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Media Innovation Round-Up: QR ads in TV and print, and NFTs changing fan engagement

By Marek Wrobel

June 16, 2021 | 12 min read

Marek Wrobel vigilantly tracks emerging media tech for Havas Media Group. For The Drum, in the Media Innovation Round-Up, Wrobel explores ‘new and shiny’ tech and its role in the ever-evolving marketing mix.

Glitching TV screen

Are NFTs the future of fan engagment?


Sky Media has launched ‘shoppable’ ad formats powered by QR codes, the latest chapter in the QR code comeback story.

When I explore emerging technologies, I look at them through the lens of the audience, marketers and the main media players. Audiences have embraced QR codes, and we have also seen some cool examples of brands using them in TV ads, but what about media players? Social media platforms have been using QR codes for some time now – with Snap and its Snap Codes definitely deserving of an honorable mention – but... that’s it. That’s why Sky Media – which is both an established and TV player all in one – entering this space is huge news. It will have a ripple effect, both solidifying and growing the audience and getting more marketers involved.

And I don’t think it will end there. I believe shoppable ads are just the first step on the journey to fully shoppable TV content. However, rather than QR codes, shoppable content will be powered by image recognition, seamlessly identifying ever-changing content to enable viewers to shop a look, get more info and engage further without a need for any codes showed on-screen.

Turning the page on static magazines

A new partnership between Bauer Media and image-recognition platform Phuzion Media aims to make print magazines shoppable and interactive. Is this the beginning of the era of shoppable content?

With QR codes making a comeback, we’ve seen more and more examples of shoppable ads, but these are just part of a wider shoppable content concept. For shoppable content to really take off, we will need QR codes and image recognition. However, you may be asking yourselves, with QR codes finally having their moment, do we really need to add yet another technology into the mix?

Well, while I’m not ashamed to say that I have been a fan of QR codes even before it was cool, it’s clear to me that they do have their limitations. Firstly, despite the ability to customize them, they are not the most beautiful things to look at, which leads to creatives looking at them in a less-than-favorable light. Secondly, while you can update them in the backend, they also are not truly dynamic. And, lastly, for lack of a better phrase, they are very single-minded – great if you have one product or service you want to promote, but if there are many you have to add multiple codes. Visual recognition has none of these problems – it’s invisible, image specific and fully flexible.

To see how the shoppable magazine works in real life, I bought the latest issue of Heat magazine. As this is a new initiative, it required a bit of education – informing readers how to use the web-based technology and what content is shoppable (ads or editorial content accompanied by the ‘Scan Heat’ call to action). And then the scanning began. It’s a fun experience, adding another layer to a traditionally static medium. However, I will admit the UX could be smoother – especially in the early stages. I think visual recognition tech will have to fight some of the same battles that QR codes did in the past, especially a need for education and technology living outside of the camera app.

Despite this, I’m staying optimistic as visual recognition has a few things going for it that QR codes could only dream of at the same stage of their life cycle. Firstly, QR codes did not have the support of massive publishers such as Bauer Media and I wouldn’t be surprised if we see more print publishers testing this tech soon, especially given that it can create a completely new revenue stream for them and turn them into affiliate players. Secondly, image recognition benefits from scanning things becoming an established behavior – something it should thank QR codes for. Last but not least, visual recognition makes much more sense for TV and video content than QR codes. So, even if it doesn’t happen overnight, the future looks bright for visual recognition.

Putting NFT in fan engagement

Rick and Morty creator Dan Harmon’s new animated series Krapopolis will be ‘the first-ever animated series curated entirely on the blockchain’. Is it another example of NFT hype, or a sneak peek into the future of fan engagement?

I must admit there are a couple of aspects of this announcement that make me believe it can actually work, and these are focused on superfans and mention of exclusive social experiences. Firstly, let’s talk superfans. Having these fans is a crucial element of any successful NFT activation. Remember, NFTs don’t represent ownership of an actual item, so people are basically buying bragging rights. Therefore, leveraging NFTs makes sense only for those whose fans are truly invested and engaged. Dan Harmon’s projects such as Community and Rick and Morty tend to attract a cult following (if you don’t believe it, GoogleSzechuan sauce freak-out’), so NFTs seem like a perfect way to engage this audience. The same goes for the wider entertainment industry – whether we’re talking about TV, movies, music or games, people care about them, so NFTs can serve a true purpose.

And now let’s move to ‘exclusive social experiences’. While we don’t know what they will be, the mere mention of ‘experiences’ gives me hope that Krapopolis won’t follow in the footsteps of brands or creators that create NFTs. That leads to a situation, perfectly described by Twitter user Cherie, in which after spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to get the token, fans then “stare at the purchase receipt for the token on the blockchain”. Yes, NFTs are, in their more basic form, a proof of ownership, but they can be so much more. Unlike anything else, they can create a long-term relationship with your fans and provide value long after they are bought – whether that’s through extra content, extra experiences or even revenue-share deals with fans and investors. All in all, NFTs may well survive the hype madness and, if used in a way that takes their main strengths into consideration, drive value for marketers – especially those working in an entertainment space.

Get ready for AROOH

At I/O 2021, Google announced new AR features for Google Maps that will show floating pins over locations, offering additional information about nearby places. Why should marketers care about Google’s focus on AR directions?

This latest addition builds on previous developments from Google, showing it’s part of a wider strategic push towards implementing AR solutions to navigate the world around us. In 2019, Google added AR walking directions to Google Maps, and just two months ago it announced adding indoor AR directions – they won’t be available everywhere just yet, but will work in selected locations such as airports, shopping centers and train stations. All well and good, but how does this connect with media?

I believe AR directions coupled with Persistent AR can open completely new opportunities for marketers. What I mean by Persistent AR is AR experiences that are connected to a certain location, while existing in virtual world, and that can be experienced by multiple people – simultaneously making it into a shared experience.

One of the best examples of this new type of AR is the City Painter lens, which Snap launched in October last year. Snap enabled users to paint London’s Carnaby Street, but what made it special and different to more standard AR experiences was that not only could many people take part at the same time, but they were also able to engage with others and see what they were doing. Google’s spin on Persistent AR is called Cloud Anchors, and this short video shows its many potential use-cases.

Now that you’ve seen it, I hope it’s not hard to imagine how brands can start creating these Persistent AR experiences while people use AR directions. I will go as far as to say that it could potentially become a new type of out-of-home ad. And if digital out-of-home is DOOH, then using the same logic, augmented reality out-of-home should be AROOH. While I think we will need augmented reality headsets for the user experience to become truly seamless, I can’t help but get excited about the possibilities that should be available to marketers in the very near future.

Read my last round-up here. If you’d rather get my weekly video briefings (they’re short and sweet, I promise) get on my mailing list here. And remember to sign up for The Drum’s weekly Future of Media briefing here – you’ll see me in there from time to time.


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