The first Monday of April came along with a flurry of mobile related news and sound bites. I follow Dan Trigub (@datrigub) of BlueBite on Twitter because unlike some other vocal “mobilists” who smugly wave usage statistics at us like a sword, Dan tries to understand how things will actually unfold. As such, he is as good a curator of things related to DOOH and mobility as I have found. His Monday timeline was peppered with items about QR codes and near field communication (NFC) technology. Will either drive the convergence of DOOH and mobile? Maybe it is time to update our thoughts on what is out there and what may work.
Dan tweeted about an eMarketer article that indicated that about two-thirds of smartphone users have seen QR codes, and about half of that number had used one. The article acknowledged that this would seem to be a pretty good indicator of awareness, if nothing else. I wonder how many of the users have done it multiple times, but regardless, people know what these crazy patchworks of black and white dots are. Couponing and getting additional product information were by far the two largest motivators to using a QR code. As you may know, QR codes require a user to launch a special app and then use their smartphone camera to snap a pic of the two-dimensional square. The application interprets the code and launches the phone’s browser, directing it to a specific landing page with a specific purpose. It works pretty well. But it has drawbacks. The fact that a user must grab their smartphone, launch an application and then frame a code in the camera requires intent and reward to overcome the process. In that light, the popularity of couponing is easy to understand, especially if the reward (the coupon) can be stored on the smartphone for later use.
The application of QR codes to digital signage content still feels problematic. I first learned this during the Super Bowl in January, when Sears ran ads with QR codes at the end. Try as I might, and motivated by the urge to tweet and write about it, I failed on three attempts. The code was too small and did not stay on the screen long enough. A noble attempt by Sears, but still a #FAIL. To try to use a QR code within digital signage, therefore, it seems that the code must be fairly large and stay on the screen long enough to complete the process of recognition-decision-app launch-frame-click. Anything less than 20 seconds may be too short. Anything longer may exceed the length of a typical ad. Alternatively, the QR code could exist in a sidebar or be overlaid in a corner during an entire ad or clip. It might detract from the content itself. Finally, imagine yourself among five viewers of a digital signage screen. Which one of you gets to stand in front of the screen and get a shot at the code? In the end, QR codes will find their highest and best use in static signs, perhaps even signs adjacent to digital screens. I think they require too much consumer effort to drive convergence.
The continuing surge of NFC-related news items seems to be encouraging, especially from the perspective of NFC as a wave-and-pay technology. Just yesterday, Amazon announced that it was entering the NFC payment derby, and Sprint decided to go it alone, bucking the Isis axis of AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon. Good luck with that Dan, we’ll look forward to your ads. It seems obvious that NFC is coming to mobile handsets, despite the “will they/won’t they” intrigue around the intent of Apple with iPhone5 (they will). I am excited about the potential for NFC-based mobile payment systems, but even more excited about how NFC might become a driver of DOOH-mobile convergence.
I believe that good DOOH content includes some kind of location-specific relevance, a call to action or both. As such, using NFC as the pivot point from passive viewing to active engagement makes a lot of sense. In the call to action scenario, such as obtaining a digital coupon, compare the required action of waving a smartphone at an NFC hotspot near a screen to the clumsy process of snapping a picture of a QR code described above. I compare it to going from a keyless ignition scenario back to an analog car key, something I recently experienced. It feels strangely 20th century to take my keys out of my pocket to start the car. So will it be to use QR codes when NFC is deployed alongside digital signage displays. NFC will also be able to pass stored data on topics relevant to the displayed content with a wave of the phone: the collateral rack will go digital, and the engagement will extend beyond the screen, beyond the location and beyond the sacred dwell time. I say bring it on.
While we seem to get excited by all new technologies as they appear on the scene, their benefits always come down to application. Because of this, good old SMS (text messaging) is still the dominant mobile technology in terms of integration with DOOH campaigns. Virtually anyone with a cell phone can respond to an SMS campaign call to action, and it is reliable and relatively cheap. No add-on hardware is required at the location level, no add-on software is required at user (phone) level. It is not going to go away quickly. However, the rise of NFC as a data transfer technology, fueled by the payment application will vault NFC to the head of the class in one generation of smartphone hardware. By the way, those who were scoffing recently at the idea of direct response advertising on DOOH screens: will it still seem silly to you when viewers can buy with a wave of the phone, and have credit for the sale go to the network? Stand by, because NFC has the potential to make DOOH displays dispensers of data and collectors of cash. Both of which are quite measurable. Won’t that be nice?