Luke Dringoli
Luke Dringoli
Editor, Social Networks

Couch Potatoes Rejoice: QR Codes Finally Make TV Interactive

What do you get when you combine an old medium (television) with state-of-the-art technology (QR codes)? Well, for Bluefly, an online retailer of branded clothing and accessories, this pairing (a historical first) meant shopping orders increased an average of 50% and page views soared to a half-million in a month, according to CMO Bradford Matson. Are QR codes destined to rejuvenate and redefine television, that dinosaur of mass communication? Maybe. Most of all this successful execution is more evidence against an age-old idiom: the medium isn’t the message, the message is the message.

In recent spots during Bravo’s Project Runway for Closet Confessions” — Bluefly’s accompanying piece of original content — the online retailer added a QR code to enhance the typically passive couch potato experience and engage the audience beyond the short commercial. The code led viewers to a full online episode and a sizeable discount on their clothing and accessories. All in exchange for a simple scan.

This is an perfect example of old media benefiting from emerging marketing technology, showing that a passive medium like television, which has long been the home of advertising-as-interruption, can be transformed into something bigger, better, and more engaging. While QR codes on TV are undoubtedly just a momentary rest stop on the inexorable march to our computers and our TVs permanently merging, this is certainly better than isolated, self-contained placements for the time being. In this sense, traditional media like television still has the potential to be a vital component of a multi-channel content-driven approach.

As we know, a great piece of technology can only do so much when hindered by a mostly incapable counterpart, but this marriage seems part of a larger transformation for TVs everywhere. QR bar codes have, so far, had the ability to build bridges between both print and digital and television and digital. Those little square boxes that engage with your smartphone camera have been featured to great success by magazines like Esquire and plenty of others.

The Bluefly spots, of course, aren’t without their faults. They feel a little too busy, for one, and there are perhaps too many steps involved in too short a time (you have to download the app, catch the commercial again, etc), making it difficult to connect with additional content through the code. The bigger failing here is the slow adoption of such barcodes in the U.S., due to the lack of a standardized code, says New York Times’ Elizabeth Olson. Unlike so many of our European counterparts, the U.S. hasn’t been as fast to adopt smartphones, let alone the appropriate scanning applications.

The QR-TV technique is part of a larger transformation of interruptive advertising into something that gives viewers a choice — that actually allows them to opt into a larger experience. It’s not a rejuvenation of the medium. It’s an elevation and amplification of the message. The message — like Bluefly’s, filled with great on-brand content — is the focal point, no matter when, where and how it’s transmitted. The medium is just an ever-evolving carrier.