QR, or Quick Response, codes have become ubiquitous. Found on print and outdoor ads, product packaging and even gravestones, they have risen to prominence as marketers have realised their potential to connect consumers simply and instantaneously to relevant content via consumers’ mobile devices. Used well, a QR code can extend a fleeting impression into a more sustained engagement and thus speed the consumer down the purchase funnel.
But QR codes have their limitations. The reflective screens of TV, PC screens and digital outdoor can make them difficult to photograph. And their rather functional form, and minimum size requirements, can interfere with the aesthetics of advertisements – a fact that premium and luxury advertisers will be more sensitive to than most.
So it’s hardly surprising that several new technologies are jostling to knock QR codes off their pedestal. Here are the best of them.
Aurasma is an augmented reality app that uses image-recognition technology to identify objects in the real world and then trigger pre-prepared digital content called ‘auras’.
For example, during London Fashion Week there was exclusive material available to readers of The Times T2 supplement. Those who viewed the page through the Aurasma app could access exclusive video content of the shows and buy products directly off the page. Other publications that have used Aurasma include the FT, Top Gear, Heat and The Guardian.
It’s not just print ads that Aurasma can recognise but whole range of real world objects, even buildings, if they’re distinctive enough. And the app is sophisticated enough to make allowances for different lighting conditions and camera angles.
Of course, Aurasma can’t match the ubiquity of QR codes, despite their Tottenham shirt sponsorship and an impressive 4 million downloads of the app to date.
However, Aurasma offers the potential to deliver a different kind of experience to QR codes – viewing an ad through the app and then watching that ad ‘come to life’ is a more talkable and memorable experience for consumers than the simple scanning of a QR code to be connected to product information online.
Audio Recognition Apps
Of course, QR codes are not ideal for television or cinema – expecting the consumer to jump out of their seat and photograph a QR code that will be ‘on screen’ for a limited time is asking too much.
Here, the future may lie in audio recognition apps, including audio watermarking solutions.
Perhaps the best example of this is recent partnership announced between Shazam, the popular music identification app, and ITV.
Now ITV viewers with their Shazam app active can be connected to additional content from that advertiser – be it games, videos, discount vouchers or ecommerce pages – via the app recognising music in the ad. Advertisers such as Cadburys and Pepsi have already leveraged this technology can enable viewers to download music and win festival passes and Olympic tickets.
Audio watermarking is a related technology. Again, the viewer needs the relevant app loaded onto their phone and active, and audio triggers the app to connect the viewer to additional digital content. However, in this case, the watermark is ‘hidden’ i.e. it’s not audible to the human ear.
Digital watermarking is a technology borne out of a US bank note counterfeit security device. It works by imbedding an invisible-to the-naked-eye algorithm within an image, so ads are not compromised aesthetically. A smartphone or tablet with the digital watermarking app loaded is able to scan the image using its inbuilt camera and link to any online content.
Perhaps the best example of digital watermarking is DigWam, a joint venture between Wellcom London, the media production agency and Cousin the global print media specialist. Between them they shared a number of fashion clients and luxury brand retailers and were therefore looking for an elegant solution to the print-to-mobile opportunity.
DigWam comes with the additional benefit of an in-depth data analytics package, allowing advertisers to forensically analyse their response with reports on what device was being used, where it was activated and what online content was downloaded.
The key to which platform becomes dominant is which app becomes most prevalent on consumers smartphones and which is most commonly embedded into the apps of others. However, with the no.1 mobile response mechanism, QR codes, used by just over 11% of smartphone users, the battle for dominance in this sector has yet to be won.