Admit it: The QR Code is never going to catch on with mainstream users. (Hell, it’s barely getting used by advertisers, and we’ll try anything once.) Asking people to download and use a 3rd party app so they can scan a code to get mysterious content related to an ad is a bit much, and until Apple decides to include a QR code scanning app with every iPhone, they’re just not going to get used by more than a fringe minority of the mobile audience.
That said, the reason advertisers want QR codes to take off is clear: We live in an increasingly mobile world, and with campaigns spreading across multiple mediums, there needs to be an easy way to connect analog content with digital content so we can create a more interactive and immersive experience.
While NFC holds promise as a potential solution, it requires broad adoption by phone manufacturers, and there’s little indication we’ll see that any time soon.
So is it time to face the facts and admit that it will never be easy to connect ads to a mobile experience?
Shazam debuted as an app that recognizes the audio from music and reports back on what song is currently playing. The technology has since been repurposed by companies like Old Navy, General Mills and News Corp. to recognize commercials, allowing viewers to tag the audio of a spot and receive additional content from the brand.
If you haven’t experienced one of these enhanced ads, check out this Pillsbury Crescents commercial which returns recipes to users who Shazam the ad when prompted:
While this works well in a controlled environment like the living room, there’s no reason the same technology can’t be used in other places to connect ads to a mobile device.
See where I’m going with this?
Calvin Klein recently teamed up with Shazam to create in-store sound installations, and proved that the process can be used for more than just tagging TV.
The interaction is simple: When a customer is near the branded podium, they open the Shazam app and scan the song that’s playing through the speaker. In return, they receive exclusive content like in-store promotions, a complimentary download of an exclusive song, and a Calvin Klein holiday wallpaper for their mobile device.
According to David Jones, VP of Marketing at Shazam:
Calvin Klein is an iconic fashion brand known across the globe, and Shazam is incredibly excited to work with them on their new holiday campaign and in-store sound installations. Shazam’s partnership with Calvin Klein marks the first in-store-only program utilizing Shazam, and demonstrates how retailers can take advantage of Shazam’s discovery service to help build an enriching, interactive experience with shoppers this holiday season.
While I like what this campaign represents, I think it’s just a small step in the direction of what could be a major competitor to QR codes and NFC.
Imagine out of home campaigns that use small speakers to play audio that’s beyond the reach of human hearing, but can be picked up by the phone to connect the ad with a mobile experience. The audio could be customized by region to offer location based ads, or the app could simply tap into the phone’s GPS capabilities for the same effect.
Now imagine an outdoor scavenger hunt that uses custom Shazam tags to ensure that users are where they say they are, and delivers rewards in exchange for seeking out the branded experience. Or how about a sweepstakes that uses the audio tag to tell the phone if the user is a winner. Or a bus stop ad that entertains with a song while also allowing the brand to quickly connect on a deeper level when users activate their Shazam app.
These are just a few examples of what’s possible with the technology, and I’m sure we’ll see others as advertisers start brainstorming, but the idea is that it’s as simple as adding a speaker to an existing ad, and letting Shazam handle the rest.
So why is Shazam different from what we’re asking people to do to interact with QR codes?
While the process is similar, the key to Shazam’s potential success is the 165 million users they have already acquired through their music tagging service. Unlike QR codes, which require apps that have no purpose but to scan QR codes, Shazam has already established value to the user, and people are familiar with the process of using Shazam to tag content for additional information. It’s a short jump from the existing behavior to the new behavior, and millions of users are already primed to make that jump.
The Shazam logo can become synonymous with additional content, and that content doesn’t limit brands to the data that can fit in a shortened and codified URL.
Since we’ve already seen big brands test out Shazam for tagging TV, and initial reports are that they’re happy with the results and looking to do more, I wouldn’t be surprised to see those same brands follow Calvin Kleins’ lead in the next few months by testing the waters of out of home tagging. Assuming both advertisers and users get value out of those initial interactions, the behavior should stick, and we will finally have a technology that millions of people can use to extend the ad experience to their mobile device.