Friday, July 30, 2021


The video above is an ad that starting running on New Zealand TV recently. It’s intended to encourage people to use NZ’s Covid Tracer App to scan the QR code on the special “Unite against Covid-19” posters all businesses and public venues are required to display. Previous TV ads have often promoted scanning in a more or less matter-of-fact fashion, apart from the “Make Summer Unstoppable” campaign that began late last year. While an informational approach delivers the basics, it doesn’t give anyone a specific reason to scan, something the “Unstoppable” campaign tried to do. This ad takes a similar, but less complicated approach by getting to the heart of the matter: “Scanning protects what you love.”

This is a particularly good message because it gives people a personal, everyday reason to act, and it does so in simple terms. The video uses a heart as the unifying image, and also includes some images and patterns commonly associated with New Zealand, or just with life. A QR code is repeated frequently among the images in the montage, further linking the heart and the code. The first shot in the ad says “I ❤️ NZ”, which, of course, is based on the famous “I Love New York” logo that’s been adapted the world over since it debuted in 1977, much to the often litigious displeasure of the copyright owner, the New York State Department of Economic Development.

The version that first appears in the ad has a sort of gold-coloured heart, using is the main colour of the “Unite against Covid-19” campaign (which is also why the colour pops up so much in the ad). In the third to last and final shot, the heart is replaced with a QR code, once again symbolically linking love and scanning.

I think it’s a fair bet that the vast majority of people won’t think about all that, and probably won’t even notice, but as someone who’s spent my adult life engaged in delivering messaging, one way or another, I always look at how a message is delivered as much as what the message itself is. In advertising, especially ads in the public interest, how the message is conveyed is often at least as important as the content of the message, and sometimes more so.

In this particular case, New Zealanders have become quite slack in scanning QR codes. The Government has tried to encourage people through ordinary messaging, especially how scanning can help keep New Zealand safe from major community outbreaks by making it easier for the government to rapidly enclose an outbreak through contact tracing before the outbreak gets out of control, as it recently did in Sydney. Yet interest in scanning the code only seems to rise when we have a community outbreak, as Auckland and Wellington have both had.

So, if people get complacent about scanning the code—except when they perceive a possible direct personal threat—then maybe one approach to change their behaviour could be this one: Help them see that scanning helps protect what they love.

Still, as good as I think the ad is, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s effective. As I’ve mentioned many times, when I go to a business—supermarket, petrol station, whatever—I’m often (usually?) the only one around me who scans the code. I’d like to say it’s about me trying to protect the things I love, but it’s more selfish than that: If some infected person goes into a shop right before me, making me a casual contact—or close contact, in the case of the Delta Variant—then I want to make it as easy as possible for the Ministry of Health to contact me as fast as possible. Even when I’m fully vaccinated, I’ll remain cautious for my own safety, and if I’m exposed at some point, I need to know so doctors can better monitor me. The reason I care about that is that as someone with a pre-existing condition, I’m at higher risk if I become a breakthrough case, something that will have a higher possibility of happening as new variants appear.

I don’t think that a “scan to protect yourself” thing would make a good marketing campaign mainly because it “others” the people around us, making us see those people as threats to be suspicious of. Instead, I prefer more positive messages like the current “Scanning protects what you love” and last summer’s “Make Summer Unstoppable”. But I guess this also shows that different messages are probably needed because they provide different motivations.

I just want people to scan the damn code!


Roger Owen Green said...

Of course, that could NEVER happen in the good ol' USA! USA!

Arthur Schenck said...

And experts her in NZ continually urge that scanning-in be made mandatory. I wonder how that would go over in the good ol’ USA…