Skip to content

Clarity Digital picks up university training project


Clarity Digital has just been appointed by Birmingham City University to deliver a series of training workshops to the marketing team. The sessions will focus on a range of topics including planning digital campaigns and Google Analytics. The project follows an earlier series of seminars developed for the university and delivered last year.


QR codes on TV ads: what does it say about ad agencies and their understanding of digital?


When I saw a QR code appear at the end of a retailer’s TV ad I thought I had imagined it. But no, when the ad re-ran at the next ad break there it was in all its glory. The advertiser in question was Waitrose and the QR code features as part of their Christmas TV activity.

End frame from Waitrose's TV ad with QR code

Whilst it’s certainly a novel approach and shows how important digital has become as a response channel, it just felt like the agency was trying to be too clever.

QR codes are presented as providing a great channel for customer response to a press ad, on packaging or via POS to view content or access offers. Many of us will have seen these in magazines or on posters with various case studies of other methods of using them (e.g. in store windows). Earlier this year Facebook was rumoured to be adding them to people’s profile pages, a move that would certainly have raised consumer awareness.

So why do I think this example is too clever for its own good? Well for starters do consumers understand what QR codes are and how to activate them? Research by BBDO & Proximity provides some useful data. This shows much lower usage in the US compared to Japan where the technology has much higher acceptance. There’s little research that supports the usage in the UK though it is likely that the pattern will be similar to the US: high use of smartphones (and their cameras) but low awareness or usage of QR code readers. Equally, it seems unlikely that Waitrose’s target audience will be early adopters of this type of technology.

Aside from the relevance to consumers, is it an appropriate response mechanism for TV? QR codes are fine in magazines where the print quality and resolution ensures that they work. I couldn’t get it to work at all: either via pausing or trying to scan the last 2 seconds of the ad. Did anyone test this? And by test I mean run the ad the way most of us view TV, sat on a sofa at a variable distance from the set. This in itself is likely to have rendered it pointless: anyone who noticed it would have missed it by the time it registered.

This feels like an agency-led idea where the agency view is that QR codes are cutting edge (or more so than just having a URL). Either that, or it in some way brings a level of integration to a traditional TV campaign. The online elements of the campaign involved the obligatory microsite (with the URL promoted on the ads) and a Christmas iPhone app . The QR code was there to take visitors to the App Store to download it. Yet nowhere in the ad was any attempt made to actually inform audiences of the online content. Featuring the URL almost becomes a bolt-on as there’s no explicit incentive for non-customers to visit the site.

Waitrose aren’t the only brand to do this. M & S’ Christmas campaign uses various calls to action. Some ads festure the website URL whereas the 60 second version tells viewers to search online for “M & S Helper”. Top marks for use of a search phrase to direct consumers but less so for the failure to link the ad and content. We all get the ad theme “Don’t put a foot wrong this Christmas” but in a 60s ad, couldn’t the benefits of the online helper have been more explicitly pushed? Ditto for Waitrose, why not promote the app via the ad?

Are agencies still so addicted to the creative execution that the overall benefit to the brand gets diluted? Based on these campaigns, I’d say yes.

Clarity celebrates its second birthday…


We’ve just passed our second anniversary and have enjoyed a superb second year. Despite starting the business right at the start of the recession, we’ve continued to acquire new clients. This year organisations such as Birmingham City University, e-commerce brand Shop4Shelves and Birmingham PR agency Seal have appointed us to a variety of digital planning tasks, training and social media projects. We’ve also worked with Made Media as well as longstanding client the Girls’ Schools AssociationRead more…

Demystifying social media…


We’re at Nott Tuesday on August 10th talking about social media. Social media marketing has continues to be one of the hottest topics in marketing. Countless blogs, trade publications and web commentators are exhorting the benefits of social media to businesses owners. The hype suggests it’s a panacea to many challenges facing brands and businesses. The reality is somewhat different.  Read more…

Digital marketing in the Midlands: have we got what it takes to become a leading part of the sector?


November sees the City hosting “The Big Debate” where various speakers will discuss and debate whether the region’s creative/digital sectors can lead the UK’s economic recovery. When it comes to the digital marketing sector this is a perfectly reasonable ambition. Spend on digital continues to grow with online ad spend outstripping TV for the first time this year. It is likely that this growth will continue in line with consumers’ increasing use of digital channels. So is our regional scene benefitting from this growth?

Our small agency scene in the Midlands is certainly thriving with plenty of digital agencies across the region as well as the high profile concentration of businesses in Birmingham’s Digbeth and Jewellery Quarters. There’s also the stampede into digital from the region’s established advertising, PR and design agencies all looking to tap into the growth of the digital sector.

The result (regionally at least) is a highly competitive sector with clients able to shop around. This seems to be having the unfortunate effect of creating an increasing element of price competition. The competition from traditional agencies who are making clever use of remuneration proposals to secure digital business from the pure-play digital shops is contributing to this.

