Monday 29 November 2010

Waitrose includes QR code in TV ad. Great News! Well, err, actually...

This weekend Waitrose ran what has been touted as a UK first - a TV ad including a QR code call-to-action.  That's pretty big news isn't it?  Well, I guess so yes.  But not for the right reasons...

For those that haven't seen it, the ad shows Delia Smith (Norwich's most famous daughter) showing us how to cook Roast ribs of beef with Yorkshire pudding

There it is.  An Epiphany for Mobile Marketing.  The defining point in the acceptance of a mobile call-to-action in what is, one of the most jealously guarded pieces of advertising real-estate.  Mobile has reached the big-time.  Everyone in the Mobile industry should raise a toast.

Well... err... I don't think so...

When I heard about this on Friday I got a little bit angry.  In fact, I needed coaxing down from the light fittings by one of the Account Manager here.  Why?  Because it it this kind of inappropriate use of Mobile that really really riles me.  As far as I am concerned, it is another example of what I mentioned in my post back in August about the number of poor executions of Mobile in marketing.

Let me explain...  The ad is very much in keeping with the recent Waitrose ads - one of Delia or Heston showing a 35 second recipe which, obviously, needs a series of ingredients from Waitrose which are nicely bundled up in-store for you.  As I understand it, the run has been very successful for them and an effective response to the "food as sex" M&S ads.  And if you watched the video, you will probably have noticed a funny looking square in the final frame.  Here it is again:

There, in the final frame is a QR (quick response) code.  A 2-dimensional barcode that, when scanned by an application on a mobile phone can include plenty of information (such as a contact record) and do plenty of things (like auto create an SMS), but is most frequently used to launch the phone's browser to a particular URL.

So let me explain with why this isn't as good as it should be...

The QR code is on-screen for 2-3 seconds and, as you can see, is accompanied by absolutely no explanation.  So given this, who could respond?  Well, you're looking at smartphone users (c.30% of the phone-owning population) who either already know what a QR code is, or are so intrigued by the funny looking square that they do some research to find out about it, and who have (or know that they have) a barcode-reading app on their device.  Oh, and they have to get their phone, open the app and scan the barcode within 3 seconds.

When it comes to CTAs, particularly mobile ones, I like to apply what I call the "Bedford Test" - I like to imagine that were I to walk into Bedford town centre (the nearest town to where I live) and ask a random selection of the people that I come across what a QR code is, would they know what to do.  Well, what do you think?  Does this pass the Bedford Test?  I don't think so.

So, just taking the ad and the placement of the QR code at face value, I wonder who the target consumer is?  If it's Digital Executives based in London then we're all good.  If it's 35-45 year old females then we're not so good...

Ok, so let's assume that the consumers are savvy in this kind of thing, and are able to scan the code using their phone in the 3 seconds that is available to them (or have Sky+).  What happens?  Given there is no explanation, you may assume that you get pushed to the URL that is alongside it in the ad (and is not mobile optimsed BTW).  Nope.  You get pushed to a URL to download their Christmas app.  It's pretty clever in that if you have a supported device (iPhone or Android only) you get pushed to the app in the appropriate app store/market.  But what if you don't have an iPhone or Android device (there are more smartphones that aren't than are...)?  You get pushed to a page like this:

* Sorry for the poor image quality.  It was from an N97 after all...

Basically, a page called "Other phones", that says the Christmas app is not supported on your phone.  Oh.  Thanks for that Waitrose!

So, in short, it'll generate a low response rate and for those that do respond, a fair proportion are likely to get a poor user experience.

There's a few (kind of) counter arguments that have been levied at me over the last few days, so let me address these:

But this is great for Mobile.  It's a mobile CTA on TV.  Think about the exposure.
Well, I can't argue that the exposure is large.  But that is the frustration - there have been a significant amount of projects that I have been involved in where we have deployed something really nice but which has suffered because the client has failed to back it with activity to drive awareness or activity.  ATL media space is jealously guarded and there is often a real reluctance from the lead agency to include a mobile call-to-action.  So when you do get the chance, you should use it wisely - it's like being given a test drive in a F1 car and crashing on the first corner.  If the activity is going to be measured on response, then there is a danger that a poor response will result in all Mobile being tarred with the QR-brush and being consigned to BTL comms.

The exposure at image this gives to Waitrose is great.
If Waitrose want exposure in the Mobile or Digital press then fine, this may very well give them what they want.  However, I've also seen an awful lot of "why oh why" type comments from the Twitterati...  But I would be very surprised if there isn't a metric around response rates (this is a direct response CTA after all) and I would also be surprised if it meets it.  As I argue above, if you've got the chance to include a Mobile CTA, please use it more wisely.

