Have Yourself A Merry Shoppable Christmas
Christmas TV ads are becoming shoppable thanks to a resurgence in QR codes. This collision of creativity and commerce is likely to leave a lasting mark on the festive advertising season
18 November 2021
Picture the scene: dad carving the turkey, mum trying to wake granny from her sherry-induced slumber, the kids running around with their new toys. Oh, and Auntie Sue scanning a TV ad to buy herself the pair of slippers she’d secretly hoped had been lying wrapped underneath the Christmas tree that morning.
That brands are going the extra mile to encourage a bumper Christmas is no great surprise – indeed, they’re expected to spend £1 billion more on ads this quarter than last year, according to the latest AA/WARC forecast. Less predictable has been the rise of ‘shoppable’ interactivity in those Christmas campaigns.
Boots has made shoppability a key pillar of its ‘Bags of Joy’ seasonal push. The retailer has partnered with Sky to embed QR codes in ads which, when scanned, take users to the relevant page at Boots.com. Meanwhile, consumers watching Marks & Spencer’s ‘Anything but Ordinary’ Christmas clothing ad will be presented with ‘Flowcodes’ – in essence, more presentable QR codes that “seamlessly” fit into the TV creative.
Shoppable: A brief history
TV shopping is nothing new, of course; QVC has been nagging UK viewers about its dubious discounts since 1993. However, today’s shoppable media revolution has more obscure roots.
In 2014, social platform Pinterest began pioneering the use of image recognition to help users to identify (and, ideally, buy) a must-have dress or stylish sideboard, combining creative content and commerce within a single environment.
Social commerce is now big business, worth more than $350 billion in China alone, as per eMarketer. A Shopify study found that 28 per cent of 18–34-year-olds globally have made a purchase via social media. Platforms including Instagram, YouTube and TikTok – as well as Pinterest, of course – are falling over themselves to capitalise with shoppable ad formats.
It was only a matter of time before broadcasters would try to carve out a share of the shoppable pie. In 2019, NBCUniversal – owned by Sky’s parent group Comcast – began trialling ‘ShoppableTV’, where brands like Walmart and Lacoste could overlay QR codes on TV programming, inviting audiences to scan the TV screen with their smartphones for a quick link to the brand’s website.
This contraction of the purchase funnel is a “dream come true” for brands, especially during a period when they’re chasing big sales targets, says Asad Shaykh, joint head of strategy at Grey London.
In the UK, Season 7 of ITV2’s Love Island got a whole lot more interactive this year. The UK’s first Shoppable TV service launched during the 2021 Love Island series, with Boots as ITV’s launch partner.
Give QR codes a chance
Shoppable advertising owes much to the renaissance of the oft-maligned QR code. Since the start of the pandemic, diners and pub-goers have grown accustomed to scanning an image to order food and drink. Some 40 per cent of Europeans have scanned one in the last seven days, according to software firm MobileIron.
QR codes have become an “easily-recognisable” way for people to access information and make purchases, reckons Pete Markey, Boots’ chief marketing officer. “We wanted to create an experience where customers could immediately shop the products they see in our ‘Bags of Joy’ campaign, making the shopping experience as effortless as possible,” he adds.
Boots’ shoppable TV ads only launched on 17 November, but beta testing found a 40 per cent higher conversion with QR code-enabled copy, a 30 per cent uplift in website visits, and a 19 per cent reduction in cost-per-conversion. The retailer can also measure results in real-time via Sky Q box and viewing panel data.
According to Karen Boswell, chief transformation officer at VMLY&R, the creative agency behind the Boots campaign, “savvy” brands are responding to the rapid growth in e-commerce spending by “embracing” digital transformation to make it as easy as possible for customers to get what they want, when they want it, and “on their terms”.
“We wanted the emotion in our storytelling to transcend into a joyful experience when interacting with the Boots brand, making the shopping experience just as magical,” she says.
Experience of a lifetime
The rise of shoppable TV ads this Christmas was “inevitable”, says Liz Duff, head of media and investment at Total Media, especially given the growing number of us watching ads on a ‘smart TV’ connected to the internet. However, Duff doubts whether commerce will ever dominate TV screens.
“Social media platforms have the advantage in the shoppable market, as consumers often turn to them as a distraction or as a way to fill downtime,” she says.
“TV viewing, although now accompanied much more by second-screening than in the past, is still a much higher-attention format, so it’s a lot harder to get them to move away from that content to any great extent – hence why DRTV performs most strongly in low-engagement content.”
Duff suggests that brands pre-test shoppable ads to mitigate against the risk that a “clunky experience” might “alienate” users.
Another consideration is whether the presence of unsightly QR codes might jolt viewers from their festive feels, and compromise the magic of a Christmas ad creative.
Grey’s joint head of strategy Asad Shaykh points out that brands must consider how big the codes must be, and how long they must be on screen to persuade a viewer to pick up their phone and scan.
“What’s more important is what [QR codes] do. If they’re integral to extending the creative experience [then], yes, they work. But if they’re used as a lazy bumper sticker to push customer clicks, then they can certainly be a creative hazard,” Shaykh says. “Let’s not lead our audiences down dark alleyways after showing them the Champs-Élysées.”
Shoppable campaigns, not ads
Unlike Boots and M&S, John Lewis opted against making its 2021 Christmas TV ad shoppable. Instead, My John Lewis membership card holders can interact with the creative through a virtual in-app experience. And, suffice to say, everything viewers can see in the ad is available to buy.
Will Grundy, adam&eveDDB’s head of planning, is sceptical that innovations like shoppable codes will be used with anything like the sufficient volume to justify investments.
“From a marketing department perspective, I’m sure there is a desire for seamlessness. But from a consumer perspective – and this Christmas in particular – the desire is for brilliant stories to entertain us. I’m not sure, in the real world, people are sitting around watching Coronation Street and really hoping for a seamless brand experience.”
Instead, Grundy argues it’s more important that campaigns as a whole are shoppable, and not just the ads. “The interesting thing with John Lewis is that [Christmas campaigns are] always a really compelling idea that lives and breathes on your telly, but also on the shop floor and on the website,” he says.
From screen to basket
The shift to shoppable is unlikely to end with this year’s Q4 ad bonanza; brands will continue to try and find ways to sharpen performance, link-up customer journeys, and get shoppers to the moment of purchase as quickly as possible.
Over 70 per cent of Boots’ adspend this Christmas is focused on performance marketing, and 25 per cent of its paid media is underpinned with first-party customer data – up 60 per cent from last year.
CMO Pete Markey believes shoppable TV will become a “key part of the branded customer experience” and will “complement” the strengths of its creative strategy, especially as a broader range of media owners begin to offer commerce tools.
VMLY&R’s Karen Boswell agrees: “Integrated campaigns fail when they overdeliver on emotion but underdeliver on function. We wanted to ensure our experience flowed from screen to basket.”
Agencies should expect to have similar conversations with their clients by the time next year’s mince pies hit the shelves.