This price sensitivity is a concern in the context of the region’s digital ambitions. Leading any economic recovery requires (or at least implies) a range of contributory factors – sector leadership, a large pool of highly skilled people and most importantly, solutions that command a premium in the market place attracting the best clients to the region (which in turn attracts the skilled workforce).

I’m not convinced that our digital sector is there yet. New Media Age has just published its annual guide to the Top 100 digital agencies who will generate revenues of almost £1 billion in 2009.  As you’d expect, most of these businesses are London based. However, there are a number of regional players with highly successful, growing businesses that are attracting national and international clients. Sadly, the Midlands isn’t one of these regions with only one agency, Leamington’s Freestyle Interactive making the top 100.

Other regions fare considerably better. Manchester (including the wider Cheshire area) has several agencies in the list. The superb Code Computerlove continue their growth with McCann Erickson’s Manchester digital operation making the list. There are also the digital teams at Cheshire’s Amaze and the Manchester arms of several other big digital players, e.g. Reading Room. There are also plenty of other exciting digital businesses outside the list including MagneticNorth.

Bristol has an equally successful scene with E3 making the list along with DMG, owners of Brisol’s InboxDMG and HyperlaunchDMG. Both of these agencies would make the list on their own (the combined revenue of the group puts them at number 5 on the list). Similar success is evident in other cities/regions where there is a mix of businesses of varying sizes.

The first thing we need to realise is that digital is strong everywhere and Birmingham is behind the curve and not ahead of it. Of course, Birmingham has some great agencies led by Clusta and Made Media. If we go further afield we can add the aforementioned Freestyle into the mix, Leicester’s Fuse, Xibis and Effect as well as growing digital teams at ad agencies Cogent and McCann Birmingham. Step into Staffordshire and there are the viral agencies Tamba and Koko.

Perhaps we also need to look outside of the City limits at what works and why in other regions. Manchester’s success in digital shows no signs of abating yet the region isn’t resting on its laurels. A recent NESTA report highlighted the challenges in continuing the economic growth from digital/creative industries. For a City that see’s its competitors as Barcelona or Milan, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Manchester continues to harbour bold ambitions. It certainly shows an appreciation that economic success is an ongoing, moveable feast. Success yesterday is no guarantee of success tomorrow.

We also need to be looking at the best agencies in the market. Our ambitions should be to see Birmingham develop the next AKQA or Glue London (insert the agency you aspire to here). Digital is new and evolving so age is no barrier to success (and many in the top 100 are less than 10 years old). In the short term, the region needs to be attracting people from London and Manchester. That’s a tall order. To attract the talent, we need the clients, brands and work that attracts the workforce.

Shouting more loudly about our commercial successes is a prerequisite, an area the region fails miserably at compared to Manchester and others. This should be coupled with a greater commercial focus and that targets the premium end of the market. The recent Birmingham City Council website fiasco is a case in point. That the website was overpriced, under-developed and poorly executed has been widely debated elsewhere. The BCCDIY response despite scoring some technical points does our digital ambitions no favours either.

The answer to £2.8 million of badly spent digital investment isn’t a freebie knocked up by a group of mates in their spare time. Good intentions aside, it risks devaluing the commercial aspects of digital marketing. And these are absolutely vital if we’re to create a vibrant, successful, employment-generating digital marketing sector.

Of course, the BCCDIY has one positive – collaboration – and this will be critical to our chances of massively growing the region’s digital businesses. However, it needs to be commercially focussed collaboration where businesses partner up to fill gaps in skills or service to secure new contracts. There are plenty of skills and talents across the region’s digital agencies. Winning business from bigger competitors is possible by partnering with the right team. It’s irrelevant whose name is on the bills if it brings in the work. It’s also an approach that offers costs benefits (useful in the current climate) when pitching against these bigger agencies with larger headcounts.

Coupled with this is the need for a more competitive streak especially when pitching against our bigger Manchester, London and Bristol rivals. The recent news that Birmingham International Airport has appointed a Bristol agency absolutely rankles when there is abundant choice locally.  Maybe the first step is a  regional voice for digital that exists to drive awareness of the region’s capabilities. One reason for the success of Manchester and Bristol is their trade bodies. Bristol Media and Manchester Digital showcase the successes in and out of the region, help businesses find each other and speak as one voice over issues of importance to their respective regions. This is perhaps the area that we’re most lacking and something we should address if we’re serious about our digital future.

The new Birmingham City Council site: a step back for the city’s digital ambitions?


After months of delays and huge cost over-runs, the Birmingham City Council website finally launched. The costs have already been the subject of much discussion and a view of the site quickly saw the debate continue online. The feedback has certainly been negative and justifiably so. Read more…

Re-launching a website: the challenge of search engine management


There’s no shortage of hints, tips and guidance for businesses and agencies on the key things to consider when launching a website. These cover the usual stuff: checking links, calling support numbers, browser testing, etc, etc. There’s also plenty of advice on the SEO aspects of building a new site. However, there seems to be a gap when a site is re-launching in a new guise, iteration, etc and in particular, on how to minimise the disruption to visitors arriving via search engines. Read more…