But QR codes are cool.  Everyone is talking about them and they're going to be huge.
No they're not.  And no they're not.
QR are codes are a nice mechanic, they're a quick and easy way to drive users to an online destination.  Used at the appropriate time, in an appropriate way they can be very effective.  But they are not widely recognised and the broad consumer understanding doesn't exist - the UK isn't like Japan (where I've seen QR code tattoos!), and the uptake of QR codes will only ever be slow.  Let me dispel the thought that these are cutting edge - does anyone remember The Sun trying to introduce them into the mainstream and including a pull-out all about QR codes?  In 2007!  I just love the line "your technology-crazy Sun is going to be at the forefront of the revolution".  If the combined force of The Sun and Keeley don't manage to bring them to the fore of the collective consciousness then I'm not sure what will...

So what would I have done?

Pretty simple really, I'd have included an SMS call to action "Text WAITROSE to 8NNNN":
- Everyone with a phone can send an SMS (it is the only killer-app for mobile) and so no-one is excluded.
- It is memorable, so the consumers don't have to grab their phone and respond whilst the ad is on-screen.
- It allows you to respond to the consumer via SMS, meaning you can set the consumers expectations with your reply.
- You start a conversation - you've got their mobile number and so can have a dialogue with them, and so engage with them in other ways.

At it's simplest level, SMS is the most democratising of channels, as everyone can engage if they want to.  After all, what does using a QR code say to Waitrose's customers?

Surprisingly, I don't like knocking other Mobile activity.  But equally, I do like to see it done well as, for whatever we say, it is still an industry that is fighting hard to be recognised alongside other channels.  And so because of this, everything that "we" do, on whatever scale, needs to be as appropriate and effective as we can make it...

UPDATE: My latest post discusses how Sky TV have done a far better job of executing a QR code campaign:


  1. Yup, lets not try anything innovative and dare I say it pioneering now in case it offends the mobile hoi-polloi who have been using (though not necessarily promoting) QR codes for years.

    Well done Waitrose for trying it out, great to see, even if it's not 100% perfect in execution.

    Grow your neck, whoever you are Mr Blog writer and go back under the rock from where you crawled from.

  2. Great post David.

    Mr Anon (assumed to be someone from Waitrose's TV or mobile agency...I know who you are...), its not the fact the 'mobile ho-polloi' have been using it for years and want to brag about it.

    Simply put, the execution is so bad (not 100% perfect?! Not even 10% ok!), that it demonstrates the terrible level of education within traditional agencies, and the quality of education provided by some mobile agencies.

    Brands are not committing to mobile because they don't know much beyond the iPhone, and the level and quality of what they are being told is, in the main, utter bollocks.

    Mobile marketing has grown up a lot in the past 3 years, and should certainly be employed by brands beyond the 'We Do Mobile PR stunt'.

    Being innovative and daring goes beyond just DOING something. Its about understanding it first, then utilising it in a fashion that is so bloody natural that anyone and everyone can do it.

    This has not helped Waitrose in the slightest in becoming an innovative brand. A poor QR execution, plus a pretty shoddy iPhone app goes to show how little thought even mobile agencies are giving to mobile in the quest to win a few big name clients.

  3. I have to agree, this is overly scathing. Their use of it on TV is far from perfect, but try to give a more balanced argument, maybe people will give you some credibility?

    You’re coming across as quite jealous … what’s the deal?

  4. Hi "Anonymous" x2,

    Firstly, thanks for commenting - I'm the first to admit that my opinion is only that, and that alternative views are out there. That said, I'd prefer the discussion was carried out under more civil terms...

    I should firstly say that I am all for innovation - I've been in mobile for a number of years now (I'm not sure if that makes me hoi-polloi though) and have seen, and managed, quite a few innovative projects in my time.

    Also I'm not offended by the ad, I'm frustrated by it - innovation isn't my criticism, it's appropriateness. With the opportunity that is afforded by a 3 second slot on a TV ad, there is the possibility of providing an effective mobile call-to-action that can be used by ALL (bear in mind that TV is not targeted so the ad will be seen by a 60 year old granny as well as a 25 year old single man).

    It's should also be noted that QR codes are not innovative - as you say yourself, they have been around for years. Maybe there is a clue in that as to why there appears to be a general air of confusion around their use here...

    If you honestly believe that a QR code would drive greater response than an SMS CTA then more fool you.

    Again, and as with ANY activity, appropriateness is key...

  5. Anonymous,

    The identity of the writer of this blog is all over this blog. In the URL. In every post. What's your identity? Where's your rock?

