Category Archives: Mobile

When Technology is Too Much

An Austrian company is putting QR codes on gravestones so friends/family of the departed can view a digital catalogue of their lives.

Now, cemeteries will be another place to whip out your phone and start pointing & shooting & watching to gain an “experience.” Maybe I’m too cynical on this one, but the cemetery is no place for an emerging experience.

Neat(ish) idea. Just seems too insensitive for me.

“Let’s look at the memories” vs. “Let’s remember the memories.” This is how I interpret this move and I suppose, this is the crux of my uneasiness of this – technology makes things too easy, to the point of enabling laziness. We don’t put half of our brain to use because we can rely on technology to do it for us. This fundamental notion of storing things away in our brain to call back on in times of despair or joy – these memories – is being dulled by technology that enables us to store it and ignore it.

Who knows? This might be the way of the future, even in cemeteries. I wouldn’t be surprised. But it sure doesn’t make me feel good.

Maybe the Only Good Thing About QR Codes

Last night at the dinner table, my daughter pulls a sticker with a QR code on it off of a banana. She starts making jokes, doing what she can to make her little brothers laugh, and then says, “this is for your smartphone. And an app or something like that.”

Both me and my wife looked at each other like, “did you tell her that?”

And I said, “what do you mean?”

Daughter said, “you need your smartphone for this sticker.”

And I said, “what makes you think that?”

She said, “this little box is for your smartphone.”

“You’re exactly right,” I said.

Hmmm. Again, me and my wife look at each other, kind of amazed. Then, my wife says, to me, “I didn’t even know that until a few months ago.”

This teaches me a couple of things:

1. Children inherently get technology.

2. Children understand what technology, specifically mobile technology (in this case), is needed for. My daughter didn’t know it was a QR code or what necessarily happened with it, but she knew that you need your smartphone to do something with it.

3. There could easily be an expectation with younger generations that real-world stuff just won’t work without technology.

And that’s the point that I don’t think we can lose sight of. Are QR codes a useful enabling technology for marketers and consumers? Likely not. But this is a great case of the reverberation effect of technologies like this whereby the association of what they are and what they are used with has a great impact.

My daughter might not ever use a QR code, but she knows more and more that technology is needed to turn something physical (sticker) into something that makes it “work.”

QR Codes on a car? Maybe not such a bad idea…

Check this out:

QR code on car

A QR code on a car. Right on the back there. No context whatsoever. But if you know what it is, you don’t really need context. You know that you could probably scan that thing, just like all of the ones you can scan on posters or in magazines.

On the back of a car?

My first inclination was to put this into the category of “what in the world are you doing?” But after giving it some thought, maybe there’s something to it.

Before I get into that, I have said many things about QR codes and setting them up for success. They must be:

1. Accessible

2. Convenient

3. Valuable

All too often, none of these are addressed. Just because it’s simple to slap a QR code on anything, brands and marketers do it with the expectation that people are just going to do something with them.

Well, no.

Especially on the back of a car. What is accessible, convenient and valuable out of that whole scenario?

Not so fast, though. Maybe. This is where it got me thinking, for this “valuable” proposition. Now, I have no idea what is behind the code here, if anything. I would presume that it unlocks some sort of information about the vehicle. I don’t know how anyone would find that valuable, but given the way people throw these on anything, value has little to do with any sort of rhyme or reason.

What would be really interesting, however, is if the code unlocked something about the person behind the vehicle. Another dimension to your real self, as told through the lense of technology. I’m not necessarily talking about attaching a name, address, social – any personal information – to it. I’m talking about adding characteristics or traits that embody you. Think about it – someone wants to know more about the person who really is behind this vehicle and they can find things about their personality or passions just by scanning a code attached to the car. And for you, the car owner, it’s another form of self-expression.

Now, how this would really play out on a car, I don’t know. The car would have to be parked or not moving in order to scan it and even more, do something with the information it provides. To what extent that could actually connect people is not certain. But what is certain is this – technology is showing us every single day that real-world objects (like cars) can instantly be made interactive. This technology can bring these things to life.

This example here might not connect people to each other in this way. But if a car brand used a technique like this to show other consumers what characteristics (ie, laid back, analytical, fun-loving, etc.) and/or passions (ie, loves the outdoors, kids extracurricular activities, going to the gym, etc) belonged to people who drove a particular car, that could be a very intriguing insight. Particularly to a car shopper. It could be something that influences that kind of purchasing decision. Which, by the way, should be the whole point of any technology, much less QR codes.

