Akshit Pushkarna

QR codes: The new call to action for brands?

Cleartrip recently used QR codes to nudge consumers to avail discounts for trips. The company launched a nationwide print ad recently to promote the campaign.

Quick response (QR) codes have been around for a long time. They were introduced on a large scale in India back in 2015 when the digital payments app Paytm came into existence. Paytm utilised QR codes for quick digital payment.

During the COVID pandemic, when physical payments took a back seat, QR codes saw a major uptick. Now, one can scan these codes almost everywhere – at restaurants, parking locations, etc. Companies, both domestic and global, are aggressively looking to utilise them for branding and advertising purposes.

The idea of utilising QR codes to build a rapport with the consumers, is not now, it is over a decade old. Nissan launched its first QR code initiative for mobile engagement. The Japanese auto giant placed it on vehicle window stickers for its entire product lineup in 2012. QR codes led users to complete product-related information, such as the key features, accessories, etc.

Even though QR codes have been around globally for quite a while, brands in India started using them for engagement and promotional activities only recently.

"The relationship with the consumers strengthens when the brands provide the ‘right value’ and engage with them emotionally. Today, with the advent of technology, the opportunities to enhance consumer connections, have simply multiplied. QR codes are just one of those meaningful ways. At ITC, QR codes have been used extensively for multiple aspects of brand building," Shuvadip Banerjee, chief digital marketing officer at foods business division, ITC, tells afaqs!.

The conglomerate utilises the tech to boost engagement for a bunch of its products. Banerjee shares that ITC's Aashirvaad Svasti Organic Ghee has a QR code that consumers can scan to see the quality report and also experience a virtual tour of the organic farm.

Another sub-brand for which ITC has utilised the QR codes, is B Natural juice. "The juice is made from fruit pulp procured from the farmers. The QR codes provided at the back of these packs, enable the consumers to witness the stories of some of these farmers, who strive to provide the nutrition of fruit and fiber to each consumer of B Natural. There are several interesting examples, like the one of Gourdan Lal Kharol, who grows oranges at his farm in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh," Banerjee explains.

ITC’s flagship product Aashirvaad also utilises the tech, with a little twist. Aashirvaad has created a platform called ‘Happy Tummy’. On taking a simple test, the platform provides a score about the digestive health of a person and also suggests an appropriate diet plan. "To popularise the same, QR codes were used at multiple touch points – print, multiple digital platforms, etc.," Banerjee shares.

While there are many examples of companies utilising QR codes, not many are able to generate consumer interest. After all, who will willingly take some time out to scan a code and visit the company's website or app?

Karan Kumar, group chief marketing and growth officer, ART Fertility Clinics, believes that if the reward for interacting with a QR code is not enticing enough, the consumers have no reason to interact with it. The advantage of the payoff (like discounts, etc.) should be clear and well-advertised.

To understand how a brand and its creative agency go on to develop a QR code campaign, afaqs! got in touch with Shubham Khurana, brand head at Cleartrip; Prashant Gopalakrishnan, founding partner and brand strategy at Talented; and Pooja Manek, founding member and creative at Talented.

Cleartrip recently came out with a nationwide print ad, promoting its QR code. "We're here to help you make better decisions. Choose trips over things by scanning any offers/discounts in this newspaper and unlock travel offers," the ad read.

Manek believes that utilising a QR code print ad is a brave idea deeply rooted in tech. It helped the company (Cleartrip) to establish a link between its online and offline campaigns.

"Initially, the idea was to let the user scan anything in the paper for a discount on the app. But it required a stronger IT backing and, ultimately, the idea was discarded. The entire process was completed within 10 days. The ads are the first leg of the campaign. There will be multiple follow-ups to this and if it proves to be a success, more QR code-based campaigns will be initiated,” says Khurana.

“We are looking at this as the largest travel campaign in the country. We got the ad printed in eight major cities in India. The reason is that people in these cities are more aware of the brand. However, we believe that it could relay down to smaller cities, if it is successful in these cities," he adds.

Making the campaign print-focused was also an unconventional route Cleartrip took. Gopalakrishnan believes that many players shy away from using print, as a medium, for driving a tech-based campaign. "Many brands are stuck in a loop of adopting similar digital campaigns and this could lead to a blind spot. We believe that with the Cleartrip ad, we have been able to break the best practices mold for print."

Whether using print campaigns for QR codes is an effective strategy or not, remains to be seen. Manek shares that the company was able to average about 200 clicks per hour on the first day. The campaign ran till September 30.

What a campaign like this points out is that companies have been putting in exceptional resources, thoughts and manpower in designing such campaigns. Campaigns based on QR code technology come up on a daily basis. The question now is whether these campaigns are just a fad or are they here to stay?

Angel investor and business strategist Lloyd Mathias is of the opinion that the utilisation of QR codes is not merely a fad, but has far-reaching consequences. "Post-pandemic, we are all comfortable with QR codes. There is a general awareness and understanding of them. Brands have now taken cognizance of this fact and are heavily pushing QR codes to reach out to a broad set of audience. These codes transcend the urban-rural divide. Hence, smaller as well as bigger cities can be targeted with one campaign. I also believe there is a 'cool' factor with these codes," Mathias shares.

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