    Bod's right - what's the point in trying this stuff out if you get so many of the mandatories wrong?

    If my agency were paid to erect an amazing never-been-seen-before glasses-free 3D digital signpost that points to a branch of Waitrose, I'd make sure that:

    1) It's in the language of the target audience
    2) The call-to-action is legible for long enough to action it
    3) It actually points to the branch of Waitrose

    Yeah, the agency are trying something out, but what are they actually trying?? What are they proving??

    This isn't pioneering - it's as misguided as your comment.

  6., where exactly is your identity? Check your links before you give it the holier than thou and shoot your mouth off.

    I'm glad to see Bod's blog and my subsequent ahem "comment" have generated such enthusiasm for the subject..and that's all I am and "enthusiast" with a some experience of MM.

    You're all right of course, a text CTA on the Ad would have been terrific to see and given the campaign far greater reach but I believe the app is only available on a few handsets and iPad at present (I'll be watching this with interest). But the obviously vituperative "critique" and the fact it's been splurged all over twitter (not the authors fault admittedly) smacks to me of sour grapes somewhat.

    Waitrose could have given the code more exposure AND possibly given an explanation as to what the damn thing was (although do you see explanations for FB/web-pages on TV ads...given not everyone in the UK is online fixed-line or otherwise)but they should be applauded for at least Do-ing something much to the chagrin of these oh-so-perfect mobilists.

    "A man without enemies has no character" once said a recently departed blue-eyed movie star. With this in mind, Waitrose appear to be oozing with charisma.

    Keep up the good work
    Josef Zenevits.

  7. Josef,

    Again, I come back to appropriateness. If the app is only supported on a few devices why are Waitrose:

    1. Using mass media such as TV where you cannot target just these devices?

    2. Not providing any explanation along with the QR code? Just the text "iPhone or Android, scan here" would have been better.

    3. Providing a satisfactory experience for consumers who don't have Android/iOS (not being able to respond or going through to a page that say "Sorry you can't get the app" when you didn't even know that that the link is to download an app, is not good enough).

    I am certainly no enemy of Waitrose (their meals-for-one are fantastic I am lead to believe). I also hold no sour grapes, I'm not quite sure why you would feel this. That said, I do get frustrated when a opportunity to further the reputation and exposure of MM is not exploited as fully as possible (there I go with "appropriate" again).

    I guess I must be pretty charismatic too then...?

  8. Bod, most charismatic I assure you and your comments are entirely appropriate!! I'm with you on enhancing the reputation of MM.

    Best regards

  9. Josef, with all due respect, put an '@' in front of it. I don't have a blog.

    Let's not applaud people for just "doing" something. Let's applaud people for doing something well. Let's not celebrate averageness just because it exists.

    If we (yes, I work with Bod) had sour grapes for every piece of mobile marketing we weren't involved in, we'd own a vineyard rather than stick to the mobile marketing work we do. But we have plenty of work of our own, thanks. God forbid that we have an opinion on work that isn't our own. Believe me, we've been known to make mistakes too.

    My frustration with this Waitrose thing is slightly different to Bod's: We see so many mobile sites, apps, experiences that are hidden under the carpet with no fanfare and no above-the-line media support.

    So when some mobile activity gets ATL support like this Waitrose example, it's disappointing to see that there are a lot of weird decisions right through the execution when this could have been something wonderful.

    What is all this about sour grapes and jealousy? It's opinion, that's all. I admire whoever it was who got the damn QR thing on the TV spot. I just wish they really knew what they were doing with it.

    Thanks for the jolly debate, Josef.

    Mark Freeman

  10. I saw the ad, rewound & paused my PVR, snapped the QR code, downloaded the app. It was really easy.

    I like the fact that this makes the assumption that anyone who's tech-savvy enough to know what a QR code is is likely to have all the supporting equipment to use it. Anyone who isn't (or doesn't) can use the URL right next to it on the screen.

  11. stopsatgreen, you make a valid point and, to an extent, I agree with you.

    However, my annoyance is that the ad did not say "iPhone and Android users scan here". There was no explanation at all!

    There are more smartphone users without these devices than with them, so you are 'supporting' a minority of a minority (albeit an more active and educated segment).

    There has not been a massive amount of care taken for the experience of everyone else - be they smartphone users; consumers familiar with QR codes or not.

    I have no issue at all with developing an app for these devices, but with this appearing on mass media such as TV, there should have been more care taken with providing an appropriate mobile-experience for all users.