Who knows. How much good would something like this ultimately be? Really? The more I think about this, the more I think it’s a crazy idea that provides little/no value.

But then again, so does an unmarked QR code on the back of a car.



DOOH + mobile + social is not always THE great formula

Digital billboard + mobile + social

I think this is a great formula. The holy grail, in fact.

This is where I see the real potential in truly using the places and things around us to engage. Not just through one, but all three.

ING recently created one such experience in Germany:

Here’s the thing – the problem right now is not whether or not the technology can do it. The real problem is cost and complexity. This is what prohibits scale. But you can even see how compelling something like this could be out in the real world, and then the reach it could potentially have in the virtual world. It’s a combination that could really spark engagement beyond an “experiential” level – something that we could see as a normal part of our everyday lives as we go about the real world around us.

Here’s the other thing, which to me, is more interesting. The tie-in between virtual basketball – regardless of how novel it is and how integrated the experience is – and ING is completely lost on me. They indicate that they wanted to “demonstrate how easy and efficient banking can be” with ING, but how that idea manifests itself through a virtual free throw is beyond me. I get that they wanted to reach a younger demo, but even still, is this demo going to remember ING is the one that brought this experience to them? It just seems too disconnected.

So, something like will get attention for sure. Right now, only a relative few might use it. I suspect it’s only a matter of time before more “non-technologically-curious” people would interact with something like this. But, the bigger concern should be to remain on brand. This, along with great technological integration like this, will be the true holy grail.

On brand communications/idea + integrated technology solution

This is where it’s at.

If People Can’t See It, How Powerful Can It Be?

Pizza box with QR code

What’s wrong with this picture?

What if I told you that this is the back of a pizza box?

As in, typically not the side of the box you look at when deciding on what pizza to buy.

Can you guess?

Well, before I get into it, I do think this brand is on to something with a couple of compelling pieces of content that might affect someone’s decision when buying frozen pizza:

1. “Consumer” reviews

2. Access to more information about their fresh ingredients (through the QR code)

To what extent either of these are actually drivers in the frozen pizza decision making process, I have no idea. But what I do know is that people are much more likely to make that decision based on what they see on the front of the box. Maybe the little bitty side, too, where all of the healthy (or not) ingredients are. But not the back.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you want someone to use an enabling technology like QR codes, then they have to be accessible. Especially in this instance, they must be in a convenient place where it’s not hard – much less not visible – to interact with. This is a simple rule.

But I think the biggest thing, beyond enabling technology or QR codes, is hiding what could be powerful word-of-mouth recommendations, which could definitely change purchase behavior. If no one reads them, how good/effective are they? (Nevermind that these aren’t particularly glowing recommendations.)

What this box teaches me is that despite how good your ideas are, if you’re not doing everything you can to make them visible and easy to interact with, then they will likely have 0 impact.


Easy Encourages and Effects Engagement

Easy Encourages and Effects Engagement

I just got an iPhone and it’s awesome. Before this, I had a Droid 2. Before that, I had an HTC something or other and before that, I had a 1st generation Blackberry Storm. All this over the past 5 years.

In a matter of a couple of days, since I’ve had the iPhone, my mobile usage behavior has undergone what I would call a profound change. I’ve always been able to access more with each of my phones, and with each evolution, a little bit more and a little bit easier. It’s been a fairly steady progression since I’ve operated on all-things-other-than-iPhone. But a very rapid progression in the last couple of days. And it’s not necessarily that I’ve done SO much more than I used to; rather, if my behavior thus far (which is different, for sure) is an indication of how I will now operate in the real and virtual world, I know it’s going to be drastically different.

I can sense that the most profound change will be how I connect. With people. With products. With things. I’m not talking about connecting through features like texting (although as a caveat, my mom, a normal Baby Boomer mom – her behavior completely changed when she got her iPhone. She texts now more than ever and even that change, is a profound one when you’re talking about communications.), I’m talking about connecting through features like seamless integration into social networks and all the apps you could ever want and rich content like photo and video. Everything is just so easy.

