James Swift

18 February 2022

How and when to use QR codes in advertising campaigns 

Four examples of creative advertising campaigns that successfully integrate QR codes to drive user engagement

This year’s Super Bowl was billed as the Crypto Bowl because of the influx of cryptocurrency advertisers, but Sunday’s big game also cemented the resurgence of another technology – QR codes.

Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase became one of the most talked-about advertisers of the Super Bowl when it broadcast a QR code bouncing around a black screen for 60 seconds, in the hope of luring viewers to its website and a giveaway of $15 in Bitcoin.

Rocket Mortgage, which topped USA Today’s prestigious Ad Meter index ranking the best ads of the Super Bowl, hid a QR code on the T-shirt of one of the actors in its ad. The code led to a raffle on resale website, StockX, which was co-founded by the chairman of Rocket Mortgage.

Liquid Death also snuck in a QR code towards the end of its regional ad, rewarding the first few viewers to scan it with a discount on its canned water products. And that’s to say nothing of the brands that incorporated QR codes into the supporting activations of their Super Bowl campaigns.

From lame to mainstream

Despite widespread adoption in Asia (in particular China) for tech and retail purposes, QR codes were for a long time derided as a gimmick within western advertising and something that required too much effort on the part of consumers to be effective. To some extent, it is still true that most people in most instances will not bother to scan a QR code presented to them by an advertiser. But two things have changed since brands began experimenting with QR codes in the mid-2000s that have shortened the odds.

First, from around 2017, smartphone manufacturers began to incorporate QR-code scanners into their devices’ cameras, lowering the barrier for use. Second, amid the Covid-19 pandemic, restaurants began replacing paper menus with QR codes as a way to reduce contamination, boosting people’s familiarity with the technology.

Over the past year or two, we have also noticed a marked increase in the use of QR codes by brands. And while there is very limited scope to make QR codes the centrepiece of a campaign, like Coinbase did, they are becoming an increasingly viable means of encouraging customers engagement.

Here are some of the best examples.

Ad-Break Championship for Volkswagen, by Tribal and DDB, Sydney 

Volkswagen in Australia promoted its new Golf GTI to younger audiences with a TV ad that used a QR code to invite viewers to play a mobile racing game for the chance to win one of the cars.

Participants who scanned the code with their smartphone were redirected to a site where they competed against other viewers of the ad in a race that lasted the length of the three-minute ad break. If they finished the race and beat the qualifying time, players were entered into a draw to win the GTI.

DDB Sydney’s creative partner, Tim Woolford, told Contagious that using a QR code allowed them to lower the barrier for entry to the competition and encourage more players.

‘Not having to download an app was massive for us,’ he said. ‘We would have had to go through the whole process of convincing people that the app is worth downloading, then they actually have to do it and no one wants another bloody app on their phone. It would have killed the campaign before it had even got out of the gates.

Read more here.

The Homeless Bank Account for HSBC, by Wunderman Thompson, London 

HSBC worked with homeless charity Shelter to make it possible for people with no fixed address to open a bank account, addressing one of the vicious cycles of poverty.

The bank promoted its new service with OOH advertising in bus shelters and train stations, where homeless people were likely to see them. Some of the billboards also included QR codes that led Shelter’s website and encouraged people to make a donation to help fight homelessness. According to the agency, the donations generated from the QR code helped Shelter get over 100 people off the street, with one in five of those who scanned the code signing up to become regular donors.

Read more here.

Playlist Timer for Barilla, by Publicis Italy, Milan 

Barilla put QR codes on its pasta packaging that led customers to Spotify and a playlist that would last exactly as long as the time it took to cook that particular shape of pasta to perfection.

The Playlist Timer campaign, created by Publicis Italy, Milan, aligned with existing behaviours (since people who have smart speakers often use them in their kitchen) and ensured that customers got to experience Barilla’s products at their best.

It was promoted in more ways than just the QR code (including audio ads to Spotify Free users), but according to the agency, the Playlists were listened to for more than 508,000 minutes, and Barilla now has 332,220 followers on Spotify.

Read more here.

Boards Of Change for City of Chicago, by FCB Chicago 

The City of Chicago reassembled boards used to protect store fronts during the Black Lives Matter protests into mock poll-booths and placed within them QR codes that led to a voter registration site.

The Boards of Change campaign, which began in July 2020, initially urged citizens to take part in the national census but later changed emphasis to encourage citizens to register and vote in the US presidential election in November of that year. 

According to FCB Chicago the campaign helped Chicago achieve a record number of voters in the 2020 national election, and Boards of Change won the Grand Prix in the Media category at the 2021 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

Read more here.

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