Guns, Butter, Barcodes

Last week, I spoke with the Director of Brand Marketing of a premium consumer goods company about their foray into 2D technology, as the company recently launched their first 2D print advertisement in a major national publication. The comment/question I put to the director was that I did not believe the campaign went far enough with respect to the 2D/mobile experience (i.e., there was no mobile website or landing page, the video shown did not enhance the overall experience, there was no mobile purchase incentive, etc.), and asked why not. To this, the director responded, "it's guns or butter."

If you are not familiar, "guns or butter" refers to a macroeconomics model, whereby a nation is essentially forced to chose between investing in defense or civilian goods, or sometimes both, when spending its finite resources. In relation to our conversation, the director used the phrase to refer to the fact that, because business was considerably off over the past couple of years, some hard decisions had to be made with respect to how limited marketing dollars were to be spent. As much as the company wanted to delve into the use of 2D barcode technology, the decision was made to go only so far, which meant that a mobile website and other aspects of the 2D/mobile experience were never fully developed as part of the campaign.

While it's certainly easy to spend other people's money, which is not my intention here, my reply/question to the director was this...if a campaign is not designed and implemented to be as effective as it could be on all fronts (i.e., build a mobile website, craft and provide mobile content, offer a mobile purchase incentive, etc.) then is the company really spending wisely and, more importantly, is it really giving 2D a fair chance to show itself and succeed? The director understood my reply/question and agreed, but reiterated that limited funds are limited funds and a stand has to be made somewhere.

After a while, a discussion like this can become quite circular, however, the one item I would like to raise by all of this is that, if a company is willing to spend several tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars on the creative development and placement of a four color, full-page print advertisement in a nationally distributed publication then, why not take one more step and build out the 2D/mobile experience to its fullest? If one were to look at the company's entire marketing spend in percentage terms for this campaign, I believe the additional work to build out the 2D/mobile experience would have been negligible.

Granted, the company could only spend so much on the campaign, but with the way it was launched the question now awaits, was the campaign successful or not because of 2D technology or because the campaign was developed to its fullest? In my opinion, it makes little sense to budget and spend heavily on placement and certain aspects of creative, but lightly on the elements which encompass the mobile experience, the offer, the execution and other deliverables.


  1. If you'd have asked me those questions, I'd have said:

    "Show me one barcode campaign that has demonstrated a high level of customer engagement and satisfaction with a strong ROI for the client? Show me the numbers? Show me those and then I can legitimate reallocating our limited dollars."

  2. I have to agree, Roger. I find it puzzling that there was enough money to create a video, but not enough for a mobile landing page? Having been involved in the creation of both, the cost of the former is (obviously) far, far larger. Even if they had created a simple, single page containing a message, some links and a scannable coupon, it would have had more engagement - and saved them probably thousands of dollars. The tiresome, 'budget constraints' argument just doesn't hold water here.

  3. Hank BorelliFebruary 28, 2011

    "Budget constraints" are generally mostly tiresome to people who don't have to worry about budgets! I think anonymous actually has a point, it's tough to procure funds without some backup data.

    For those reasons, i can see doing exactly what they did - think of it as a pilot test. Put the barcodes in the advertisement, and see how many people actually use them.

    Once those data are available for their specific brand/product, the manager can make the case that more money should be spent to "enhance the experience" or not.

  4. Hank, Steve and Anonymous: Thank you for commenting. Let's look at this another way...would or should a company develop a direct mail campaign and forget to stamp the envelopes? No. Why? Because stamping the envelope is an integral part of any direct mail campaign. Would or should a company create a print advertisement and not offer any corporate contact details? No. Why? Because contact details are an integral part of a print campaign. The same with 2D...there are parts of a 2D campaign which should be viewed as being integral, not necessarily optional. By this point in time, 2D best practices have been established and companies should be aware of that. With all of that aside, just consider marketing fundamentals. For this company's particular campaign, all that was delivered was a 30 second commercial. There was no call to action, no incentive to purchase, nothing in the way to help move the prospect down the purchase path. Add on top of that that this is a mobile based campaign not really geared for a mobile experience and I believe the company has set up the campaign to fail, or at least not deliver the most it can, from the on set.

    Lastly, I agree with Steve, budget cannot and should not be the basis of an argument. I have seen way too many high priced advertisements implemented that are the most ridiculous I have ever seen with respect to content, imagery, message, value, relevance, meaningfulness, etc., and how and why any of these campaigns could have been funded is absolutely beyond me. I would think a creative director or CMO's head would roll for some of the interruptions (read: advertisements) that are on the market.

  5. I agree, Roger. if the company wants to track this campaign ...... then, why not add a specific call-to-action? Reduce the size of the print ad and/or video (I know this is sacrilegious to creative folks, but consider making the ad 3/4 or even 2/3 of a page instead of a full page, and a :15-:20 sec video instead of a :30 - :60 one), but get the mobile experience buttoned-up. Then, you will have a more accurate measurement of results.

  6. Some good points here.

    The experience design mashed with mDesign, plus QR brand design is where the work is. Not doing that part would be like doing a business plan without any consideration for your customers ;)

    If your going to create a video, cool, but have it hit a mLanding page first... unless you only want to target high end devices, then go straight to location... although, I'd always be tempted to send to a landing page first - one click and you can watch the video.

    And, if your going to make a video, make sure it has a point as Roger says - guess that is covered in the experience design though.

    Enjoying your posts Roger, keep up the good work!

