QR as the main character
Marketers traditionally use QR codes as Easter eggs or secondary accompaniments to larger activations, but Coinbase showed the technology can play a primary role. “Coinbase made their QR a main character, and got main character results,” said Armstrong.
QRs first emerged as a marketing tool in the early 2010s, but the tech’s popularity didn’t last, and they were replaced by buzzier mobile tactics like augmented reality. The pandemic led to a resurgence in QR codes, which enabled touch-free protocols in daily life; consumers got used to scanning codes on menus and on posters, and brands across categories implemented the tool into their marketing. That adoption is one of the reasons QR codes are able to have their shining moment now.
“[During the pandemic] most people had a consumer experience with a QR that opened their eyes, and I think what you saw Sunday night is people starting to translate experiences they've had into much larger channels,” Armstrong said.
Centering an advertisement around a QR code also gives consumers ample time to view it, which is essential to generating web traffic and downloads (in comparison to the success of Coinbase's one-minute code, Liquid Death's much shorter one only received 52 hits, per the brand). "Given the renewed relevance of the QR code over the past couple of years, most people watching the game knew immediately what it was and how to engage with it using their phone," Nick Miaritis, executive VP at VaynerMedia, said in an email.
Still, Coinbase’s use of a QR code wasn’t perfect. Some Twitter users expressed concerns around privacy given the pervasiveness of risky links that have long plagued the QR space, especially since the Coinbase name wasn’t presented until the end of the 60-second ad.
Moreover, Coinbase could have created a better user experience around the QR code. Some have suggested the code could have sent people to different landing pages depending on whether the person was already an active user or new signup. That may have helped preserve the platform’s durability and prevented a crash during the height of the traffic onslaught.
“You want to have your KPIs match who the customers are that are scanning,” Armstrong said.
Double data win
Another advantage that QR codes bring is the collection of first-party data. Each user that visited Coinbase, StockX or Liquid Death’s Super Bowl link was encouraged to enter signup information such as name and email address, which the companies could later leverage in their targeting efforts, Charles Taylor, professor of marketing at Villanova University, said in an email.
"In an age of stricter privacy laws, for a company like Coinbase, the ability to build a first-party database should not be underestimated," Taylor said.
Considering Super Bowl ads appear before such a large audience, tying QR codes to promotions could allow for effective data collecting, Taylor said.
QR codes also present another advantage in acquiring first-party data: They don’t require the support of external platforms such as social and search, and they send the data directly to the brand.
“What happened [Sunday] night is the companies that used QRs not only got their first-party data directly, they also avoided putting more data in the systems of the companies that take their data and optimize and sell that to their competitors,” Armstrong said.
Whereas the data acquired through, say, Intuit’s QR code could also be collected by Twitter, bundled with other data and sold as marketing analytics, Coinbase’s first-party data went solely to Coinbase. Whether through TV or out-of-home activations, this circumspection offers another reason to lean into QR codes in ads.
“There's a secondary benefit here, which over a long period of time is going to give brands a really significant advantage in their own ability to have competitive separation,” said Armstrong.