HBO uses Branded 2D Barcode

HBO recently launched a three-page magazine advertisement to promote its new series Boardwalk Empire. The ad features a branded QR code which resolves to a mobile page that offers an exclusive trailer of the series...yawn.

HBO Boardwalk QR Code
Let's talk about content, offer and call to action for a moment. It's one thing for a consumer to stop and take notice of a company's advertisement, and it's quite another if that consumer actually chooses to take the next step and move closer to becoming a paying customer, or viewer in this case. Ad content, offer and call to action will often make the difference between the two, so instead of just offering to show the trailer, which is hardly an original or enticing offer/call to action, why not offer those who scan the code the ability to enter a contest and win a trip to Atlantic City, or an object that might have been used as a prop on the set, or an autographed copy of the original script, etc. Often times, we see 2D campaigns that resolve to nothing of substance, value or benefit and this needs to change. Not that companies need to break the budget and offer outlandish prizes or incentives for scanning a code, but at least be unique and original and provide something that truly enhances the user/mobile experience.

Beyond content, offer and call to action for this particular ad, I question why the code was displayed on the very last page of the three-page spread. Why not have it front and center, relatively speaking? If I'm not hooked by the first or second page, I'm certainly not sticking around to look at the third. And, to know that this is a branded code, why bother? The brand or logo in the code means very little, because all it says is "Empire." While it is great to see a branded code being used in the marketplace the expense is not justified in this particular application. If, if, HBO wanted to do a branded code, at a minimum, I would have designed it to read "HBO Boardwalk Empire" or something to that effect.

Also, the ad tells the reader to "Scan for an exclusive trailer" but it does not tell them what to scan with (i.e., reader app) and how to go about it, so where does that leave the reader? Once again, it's remarkable to see a major brand being lazy with respect to its marketing and advertising. Does HBO believe they need not spend some time and ad space educating and instructing on 2D code use, or are they just as comfortable knowing that only those few who are first adopters of 2D will know how to scan the code? At a time when companies are still struggling to increase revenue and grow a client base, how far can/will this mentality bring them? And, as I have asked before, what could the objectives actually be for a 2D ad like this knowing that full disclosure is not provided.

Lastly, why stop at a print ad? I have seen a number of other channels/mediums used to promote the new series, but only the magazine print ads display the 2D code. For maximum 2D exposure and interaction, the code should be displayed across channels/mediums, and also include the website itself to be fully integrated.


  1. If you add up all of the Dollar$ of campaigns you've featured here that are essentially failures, well, that money should have been donated to charity to make the World a better place...

    The "push a video trailer" from a QR/2D code is a "yawn" as you suggest. It shows zero imagination. It's using an existing asset from another channel (video) and plunking it into the mobile channel, thinking they are being clever and leading edge.

    Think of the Audience time/place/experience? Someone is quickly flipping through a magazine ad...at a table, on the couch, while leaning back and getting away from laptops, mobiles, television...and, you want them to PICK UP THEIR PHONE and watch a video? It's not only counter-intuitive, it's boring.

    Entertainment properties could provide truly original and engaging mobile experiences. They have both the mobile audio and text channels available to them to directly connect on-screen characters with their audience and fans. They are supposed to be thinking "transmedia" story; where they can create original, supplemental story content through the mobile engagement.

    Not sure if anyone is going to venture into creating original, interactive content experiences for mobile (coming off a QR/2D tag), but, I sure hope so.

  2. I don't know if I could "see" them whipping out their phone if they are sitting at their kitchen table, but what about when they're at the magazine rack at Barnes and Noble, or Books a Million?

    I know I've taken photos of content, as well as written down emails and links from that I didn't want to buy the whole magazine for... how is this really any different?

    I think that this is something that is still in infancy, but has good potential for growth.