    As a secondary point though, I tried to scan this from an ad running on a show that I had recorded. I tried pausing it, and it didn't scan so I tried pointing the scanner at the area I knew the code was in and playing the ad. It took about 4-5 attempts to get a clean scan. Of course this is a factor of the TV, mobile device and the scanning app being used but if this symptomatic of what others could have experienced, then it is not a great experience for those that are supported...

    In any event, I would like to see the app download stats in conjunction with the response rates (across all devices) from the QR code in the ad.

  12. Stopsatgreen, you do make a very valid point, but once again, its not a direct CTA to download the app, plus it doesnt redirect to a mobile optimised site, or the respective app stores for that matter.

    The 'assumption that anyone who's tech-savvy enough to know what a QR code is is likely to have all the supporting equipment to use it' is completely unfounded, and unless their is research to support it, is essentially a shot in the dark.

    Tell me, would you honestly scan every code you saw on every ad? My guess is that this is a novelty and you have made the effort accordingly. Realistically, this won't be repeated too often.

  13. What is all this about sour grapes and jealousy? It's opinion, that's all. I admire whoever it was who got the damn QR thing on the TV spot. I just wish they really knew what they were doing with it.
    good thanks

  14. Hi Dave,

    While we're all enjoying these comments, it is worth stating that Incentivated, gawd love'em, have done a job of work getting a QR on to a TV ad, and for this some credit is due.

    Sure there are some issues, particularly around the time it has on screen (and I bet they batted hard to get it up there longer). Quite unfortunate is the decision to take users to an app download page which has the bad experience for non-smartphone users (but then, how many Nokia users are really going to use QR??), but I suppose this is driven by the mobile web site's inability to insert a device-based promotional banner leading through to the relevant app store (but that's another supplier's probem...)

    Overall though as this incredibly early in the evolution of QR (in this country) it's kind of unlikely that anyone's going to get it perfect first time, and this is more likely due to the client than the suppliers involved. It will take some time, but as everyine eventually gets smart phones and old school marketers die out like dinosaurs we may see some great success from this channel and look back on this as a good day, rather than concentrating on the negative.

  15. I think you need to get out more. Clearly the link can be better managed but that's just a standard web faux pa which many companies make.

    However all this talk of target Market. It's rubbish. I shop at waitrose I know what a qr code is, I have the app to read them on my phone , I also have sky + and would upon seeing this rewind the tv an scan it. Then probably well most definitely Download the app.

    So I am guessing I am the target Market and would say that makes for a very successful campaign.

    Really they only need to target iPhone and android as the 2 major smartphone platforms which has users who Download apps and use the net on their phones.

    I just wish they did a tie up with ocado and made the ingredients from the ad go straight into your ocado mobile shopping basket.

    But I think this is good pr for qr codes. If they had pointed it out on the ad and made a big deal of it they would have spent their tv ad space educating the public about a core product that isn't theirs. Plus they would be trying to preach to the unconverted. Waitrose don't want those who are not tech savvy to think they are the cleveriest tech heads in grocery shopping. They want the tech heads to think they know what we are doing. And I guess that is ROI for one little box on screen for 3 seconds.

    Oh and by the way clearly SMS is a dreadful way of engaging mobile unless there is a prize. Not sure if anyone remember this but SMS costs money and I doubt anybody will pay to receive a weblink.

    The fact that this guy who writes the blog works in advertising doesn't surprise me. It's definitely not what it used to be. Too many self righteous people.


  16. Hi Pasa,

    I'm glad you know me so well...

    You may very well be the target market. And I assume that you think that you are in the majority?

    If Waitrose's intent is to drive downloads of an iPhone/Android app, should that be mentioned somewhere? What about those with such devices that do not know what a QR code is? Or have TV that can be paused/rewound? Or don't have the inclination to do this? What of those that have a smartphone with a QR reader that isn't an iPhone or Android?

    But you are probably right - only iPhone using; Sky+ owning; Tech-savvy consumers watch TV. And if I got out more, maybe I would recognise this myself yes...?

    But to suggest that SMS is a "dreadful way of engaging" via mobile, I am afraid, shows a lack of understanding of the medium. If you want to offer a mobile experience to all (as should probably be the objective given a TV ad can/will be seen by anyone/everyone) SMS is the _only_ way of doing so.

    But of course, that would not fit with the London-centric digital-buzzword following trends. If considering the experience of all consumers makes me self righteous then so be it...

    BTW, please do read my most recent post that discusses how a QR campaign can be more effectively managed (by Sky themselves in this example):

  17. But it is oh so much more! Each QR code (QR stands for quick response) is composed of tiny shapes that can be read both horizontally and vertically.itsmyurls

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