Earlier this week, Pepsi began rolling out a new can to celebrate the culmination of the football season—and they should be hitting store shelves throughout the Northeast any minute now.
While half the can features promotional marketing, so-called can panels, very little of it screams Super Bowl. Aside from a small yet distinguishable NFL logo, there aren't images of footballs, players, or stadiums. Instead, most of the panel is prime real estate dedicated to educating users about an augmented-reality platform called Blippar.
What the heck is a Blippar, you're wondering? Based in London, two-year-old Blippar has gained massive traction among the world's largest brands, including Nike, Coca-Cola, Heinz, Sony, Disney, Nestle, and many others. Before this Pepsi campaign, there were two others with the beverage maker: a game that Applebee's patrons could play while waiting for their food (interactions lasted an average of three minutes) and another promoting the low-calorie, sugar-free Pepsi Max in the U.K. (data of which wasn't made available).
The new U.S. campaign will be on 19.5 million cans, and they'll feature instructions on how to "blipp" Pepsi products to summon interactive elements. Consumers are instructed to download Blippar and use the app to scan the soda can, which lets them "take a virtual photo" with an NFL player by superimposing an image of the fan.
"Pepsi's NFL activation this year has been about celebrating passions with fans, bringing them closer to the game," Michelle Flegel, director of marketing in PepsiCo's northeast region, tells Fast Company. "This activation with Blippar's augmented-reality platform is a great way to bring that to life with our consumers."
Because it's a mobile scanning app, much of the Blippar experience harks back to QR codes, which have largely been considered a marketing failure. Like QR codes, Blippar requires users to whip out their phones, launch an app, and scan an item. "Companies are so busy slapping technology everywhere, they're not giving consumers anything," says Scott Stratten, a marketer whose book QR Codes Kill Kittens was published by Wiley in October. The image-heavy book highlights particularly dumb uses of QR, such as on billboards, the side of trucks, the tops of buildings, or in one case, a banana.
But Blippar founder and CEO Rish Mitra points out a few key differences between his company and QR codes. "First of all," he says, "no one ever owned QR code. It's not a proprietary technology, hence no one ever pushed or owned the consumer behavior or education challenge." In the case of Pepsi, that education comes in the form of its can panel, and many other products, from magazines to cereal boxes, also teach people how to use the platform. Furthermore, he says these codes often don't do anything more than point people to a website. "Advertising a domain is more powerful than putting out a QR code and taking people to the same place," he explains.
And then there's the augmented-reality element, which allows publishers and brands to show videos, recipes, coupons, games, and other interactive elements when a product is blipped. Stratten says key to the platform's success is the ability to show return on investment, and the brands and media outlets that use Blippar receive detailed analytics on what, when, and where customers are blipping. Also, unlike a square code, the app scans the actual product, which allows the "identity of the brand to be recognized," Mitra says.
To succeed where QR failed, Stratten says Blippar needs to focus on building out its user base. The company has 4 million users globally, primarily concentrated in the U.S. and U.K., and brands and media companies have seen conversion rates from 2% to 37%.
Mitra says not all customers or brands see Blippar as a form of advertising. "It's a completely new dimension, which is why it's so powerful," he says. In some way, he argues products themselves could one day serve as a web domain of sorts. "Instead of going to pepsi.com, you go to the product itself, and the promotional matter can change every day."