    Shameless plugs: http://simbeckhampson.com/?p=254 & (New)Facebook Page: mobile tagging - http://www.facebook.com/mobiletagging

  7. I find his argument of "guns or butter" to be rather hard to believe. First off, a mobile website is a relatively easy and inexpensive item to get going. I would venture to say that for $500 (probably less) they could have a very nice mobile site, or landing page functioning.

    His argument would be like having a newspaper that says "call" to order, then having the number answered by a company who doesn't fulfill orders, and has marginal customer service. If you are going to do a campaign, do it right or don't do it at all.

  8. Gayle, Simbeck-Hampson, Chicago Attorney: Thank you for commenting and I agree with all that each of you say. Plan and budget a campaign accordingly. It should be that simple.

  9. No one loses their job over half-baked tests that are pretty much no-risk and which are secondary to the original campaign. I sincerely doubt someone produced an exclusive video for this campaign or increased the original budget by a dollar.

    People (account executives) do lose their jobs over suggesting that a client go all-in on unproven and "new" formats which stand a risk of failure and where no ROI is derived.

    It's not about logic. It's not about the customer. It's not about the Creative or adhering to basic marketing principles.

    It's about keeping your job, which if I remember correctly is Rule #1 in an agency.

  10. Anonymous: Thank you for the comment. How very sad with respect to how an agency might operate, but when does the brand take responsibility for matters? I have heard time and again agency this and agency that...at the end of the day the brand writes the check, do they not, so shouldn't they hold themselves accountable for a campaign. Yes, brands look to agencies to be the "expert" on creative/technology matters, but to a point the brand itself needs to do their own homework and build a knowledge base. Let's stop passing the buck.

  11. The brand hires the agency. The buck is passed at the beginning of the relationship.

    Brands are 1-step removed and like it that way as it provides them with great job cover as well.

    I think that job security is a factor in many respects when it comes to barcodes with the biggest problem that too many "print" people are managing what should be interactive/mobile accounts. Along with too many account and brand managers being fearful of doing something unknown and going all-in.

    It's a toxic combination. Look at your score sheet here.

    I have nothing against "print" people but it's rare to find one who will treat the mobile side of the engagement with equal attention as they do the print side. I chalk that up to human nature.

    The sad fact is that if a mobile marketing company were brought in to collaborate on some of these campaigns, they would steer clients away from barcodes. Few mobile marketers promote barcodes since they have their own technologies to promote instead I've heard them actively discourage clients from any barcode use while singing the praises of antiquated SMS push marketing as a proven and viable option.

    BTW, very curious about your assessment of this campaign: http://www.clorox.com/pdf/Juicy-Celebrity-Dirt.pdf

  12. Hi, this is Anonymous 2
    And I want to echo Anonymous 1

    Seriously, here we are in a blog of a 2D barcode advocate, so we want things to be rosy.

    Out in the real world, the big boss is going to open up the ad page and ask the campaign manager: "So this looks good, what about that black and white square thing? What are we doing with it?"

    "Well, lots of things are happening with mobile phone, so we're giving it a try with this mobile barcode to get a feel"

    "Did it cost us a lot?"

    "No! We did all by ourselves, DIY you know? We can do this again next time."

    "Great! Now let's look at this...."

    OK, my point is that, the campaign manager has no solid data to campaign a 2D barcode campaign, so he/she is NOT going to oversell it, as that will land him/her in the trouble land of "So you said that we're able to get this much response, and so? What's our number?"

    I think the campaign manager is already futuristic and courageous enough to insert the 2D barcode, as far as he/she will go, first, for now.

    We who are so well educated and so much wanna be with 2D barcodes tend to forget how it was when we used to work in agency.

    It's "Guns and Butter" in truest sense: Guns at the head of the campaign manager, or serving butter at his/her dinner table.

    - Anonymous 2

  13. Hank, thanks for assuming I know nothing, really.

    If there is a budget of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars for placing the ad (as there obviously must have been), are you seriously telling me they would consider it 'risky' to spend a $400-500 on a more interactive landing page? You can't measure whether a 'new' tech such as a QR is working unless you actually put some effort into making it worthwhile for the consumer!

    Same to anonymous 2:

    "Did it cost us a lot?"
    "A few hundred dollars but we can track the feedback ourselves."
    Probable answer: "Okay."
    Improbable answer: "OMG! How much?!"

  14. Thank you for igniting this lively discussion, Roger - many good points made by most everyone!

    Although Anonymous I and II may be right in all they're saying (wasn't aware that Anonymous has become such a popular name...), here is a more forgiving perspective, for your consideration:

    1. I dare guess that the 2D code was a "sidekick" in the ad, i.e. they would (and probably planned to) run the ad even without the code

    2. By adding the 2D code, the brand sends a subtext message that it is innovative, or at least keeps up with the hottest trends

    3. "Guns and Butter" applies also to time and attention spent by the brand and/or agency - Keeping it simple has value on its own

  15. Mendy: Thank you for the comment and compliment. Regarding point #1, tough to say, the director and I never really spoke about that. My guess is that they would have done something, regardless. Point #2, yes, the hottest trend issue is sent by the brand, but why not have consumers really engage with the trend? Why stop short? Point #3, yes, time and attention spent matters as well, but to add a mobile site should not be considered making things more difficult. It's not like people have never developed a mobile site before. Let's not confuse simple with being lazy.

  16. Hey, no need to convince me, Roger... As a mobile barcode vendor, needless to say we're all for optimizing the code experience - this is critical for us.

    Tried to share an insight into the mindset of a potential customer.