And here’s the thing about easy – easy is an encourager. Easy makes you want to engage and explore and do things differently. It’s all about ease of use when you’re talking about adopting any sort of emerging technology.

Like any forms of interactive out-of-home.

If those who are creating ads or materials or experiences for out-of-home recognize the profound power of mobile devices – particularly the best mobile devices of today (because they will be the standard for everyone in the not-so-distant-future) – and how easy they make things, and what that could do for deeper engagement, what out-of-home is today will look drastically different in that not-so-distant-future.

(Not) The Year of the QR Code

Last year around this time, I wrote a post about the Holidays saving QR Codes. At the time, I noticed them in about every print piece/holiday circular we received in the mail, and from that standpoint, I was interested in how it would affect these codes – being introduced into homes via these circulars that everyone, especially the “average” consumer is likely to look at. Would it make them (us) familiar with them to know what they were and what they did? Including them and distributing them in holiday circulars seemed like a pretty good idea to accomplish this. So, while I don’t believe that the holidays “saved” QR codes by any stretch of the imagination (more on that below), I do think they were appropriate to include in those pieces and I do think they were on the forefront of QR code mania that has ensued this past year, and from that standpoint, I think they created a level of awareness. Even if it was, “what in the world is that?”

Since then, it’s been interesting to see how QR codes have played out. All throughout the year, I think everyone can agree that QR codes have popped up everywhere. Not only in the mail, but on posters and signs and sides of buildings and everything else. It is certainly not uncommon to see QR codes plastered on many things – big and small – out in the real world.

And now, a year after circulars, as I unpack our Christmas gifts and groceries, I see them making their way into our homes via the products we buy. My son got a guitar for Christmas and look what’s right on front:

QR code on guitar box

And then, switching to groceries, before I put the Granola Bars box up in the pantry, what do I see:

QR code on granola box

All this to say, I don’t think QR codes have an awareness problem anymore.

I think QR codes have a usage problem.

That’s the long and short of it.

A good solid year after being introduced into our everyday lives, in many ways, QR codes are more value-less now than they were a year ago when hardly anyone knew what they were (or that they even existed).

Comscore did a study around QR code usage that they published in August 2011. In it, they found that “6.2% of the total mobile audience scanned a QR code on their mobile device” in a 1-month period. To put this into perspective, a recent Pew study found that 28% use mobile/social location based services (including, but not limited to Foursquare and the like). The net – not a lot of people are scanning/using QR codes.

We could probably talk for days and days about why this is so, but in the end, it boils down to value. No matter what the technology-of-the-day is, if it doesn’t provide value – and now more than ever, immense value – it’s going to be hard to garner mass adoption. Sure, there’s value in learning more about a product with the scan of a code (equivalent to a click of a button), or being able to easily LIKE a brand, or even getting a coupon on the spot, but there’s hardly consistency. And, in the case of QR codes, so much inconsistency and non-value, I believe the perception is that, by and large, they are just “weird looking codes that send you to a website.” So, the intrigue and potential has already lost its intrigue due to a year of poor executions.

Maybe this year, we’ll see that change. And this year, we’ll actually see an evolution of QR code usage. Maybe people will come around. Maybe brands will come around and figure out great ways to use this technology. I still believe it’s one with lots of potential, but if we go through another year of circulars and posters and sides of buildings and product boxes delivering a normal website upon a scan, that will be the time that we can perhaps call them dead.

They’re barely alive as it is.


How Not to Make a Digital Sign Interactive

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if you’re going to make a sign (digital or not) interactive, it must be accessible. That is to say, if it could do something like cause someone to get in an accident while driving, it’s probably not the best thing to do.

Imagine a huge sign marking the presence of an Outlet Mall. One of those signs that run all of the different advertisements from all of the different stores and can be seen from a good ½ mile away. It might as well be the mall’s personal billboard.

Well, now imagine a QR code on that sign. Even better, imagine trying to interact with that sign via the QR code and your mobile phone while driving by.

Needless to say, I was surprised to see it as we passed it. In fact, I don’t know that *surprise* accurately describes my reaction. It was more like, WTF?

While this is not the best picture, it’s all I could take. You’ll just have to believe me that there is a huge QR code taking up that sign.

