Thursday, 13 January 2011


It's all very easy for us digital internet types to get sniffy about how TV advertising is old hat with its scatter-gun approach to marketing and no direct feedback that it works.

I was in this mood when I chatted with's marketing team on the eve of the first TV commercial for the iPhone Tesco Groceries scanning feature last Thursday.

I have to say that they do tolerate me, do marketing. They just smiled and asked me to wait and see.

The TV commercial has been airing since Thursday and... we're in the top 5 list of most downloaded UK apps on iTunes. Oh, and my colleague Omar took a copy of the various API server logs and drew graphs. The graphs showed load levels where the app had been in communication with our servers. The load level graphs had some big peaks, and the peaks matched with the timings of the TV commercials.

That's right - the 40-second commercial basically gets people to scan the barcodes on products - and, when they watch the commercial, they pick up their iPhones immediately and start doing just that! The peaks appear not just from showing the advert on ITV1 (the UK's most-watched commercial TV channel) but even on less-viewed channels - both free and pay TV - on which our commercial is being shown.

I love the thought of thousands of people sat in their living rooms watching TV, viewing the ad which persuades them to pick up their nearby iPhone immediately and ... well... scan something.

I wonder what other customers might find to scan as they get overwhelmed with barcoding desire at the instruction of the commercial? Since the server logs are deliberately anonymised, it has just struck me that I should find out what products were being scanned. For example, as I look around my living room I can spot several grocery items with barcodes - bars of dark chocolate, a DVD of comedian Dara O'Briain I received for Christmas, and a box of Tesco value tissues. Would watching the commercial just make me the scan them? The evidence from the log peaks suggest that I would!

Make no mistake - the lesson that us sniffy web 2.0 digital types need to learn is this:
After 60 years, TV advertising still works.


  1. In Japan, they put barcodes on tombstones so you can scan them and read a biography of the person beneath the ground.

  2. Watching the commercial might make you scan stuff if you were using an iPhone, but since you will still be using your Nexus One ( you'd just be a little bit frustrated by it instead, just like me.

    Just think of how many more hits your servers would get if only Android phones could do it too...

  3. Hi Nick, Just stumbled on your blog. I work in advertising but I'd suggest advertising does work but only when the product does too. In the case of your new app, I think it's inspired and you can attribute a large portion of your download uplift not just to the success of the advertising but on the ingenuity of the app itself. Well done to you and team.

  4. I can see exactly how the advert would work in making iPhone owners pick up their phones and start scanning. As an android user I had a similar desire when I saw the advert. That's why my family now shops via Ocado.

  5. Speaking as Thinkbox, the marketing body for UK commercial TV, we're delighted that you've experienced TV ads working directly for you. Thankfully your Marketing Department is already more than aware of this.
    TV ads are indeed nearly 60 years old (55 in the UK), but that makes them not much older than the internet you know, and TV and the internet are actually great friends. We work hard to kill the silly TV vs internet paradigm.

    ps we share an great ad agency in The Red Brick Road by the way.


As this blog grows in readership - and because it carries the Tesco brand - I have had to become more careful about the sort of comments that are acceptable. The good news is that I'm a champion of free speech so please be as praising or as critical as you wish! The only comments I DON'T allow through are:

1. Comments which criticise an individual other than myself, or are critical of an organisation other than Tesco. This is simply because they cannot defend themselves so is unfair and possibly libellous. Comments about some aspect of Tesco being better/worse than another equivalent organisation are allowed as long as you start by saying "in my personal opinion.." or "I think that...". ... followed by a "...because.." and some reasoned argument.

2. Comments which are totally unrelated to the context of the original article. If I have written about a mobile app and you start complaining about the price of potatoes then your comment isn't going stay for long!

3. Advertising / web links / spam.

4. Insulting / obscene messages.

Ok, rules done - now it's your go: