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QR codes have seemingly been around since the dawn of time, and, like the horror movie monster that just won’t die, they’re back for another grab at the marketer’s attention.

This time around, QR seems to be making more progress, with the little blighters popping up everywhere from estate agent windows to gravestones.

I’ve been firmly in the NO camp since the last time there was a QR bonanza in the marketing press around three years ago, on the grounds that, along with much else in the innovation space, QR has until now failed the “Is Anyone Really Going To Do That” test.

Seriously: in order to find out more about a spot cream or fizzy drink, you have to:

a) get out your phone.

b) find your QR scanner, or if not, go to your app store and download one.

c) hold it still over the ad (or in the laughable Waitrose TV example, wait like a cat then pounce!).

d) click the URL and browse over your mobile connection for whatever it is you wanted in the first place.

My idea of mobile interaction is to make life easier and simpler, so this makes it quite ironic that QR stands for Quick Response.

However, I was always hopeful that QR would take off as the technology is very robust and proven, and I’ve always felt that should manufacturers build scanning technology direct into their camera and find some way to deal with the assumed power consumption that should require, then consumers would get on board.

Also there are any number of nice executions ranging from hero outdoor ones like this CK code in the US (leading inevitably to a mobile video clip of some young people in their scanties), through to these lovely ideas for the codes themselves (try them - they work!). 

There’s not too much evidence of great case studies with results for QR codes (except this), and right now we in the marketing fraternity are merrily QR-ing away regardless, which is very much the opposite of how mobile generally works.

Now I have no problem with egg-before chicken, and am broadly in favour of this – QR codes are free to create and set up, so the worst that can happen is a bit of test-and-learn.

However, what I really wanted to discuss is just a little bit of best practice, or common sense as it’s sometimes known. If you’re going to take a punt on a new response technique, you should probably at least get the basics right, and, as in all things, think about the user journey along the way.

Here are a couple of examples of where this has not been done quite right.

MI5’s recent recruitment campaign made much of dedicating entire outdoor spaces to QR. This looks good until you make the effort to click through the code, and find yourself on an unnavigable web page, not optimised for mobile.

Let’s hope that the people supposedly in charge of our national security are doing a bit better in their day job than in hiring ad agencies who let this kind of thing through…

Another example, bad for a couple of different reasons, is this one from VK.

While MI5 at least had the forethought to include some tracking in the QR URL, this code directs the user straight to the campaign Facebook page.

With no way of tracking where these users have come from, the QR is unmeasurable and unaccountable – worst – the brand has learnt nothing from the experience of doing this.

Then of course if the user is not already logged in, as most users aren’t because smartphone users mostly use their native app for Facebook, you have to log in. This takes you straight to your feed rather than to VK and the user is lost unless they then search again to find the page.

So, there are plenty of pitfalls and it’s a shame to see these campaigns going out without some basic steps being taken.

I welcome discussion of all of this, but here would be my basic A-B-C for getting this right:

Consider the user experience 

Mock up the experience before it goes live. Try it yourself, get other people to try it on different phones. Would Anyone Really Do This? Example of what to avoid here!

Optimise sites or landing pages

Use short URLs so that QR codes are as simple and machine-readable as possible, bearing in mind the image may well be munged through newspaper reproduction. 

Make sure tracking is included in your URL, so you can demonstrate clearly how much response your QR has gained

Don’t give up! It’s still early days for QR, so perseverance may well pay off.

Of course, while it’s easy to get bogged down in one solution, in this case QR, what we are really trying to do is to make sure that users have an easy way to respond to our ATL advertising.

And here there’s no doubt that the elephant in the room is mobile search. Searching from phones is now for many users the default way to get more information once engaged by an ad, and getting that right is at the moment probably far more important than QR, SMS shortcodes, or anything else in this area right now.

Thoughts?

Tim Dunn

Published 9 August, 2011 by Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn is Director of Strategy at Isobar Mobile and a contributor to Econsultancy.

3 more posts from this author

Comments (32)

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melanie b.

There are QR codes everywhere, there are more and more smart phones, no one is scanning anything. People, by and large, do not like QR codes. I suggest it has something to do with the basic process and interface. It requires too much time and thought.

If mobile marketers had embraced QR codes and created really great campaigns over the past year then maybe it would be different. Instead, we got a lot of QR add-ons to campaigns that lead to some of the worst mobile experiences ever created (if the pages or video loaded at all). Blame? Goes to the "print people" who didn't have a clue they were now working in an interactive digital medium.

