” he added.

Dhruv Sachdeva

Speaking along similar lines, Dhruv Sachdeva, Founder, Humour Me, said, “With the advancement of technology and the increasing penetration of internet and smartphones in the country, the QR code is just a device that helps an individual to go on from one place to another. In fact, using QR codes in advertising is not something new, but is an age-old practice.”

He further went on to state that almost a decade ago, Volkswagen used it to wrap their new car and on scanning the QR code it led to a page where users could see how the car really looked.

Volkswagen QR code campaign:

“Everything is brought back at some point in time and a trend comes to play when someone lights a fire. In the case of QR codes, it was Coinbase’s Superbowl commercial that set a trend, as it was at a Superbowl spot on which they pulled off such a big stunt and everybody naturally wanted to do something like them,” he stated.

In fact, Sachdeva also pointed out that after the Superbowl ad, there were brands who didn’t have it in them to do such a thing and were just emulating, because they would still get attention and that generates much more RoI for brands.

Coinbase’s Superbowl Ad commercial:

Additionally, he emphasised that in order to do something big, one needs to be original and do something that works for the category that they come under so that eventually it becomes a trend.

A spokesperson from Budweiser also said, “In an era of hyper digitisation, QR codes have opened interesting avenues to communicate, build buzz and even offer an experience to consumers. Beyond making a connection and increasing engagement, QR codes can also help to build intrigue and establish a quicker route for a call to action.”

“The sheer simplicity and shareability of a QR code make it easier for the customer to engage with the brand without having to go through the tedious process of walking into a retail store or filling out a form on a website,” the spokesperson added.

Speaking about how Budweiser used QR codes in their recent campaign for the FIFA World Cup, the spokesperson stated, “For the Drop, Budweiser wanted to grab the attention of the discerning youth, which is our core audience in an unconventional way and trigger them to act, without giving too much away.”

Budweiser’s The Drop QR campaign:

Azazul Haque

As per Azazul Haque, Chief Content Officer, Media.Monks, “The QR code is a tool to take the viewer somewhere through a smartphone and can connect any medium, be it print or television, to online mediums and redirect it to wherever the brands want the traffic to go. It cannot be the means to achieve traffic or build a certain reach since it is only a tool and cannot be the main idea.”

“Unfortunately, a lot of brands are making QR code the idea when it is clearly a tool that can be used on smartphones, with an active internet connection, to help the public reach where they are required, be it on a microsite, macrosite, a website or any other portal,” he added.

Since the usage of QR codes in advertising is at a nascent stage, Haque also suggested that brands and agencies need to use it cleverly and creatively if they want to nudge and excite people to see desired responses.

Sujoy Golan

As per Sujoy Golan, Chief Business Officer, Vizury- An Affle Platform, “We’re seeing a lot of QR code usage today, right from advertising to contactless digital payments to even registering products with the brand post-purchase. QR codes are a great way to embed links on non-digital channels and take the customer journey online.”

“With QR code scanners available by default with modern mobile phones, scanning codes have become normal and mobile-first behaviours post-Covid has only accelerated it. This has helped marketers to implement QR codes in their marketing campaigns to drive better customer engagement,” he added.

Furthermore, Golan also pointed out that in modern times, both offline retail and omnichannel retail companies are using QR codes to bring their customers online and drive omnichannel retail journeys to scale new customer acquisitions and higher in-store conversions.

A recent example of the creative usage of QR codes is ClearTrip’s print ad, which was conceptualised and executed by Talented agency in collaboration with Web Dimension. Herein the viewer had to first scan the QR code given on the newspaper, post which if the user scanned any other ad, he or she would see a trip to a certain destination alongside the product with the same pricing.

Prashant Gopalakrishnan

According to Prashant Gopalakrishnan, Founding Partner and Business Strategy Lead, Talented, “In the past few years, we have seen that when e-commerce platforms kickstart their festive season sale, the newspapers are flooded with product ads which occupy the first 8-10 pages of the print medium, on at least one or two days. If that is what it is and a brand wants to stand out from the clutter, what can we do to help them achieve that and that is exactly how we initially started thinking.”

Gopalakrishnan also pointed out that while discussing the ideas, it was Manek who questioned why any brand should limit themselves to a single space or page of the newspaper and inquired why can’t every ad be the brand’s ad.

Pooja Manek

Adding to this Pooja Manek, Founding Member and Creative, Talented, said, “Since we didn’t have the front page for our ad and while discussing on the creative pitch, it just struck me that since we already have our ad space on the seventh or tenth page with a clutter-breaking layout, what if we are able to direct the viewers to other ads where they can find for themselves various offers for travel destinations.”

Commenting on the challenges faced while executing the campaign with the assistance of Kalpit Dwivedi from Web Dimensions, she also pointed out that since they didn’t know what all ads will form a part of the day’s newspaper, it was very intimidating at the moment.

“Then Kalpit came up with an idea and said, what if we scan numbers, and then we decided to finally go at the campaign and sat down to narrow down the permutations and the parameters into rupee symbols and percentage signs since every touchpoint is an opportunity to talk to the consumer. We also wanted to ensure that the customer experience just didn’t end at the scanned offer, thus we decided to make elevating copies which resonated with the offer,” added Manek.

GroupM’s Ruparel also highlighted that it is the traditional brands that have a bigger opportunity to leverage QR codes as they have large offline presence and distribution channels that give them exposure to a larger audience via footfalls and eyeballs.

Citing an example for the same, he said that retail stores can place QR codes on checkout counters to collect feedback, drive engagement for loyalty programs for earning/burning rewards by sharing invoice copies, etc.

Moreover, Humour Me’s Sachdeva also stated that since the customers are bombarded with content from all over the place, the only job for a brand marketer is to stand out and differentiate themselves and to get attention.

“Being hated is good, being loved is great, but being ignored is the worst thing that can happen to any brand,” he added.

Reminiscing one of Dunzo’s ad ‘Inconvenience is Regretted’, which was executed by Humour Me during the IPL, Sachdeva said that if it is used in static mediums the idea can still work. He further also went on to add that when his company executed the ad for Dunzo, they didn’t mention the brand’s name and even used a different font, however, once the QR code was scanned, it was then that the people realised the particular ad was done by Dunzo.

Upon being asked about the benefits of using QR codes in ad campaigns, Sachdeva said, “If you have done it the right way, you’ll be leading the people right to the point of sale or the point of action, because you can directly track the efficacy and you’ll also find out how many people actually care and have responded to the commercial.”

Adding to this, Haque also said that QR codes have essentially made it easier for people to directly reach a website or portal without having to type the entire URL, through a single scan of the code on any medium.

Challenges faced by brands in using the QR code

Commenting on some of the challenges faced by the usage of QR codes in advertising, Ruaparel said, “The brand must be respectful of the user because the QR code must be strategically placed where the user does not get interrupted, and it seamlessly weaves into the user’s offline experience. But if the user does not see value in the interaction, the QR usage would be low.”

“As the user has to stop his offline activity to engage with the QR code, it has to offer enough value for the user to make the action. Brands can use gamification or incentivise users to promote adoption of QR codes,” he pointed out.

Additionally, Sachdeva also went on to state that if there is no incentive or intrigue for the viewers, then it won’t get the desired results but even in that case, it would manage to gain some attention.

Similarly, Haque also pointed out that the catch here is to excite people to scan the QR code and if the viewer is not engaged, he might not make the effort to take the phone out and scan the QR code to reach the desired call to action.

On a concluding note, he also said that QR codes should be used in such a careful fashion that they do not become an irritant for the viewer and should not barge into their personal space and brands should not over-expect from the consumers and be pragmatic.

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