Interviews | April 26, 2022
How QR Codes Can Drive Personal Branding
For years, QR codes were dismissed as a flash-in-the-pan fad without much staying power. As far back as 2011, outlets like Business Insider expressed skepticism about QR codes; the trend continued into 2013 when MarTech (prematurely) declared its death, and then into 2017, when Digital Operative dismissed QR codes as "a nuisance."
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, everything changed. QR codes roared back to life, allowing consumers to access and read information without touching anything more than their smartphones. Think about it; odds are, you’ve probably scanned a QR code at least once or twice over the past two years.
Just the other day, I went to the movies and a pre-show ad flashed a QR code onscreen so viewers could get more information about the product being marketed. And one of the more memorable 2022 Super Bowl ads featured a QR code bouncing around the screen, DVD-logo style, for a whole minute.
The University of Central Florida (UCF) recently found an innovative way to incorporate QR codes into its spring football game. During the game, UCF football players sported custom QR codes on the backs of their jerseys in lieu of their numbers. When scanned, the QR codes sent people to the players’ online bio pages at UCFKnights.com, where additional links offered access to the players’ social media feeds, online stores and more.
I was intrigued by this creative use of QR codes, so I reached out to Eric DeSalvo, UCF’s associate athletics director for #content, to find out more.
Why did you decide to feature QR codes on the backs of the jerseys for the spring game?
We wanted to one-up last year’s spring game. Coach Gus Malzahn joined us last February and wanted to make a splash. With the name, image and likeness era starting in July 2021, he said he wanted to get it out there that we’re all about backing our student athletes and helping them promote their brand. So we put their Twitter handles on the back of their jerseys instead of their last names. That racked up millions of impressions and engagements, and we knew we wanted to one-up it this year.
The idea was thrown out about having QR codes on the helmets, but the codes would have to be a lot smaller to fit there. I said, ‘Let’s go big — let’s see if we can replace the number on the back with the QR code.’ Our equipment manager, Brad Anderson, ran it out with a couple of different companies that he uses for uniform material. They stretched it out and made it work.
We were able to color-code it, too. On the white jersey, it was your traditional QR code, with the black text. We inversed it for the black jersey. It was a very seamless look, and pretty neat to see in person.
What was the decision-making process like for the jerseys? Did you have to convince anyone, or were people on board from the beginning?
Our chief of staff, SJ Tuohy, and Brad Anderson called me and Jimmy Skiles, who leads our external team. They brought up QR codes because they knew we could do it and that it could link to something to help the student athletes promote their brand. We already had a bio page for every student athlete on UCFKnights.com, so that’s where we decided to send it.
We reached out to the student athletes with a form and said, ‘What would you like to be added? What social platforms do you want to add to your bio page? Do you have a store for your own personalized merchandise? Do you have a gamer tag? Whatever it may be, we can put it on there to help promote your brand.’
There really wasn’t much convincing that needed to be done. We showed last year how innovative we can be, and we wanted to do it again. This was the way to one-up it.
What was the reaction from players when they found out?
They said it was cool. Some of the guys were scanning the codes when they got to the locker room. It took them right to their bio page. I think they thought it was unique.
After the game, when they turned in their jersey, we gave them a Dri-FIT t-shirt that had their QR code on the front and their last name on the back. These QR codes will live as long as they’re here, and they can be used on different materials. The student athletes can have the QR codes and put them on anything else they might want.
What was the reaction from fans during the spring game?
I could see some of them scanning the codes during the game. The best part is, we had fans on the field after the game, so they had close access to the student athletes to scan the codes.
We also put the QR codes on the video board throughout the game. Whenever a key guy would make a play during the game, we put his code on the videoboard. That one could be scanned from more than 100 yards away with cameras. It was really cool.
Would you consider bringing the QR code jerseys back for future spring games, or otherwise incorporating QR codes into UCF athletics?
I’m sure next spring will be something different. I would imagine we won’t have the QR code jerseys again; we’ll try to find something else. But in terms of QR codes being used in other ways or in different pieces of media? Ever since Apple decided to allow QR codes to be scanned through the camera, it’s upped the usage a ton. I think QR code technology, while not brand new by any means, is becoming a lot more mainstream.
By doing something like the QR code jerseys, a lot of people saw how easy a QR code is to scan, as well as how it can direct somebody to whatever you want right away. I foresee us using QR codes in different ways in the future.
Images courtesy of UCF Athletics.
Digital marketing Interview