I'll wait a year for my NFC thank you.

over 5 years ago

Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn, Director of Strategy at Isobar Mobile and Mobile Futures

Hi Melanie,

I agree - and I hope the examples above are helpful - honestly I could have picked any one of 100 misguided campaigns!

If you check out some of the stats coming out of Google Mobile Ads blog you can see that they are killing it in terms of ad response, so honestly I think the moment for QR may have gone before it really began - not that that will stop a number of agencies doing them anyway!

Cheers,
Tim

over 5 years ago

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Gary Bury, Managing Director at mediaburst

Hi Tim,
I'm pleased to hear you're another on the NO side of QR codes. Like you I believe the process has got too many steps.

Even if you have the patience, or the speed of a cat (in the case of Waitrose) then, although I have tried many I'd say 90% of the time your left on a web page not optimised for mobile.

I'm all in favour of experimentation, but you've got to get the basics right.

over 5 years ago

Jonathan Wright

Jonathan Wright, Interim Director/Head of Digital, eCommerce & Online Marketing Consultant at Lloyds Banking GroupEnterprise

Looks like First Direct are in a similar quandary. They are asking consumers whether or not they find QR codes useful or innovative http://www.lab.firstdirect.com/live-tests/first-direct-qr-codes. Some interesting feedback but consensus seems to be No.

over 5 years ago

Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn, Director of Strategy at Isobar Mobile and Mobile Futures

Hi Jonathan, too right - but I do love the Labs idea. Their example is really well executed with nicely rendered video content (though I haven't tested it on any lesser devices).

Of course the joy of being FD is that QR codes are guaranteed to match up with your brand colourscheme! ;)

I do think though that when you have landing pages or an optimised site there's little to lose in testing a little...

Cheers,
Tim

over 5 years ago

Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn, Director of Strategy at Isobar Mobile and Mobile Futures

Sorry - clarification - the FD video is OVER 5 MINUTES LONG!!

User experience #fail!

over 5 years ago

Brent

Brent, Freelance at inter@ctiv8

What really gets to me is when the QR owner jumps on the bandwagon, thinks "hey great we can issue free codes via this piece of free software" and hey presto! without even considering the person using the code and the user experience they have to put up with.

Also another little niggle of mine is when the creator "sticks lipstick on the pig" i.e when they optimize the target webpage for mobile but when you go to purchase, it takes you into the original site.

I am for QR's as it is another tool...a simple tool to use with minimum cost, it also helps to highlight to originators that they need a mobile strategy in place to harness the true potential.

It is also a good step up for NFC, once and I say once, the market gets it's head round it.

over 5 years ago

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Nick Martin

Tim -
Good points - as you allude to there seems to be too much emphasis on simply using a 2D barcode rather than thinking through the user experience in it's entirety.

As you mentioned the steps required to actually scan should be minimized. Microsoft Tag just released an SDK that allows partners to embed the Tag reader into their own mobile app, which can add value to the experience if used right. If you are looking for some examples of how to do a campaign the RIGHT way I suggest checking out what Allure is doing. In 3 days the campaign has generated over 200,000 scans and is on pace to break it's own record for the most successful 2D barcode campaign ever. Here's a link to a press release by Allure if you're interested: http://www.minonline.com/news/18734.html

Nick Martin
Online Community Manager
Microsoft Tag

over 5 years ago

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Steve

I'm sure QR codes will work well for someone, someday, but I've yet to hear of an example where it hasn't been a waste of time. The funniest example of bandwagon-jumping was a company I know who got QR codes created, bearing in mind that their target market is 50+, those who are too afraid to use technology (like the Internet) and prefer to sort things out in person. Lord knows what that company were thinking... They probably liked the idea of the 'shiny shiny' and wanted in on the fun, regardless of whether it was practical, sensible or profitable to their company.

over 5 years ago

Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn, Director of Strategy at Isobar Mobile and Mobile Futures

Hi Nick, great example, they've clearly got something right by thinking beyond simply trying to connect people up to a web experience, although I'd naturally be curious how much support Microsoft might have lent to the effort :)

However, using it as part of a broader promotional mechanic is cool. SMS response has never worked that well from print titles so they could be on to something. I've liked Tag as a piece of tech that really works since I tried it a couple of years ago, but I've never been clear of the advantages it might have in comparison to QR/2D and so on?

over 5 years ago

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Gordon Struthers

The best use of QR codes I’ve seen is at the Edinburgh international festival. Comedians have put them on their show flyers which when used then take customers to a YouTube video showing 2 minutes of their act.