QR code on digital sign

It seemed to be on screen for ~10 seconds, which is another important lesson.  Since people are clamoring to snap this QR code on this huge screen outside of an Outlet Mall, why don’t you hurry the process up a little bit more by giving them a short 10 seconds – at the most – to get their phone out, take over driving with their knee, launch their QR code reader, put the phone up in the right position so the QR code is centered in the screen, snap the code, realize what it is it’s taking them to, and resume driving. Oh yeah, if the content behind the code is valuable enough, why not exit from the freeway, too.

I don’t know what part of this whole experience is a good idea.

See, just because you can make something interactive doesn’t mean you should. Context – in the form of placement – is everything. In this case, if they wanted to deepen the experience in any way via mobile, why not put a short code on the sign? At least that’s an action that doesn’t require immediacy.

Better yet, why not put, “we’ve got great deals here and we want you to be safe, so why don’t you just stop on by and we’ll show you.” I guarantee you that that will be more effective than the QR code that they have running now.

Believe in Macy’s Augmented Reality *Magical* Experience

Macy's Christmas Story

For anyone creating or thinking about creating an experience with any sort of enabling technology, look no further than Macy’s. With their new Believe-o-Magic Augmented Reality experience, they show us that when you use new technologies like this:

1. Don’t let the entire experience hinge on this technology

2. Do what you can to extend something that already exists

3. Anything that creates an emotional tie between people and/or people and a brand has a pretty good chance of use and success.

Macy’s hits at the heart of a deep cornerstone of Christmas – every little boy and girl’s belief in Santa Claus and the magic wrapped up in the whole wonder. And this year, they’re doing it through emerging technology. Beautiful.

I have written about Macy’s a few times before, primarily because of their Behind the Scenes QR Code campaign. I really liked what they did with that campaign in terms of using all their channels to raise awareness and promote the actual program. Their broadcast spots supported it, their social media efforts supported it, even their in-store supported it. It was a seemingly well-thought out campaign as opposed to so many that we see that seem like afterthoughts.

So, it made me smile when I saw their foray into another enabling technology – this time, Augmented Reality.

Fundamentally, I really like what they’re doing with this letters-to-Santa program. They’ve had a mailbox to Santa for the past few years, at least. It is a ritual for our family to go to Macy’s and let the kids write their letters to Santa. Our kids love it. (And oh by the way, they do make a donation to Make-a-Wish for every letter received up to $1 million. Say what you will about that, I think it’s a nice tie-in.)

At this time of the year, this is the thing that separates Macy’s from the other department stores at this time of the year. This is the reason that we go to Macy’s before any others. So, this is just a solid program without any of the fancy technology.

But it’s here, in this fancy technology that makes ME want to go and be a part of the experience myself. This year, they’ve created a Believe-o-Magic (great name, btw) mobile application that allows you to pose with characters from a Christmas narrative that they created, take a picture, make a virtual Christmas card, and send out to whoever you want, including those in your social network.

Now, I’ll be very interested to see if Macy’s audience (parents, more middle-class than not, who knows what their familiarity with emerging technologies like this is??) is the right audience for Augmented Reality, but what I love about it is this – they are now deepening the experience. Without ruining it. The experience is already special, just in the fact that kids can write letters to Santa and put them in a big, red mailbox. Add an enabling technology on top of it and you have an a) richer experience and b) one that creates a more interesting piece of social content.

This experience does not require this app or technology to exist. That’s a great thing. Take note, and as much as you can help, when you create an experience that uses any sort of emerging technology, don’t let the experience live and die with that technology. It should just be an extension, one that deepens and extends the experience.

Last week, I sat in on a session with Michael Tobin (VP, eCommerce Integration) of Macy’s and I walked away knowing that they are very in tune with connecting with consumers, on their terms, through whatever technology is best for them. They’re not afraid to experiment with these new technologies, but they’re measured and thoughtful about how they use them, too. In my opinion (based on their QR code campaign and now this), they’re very good at thinking strategically about implementing them.

This is another thing we can learn from them – how can you tie this new technology to programs that already exist? It’s (relatively) easy to create an Augmented Reality something-or-other. It’s an entirely different thing to use the technology to make something that already exists better.

It doesn’t seem like Macy’s does something just to do it. I think that’s a hard temptation to fight in today’s world, with all of this new technology around. It just screams for people to play with it and often times, spend big money doing it. But with a measured approach, you might just create believers in all sense of the word.