Subtly tagged on to the end of a Waitrose TV advert, the QR code first hit the headlines in the UK in late 2010. Previously used in print, QR codes had already appeared in poster campaigns for companies such as Debenhams and M&S but Waitrose got the attention for being the first televised use of the code. To be fair it was a bit ‘blink and you miss it’, spending only about 2 or 3 seconds on screen. But if you were speedy in scanning, you would have been rewarded with a Christmas App offering an array of items including recipes from Delia Smith & Heston Blumenthal, an advent calendar and a turkey timer!

The QR (Quick Response) code has actually been around since 1994, but has only begun to reveal its potential and diversity as a channel of communication fairly recently. Invented by Japanese company Denso Wave, a subsidiary of Toyota, it was originally created as a system for tracking and ordering car parts. Essentially a 2-dimensional type of barcode, readable by a dedicated scanner, it’s now most typically used with a smartphone camera.  Point at the image, snap, it starts to decode to the URL and voilà, your content is displayed.

Benefits derived from use of the QR code in advertising still have further to be explored, but its potential is far-reaching. With codes printed directly on to the product whether it’s a wrapper, bottle, or t-shirt, customer engagement and interaction can be immediate. It’s a measurable way of tracking a campaign and fits well within the convergence of technology as a QR code can be delivered across many platforms.

But what of its use in Television and more specifically around content? So far it’s been limited to say the least. The BBC was an early adopter back in 2008, using QR codes to offer clips of upcoming DVD releases. Thankfully their idea of calling them ‘Squiggly Squares’ didn’t catch on, but the name still survives over at the BBC Shop website.

Back last summer, the final series of Big Brother used a QR code to direct viewers to ‘secret’ information prior to it being revealed within the show. In this case it was news of 3 new housemates entering the house. Okay, not exactly earth-shattering, but the point is they were trying to offer up something extra, something a little exclusive.  More recently, ITV2 employed them successfully within their reality show “The Only Way Is Essex”. Their QR code led users to the ITV2 website where exclusive content, not seen in the main show, could be viewed.

Opportunities for further use of the QR code within TV shows are clearly there. It’s a quick and effective way to retain viewer attention after the initial impact of a programme and by offering supplementary information helps to build loyalty. Here are 3 good reasons/methods for using a QR code alongside a TV show:-

  1. Ensure the code stays on screen long enough to allow the user to scan. It shouldn’t stay on throughout the show or pop up sporadically. That would be plain annoying. How about some continuity in use? During the end credits would work well. Perhaps instead of crushing up the credits to accommodate extra screen space to trail the next programme, use it to display the QR code.
  2. Make sure the supplementary content is unique and interesting. People need a reason to bother. Don’t offer something they’ve already seen. Outtakes would work with the right kind of show.
  3. A QR code is ‘easier’ on the eye and less obtrusive than a rambling, wordy URL. It also takes up less space. Having a QR code on screen as the credits close could become ‘par for the course’, if for no other reason than to publicise and direct viewers to a website. As we know, it’s all about the cross-promotion.




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