This gives people the chance to sample the show much better than just a flyer with text on it and makes users more likely to buy tickets and come to the show.

over 5 years ago

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Gary Bury, Managing Director at mediaburst

@Gordon, I wonder, do you think it was it the use of QR codes that made this successful or the 2 minute youtube videos?

I think maybe they could have got a better response by using SMS rather than QR codes.

What I mean is, if they printed a shortcode and keyword so people could send a text in, and sent an auto response by SMS with the link to the video then you wouldn't have needed a QR code reader or smartphone. More people would have been familiar with the mechanism (SMS), people without QR code readers would have been able to see the video.

What do you reckon, maybe I'm just showing natural bias because I run an SMS company?

over 5 years ago

Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn, Director of Strategy at Isobar Mobile and Mobile Futures

Hi Gordon + Gary,

I guess the proof is in the pudding - how many views did the QRs generate in total? Again I like the idea because you are giving users a clear reason to use them, and they are likely to get some great content as a reward.

I've been working in SMS for over 11 years now, so if anyone's in favour of it, it should be me, but the reality is that SMS is on the slide for this kind of application - see http://t.co/kWag0ZD for some reasoning - and for this kind of campaign there would be lots of charging and admin involved in making it happen which would make it prohibitive for the artists/promoters.

The reality is that the only people who are going to be watching mobile YouTube are smartphone users anyway, so you are losing out on only a very small proportion of the market by targeting them solely.

Ta!

over 5 years ago

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Neil Whitehead

The call to action must give weight to the use of this technology. The basic principle of campaigns based around a QR delivery can learn from well planned email newsletters and Social Media strategies where there is a very definite measurable and obvious end goal.

As redirection to mobile devices starts to flood the arena it means that the final destination has to live up to the expectations of such a new technology. Invest in a site that manages content for mobile devices first and then proceed with a way of directing traffic to it.

QR is finding it's way to business cards in B2C and even B2B and will no doubt flag up web development issues in the future.

RFID is also looking like eclipsing the QR code in time

over 5 years ago

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Carolyn Cummins

Thanks for the post. I have used QR codes as a business and as a consumer with mixed feelings. I like the concept of being able to quickly access a website or information through QR code, not having to type in the web address. The SCANLIFE app is quick and you don't have to click on a link, you just point and it goes where the QR code directs.

However, I personally find reading most websites on a tiny phone screen difficult so if I am reading a magazine or flyer with a QR code on it, I would rather find the website address on the paper and go to my laptop and pull it up.

But I like QR codes for a persons contact info so I don't have to write it down or take a business card. And I like QR codes for quick information on mobile friendly sites.

over 5 years ago

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Laura Marriott

Tim, you make a good point about the need for mobile barcode scanners to be incorporated into handsets in order for consumers to really catch on. More important perhaps will be greater consumer education and industry collaboration around the use of open standards and effective integration of mobile barcodes into campaigns to minimize poor user experience and greatly encourage mass adoption. As the industry comes together to standardize and collaborate on mobile barcode best practices, campaigns will mature and become increasingly compelling. Having worked in mobile marketing for many years now, I have seen countless iterations and examples of mobile marketing and advertising techniques, yet mobile barcodes stand out as a key means for brands to connect with their target consumer in a tailored, interactive and meaningful way. As such, NeoMedia has put together a comprehensive whitepaper on best practice in mobile barcode campaigns, which can be downloaded here: http://www.neom.com/resources/white_papers.

over 5 years ago

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TJ

Good post Tim. I'm definitely in the pro-camp for QR codes.

What technology exists today to drive mobile devices to a URL? Somebody's fingers or a QR code is the current solution. So when people tell me that a QR code scanning process is too much I ask them to type a URL in their mobile phone. To truly test this you need an A/B test but the manual typing has a much larger hurtle (incentive) to overcome in my opinion.

Additionally I hear people talk about NFC as a better solution. I agree it simplifies the process but there are additional costs associated with purchasing chips and programming the chips. Security will also be a major factor with NFC. Much more sensitive information is tied to it... so this increases the barrier of every day use. Are you going to just tap anything with your NFC connected bank account chip?

Finally, my last point is those companies and agencies currently adopting and implementing QR codes in campaigns will be further along the curve than those not experimenting currently. NFC and QR codes have the same incentives, require the same tactics and strategies to encourage scanning, and will be measure exactly the same. So those saying they will just wait for NFC are sitting on the side line while the game is being played now. Thanks for giving me the leg up... you may regret that later.

