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Why McDonald?s still bets on QR codes for mobile activations at scale

McDonald?s continues to see extensive reach through the use of QR codes on its products, leading to the company's use of the technology for a campaign in partnership with the National Football League offering exclusive video content when consumers scan the codes found on medium-sized beverages and fries.

Serving as a cost-efficient source of mobile technology, QR codes were likely McDonald?s choice of execution for this reason, but the emergence of beacons have shown to provide in-depth metrics regarding consumers? use of the beacon. As more efficient tech tools grow in prevalence, McDonald?s could give beacons some attention for its future campaigns.

?I think what we're seeing here is a natural evolution of mobile marketing activation mechanisms,? said Ritesh Bhavnani, founder of Snipp, Mumbai.  ?As the different activation mechanisms evolve, marketers are becoming savvier and more selective of the mechanism used to fit their purposes. 

?In the case of the McDonald?s campaign, the use of beacons or NFC would be cost prohibitive, as the activations are off the packaging for their products. QR codes, text messaging or augmented reality triggers are the only activation mechanisms that are feasible for packaging, especially at the scale of McDonald?s. 

?QR codes on QSR packaging actually do pretty well. We have done campaigns in the past for Taco Bell and other QSR companies and have seen response rates in the hundreds of thousands.?

Mr. Bhavnani is not affiliated with McDonald's or the NFL but agreed to comment as an industry expert.

McDonald's did not respond by press deadline.

Sporting an incentive
McDonald?s medium-sized beverages will host a QR code, which consumers can scan and access exclusive NFL Now video content. QR codes located on medium-sized fries contain access to the McDonald?s Pick the Play sweepstakes, which enters users for a chance to win NFL-related prizes, such as a free trip to Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona.  

Alongside the QR code aspects of the campaign, consumers can also post a tailgating photo to Twitter or Instagram, or a video on Vine, using the hashtag #McDTailgateSweeps and tagging @McDonalds. Winners of this contest will receive the ?ultimate McDonald?s tailgating experience? in their hometown later in the football season, according to a press release.

Weekly winners will win prizes, such as a one-year subscription to NFL Now Plus and $100 gift cards redeemable on

McDonald?s is undoubtedly attempting to be a part of the 2014 football season, and the entertainment industry has been known this year to provide exclusive content using beacons or mobile apps. 

By providing access to additional content, McDonald's offers something innovative and interesting to football fanatics. Perhaps if beacons were used, McDonald's could look further into its consumers that prevalently and extensively accessed the incentive and use that information to more formally target those consumers for its following campaigns.

McD?s track record
The fast food chain continues to reach towards mobile incentives.

McDonald?s, already a leading mobile marketer, kicked up its efforts a notch this year by leveraging real-time technology to support how consumers use their smartphones to engage with the real world while driving traffic into a nearby location. 

A McDonald?s campaign that ran earlier this year in Kuala Lumpur featured a digital billboard in a busy town square, with passersby able to direct what was happening on the screen by using their smartphones. The Save the Sundae Cone campaign drove significant brand engagement on a mobile Web site as well as coupon redemptions, helping McDonald?s to raise awareness of its ice cream offerings in Malaysia?s capital (see story).  

In March, McDonald?s mobile push revealed how the quick-service restaurant keeps ahead of the competition by investing in rich media ads to support its Facebook presence.

The burger chain ran rich media mobile ads within The Hollywood Reporter?s mobile site to promote its Big Mac sandwich. The McDonald?s campaign came at a time when more marketers were reportedly losing some of their organic reach on Facebook and were likely pumping in more marketing campaigns to drive traffic (see story).

Since McDonald's already has established Wi-Fi infrastructure in each of its stores, it could further help with ease of use for consumers if beacons were given a try.

?There is still some incentive to use QR codes as a more cost effective way for McDonald's to connect print to digital,? said Ricardo Diaz, director of digital at Zambezi, Los Angeles. ?However, while providing worthy content helps entice existing QR code users, we've seen engagement drop significantly over recent time in place of new and improved technology. 

?Ultimately, a company like McDonald's will benefit more from providing a better experience for the customer, whilst tracking data they can learn from - something QR codes aren't capable of.?

Final Take
Caitlyn Bohannon is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York