Enjoyed post! - TJ

over 5 years ago

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Talha

QR codes were revived because the surge in smartphone usage. They are a somewhat useful utility but its use should be restricted to certain places and they might not work for all businesses.

I will be using QR codes very soon too, lets see how useful they are?

over 5 years ago

Carl Carter

Carl Carter, Director at Adaptiv Ltd

Interesting comments all and I like the debate. I have been working with QR Codes for some time and agree the real world use has been poor and slow on the uptake however its all about application. I am working on some campaigns and real world uses currently. I have launched an easy to use self-service QR Code/TAG generation and analytic tool (which is free for most too!) Sorry to plug but I know how useful these are in the right campaign our big difference is how we integrate them to integrated triggered marketing campaigns.

Take a look http://pushqr.com

over 5 years ago

Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn, Director of Strategy at Isobar Mobile and Mobile Futures

Hi TJ,

NFC is from a customer perspective a better solution (probably!) as the act of waving a phone is simpler than the QR process as outlined above. Of course it's some way off mass penetration, but the excellent people at Posterscope have already delivered a first working prototype - http://www.slideshare.net/Posterscope/posterscope-launch-nfc-trial-for-xmen-first-class

I think your point around URL entry may be slightly erroneous. Even on desktop Google and the browsers have really stopped people typing out http://url.com in full - you simply whack in the term you want and Google gets it right first time. With mobile this is even more the case and Google mobile is excellent, hence why I refer to it as the new default for ATL ad response, and Google's stats at http://googlemobileads.blogspot.com/2011/04/smartphone-user-study-shows-mobile.html?spref=tw seem to prove this!

over 5 years ago

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TJ

Thanks for the response and links Tim.

Even the Posterscope example indicates an app is required to work with the NFC which is also required by QR Codes. I believe this will be the route NFC must go to increase security and protection of the data anyway.

My point on the URL typing was meant to be aimed at a POS. If I typed "XMen First Class" into Google mobile, I have a range of marketing messages from which to choose. As a marketer, I want to drive my potential consumer to a unique experience (as they did with XMen NFC) as early in their decision process as possible. The sooner I enter that phase the more likely I become the product to compare by (setting expectations of features).

I did find the Google stats very interesting but much of those findings show there is a demand for gathering information while standing in front of a product. This is also a great way to target a segment of your market.

Thanks again Tim! -TJ

over 5 years ago

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Web Designer

In the NO camp too, although I did see someone with a QR code tattoo the other day, that was good for a novelty value, for 1 minute! Thinks it's probably only ever any good for technical links really.

over 5 years ago

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Chris romanelli

I am in the pro side of the conversation. I have successfully implemented qr codes to complement real life experiences. One was in an expo to show technical specifications of some.mobile and another successful implementation I have found is for speeding the process of event registrations .

the problem I see is that agencies do not understand technology that well therefore we see not optimized implementations for mobile environment bringing frustration to users.

over 5 years ago

Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn, Director of Strategy at Isobar Mobile and Mobile Futures

Hi Chris,

That sounds great - are you able to share any links or case studies? The way this blog is going I think there will be plenty of people who are interested in your experience!

Cheers,
Tim

over 5 years ago

Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn, Director of Strategy at Isobar Mobile and Mobile Futures

over 5 years ago

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DN

Hi Tim,
For VK, I'm pretty sure that when the user lands on Facebook, yes they may have to log in (if they haven't set their details to be remembered), but then they are automatically redirected to the original page destination - admittedly the login step is unwanted, but if the prize is engaging enough I would expect the user to continue. After all the vast majority of competitions have a data capture element which is far more time consuming than typing in your FB details.

over 5 years ago

Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn, Director of Strategy at Isobar Mobile and Mobile Futures

That wasn't my experience - it took me straight to my home feed, though I agree with your other points am a great fan of FB as a connector generally

over 5 years ago

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Will Overall

Please please please all of you that are saying NO to this please allow me to give you a demonstraion of how good they can be and what you can get out of them. Yes some are awful, some are shocking and others are just down right wrong. DG3 are the company behind the CK campaign that was mentioned and that was a well executed and well thought out campaign with well tried and tested codes in good locations and with mobile optimised video.
I dont know if this is allowed on this site so apologise if not but please drop me a line at will.overall@dg3.com and I will be more than happy to help with the execution of a well thought out and useful campaign that actually works.
Will

over 5 years ago

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Wholesale Directory

Hi,

Thank you all for sharing your information over here as I learned a lot from it. The confusion that was in my mind about handling QR has been cleared now. It is really nice post and great information provided by you people and great research by "Tim".

over 5 years ago

Tim Dunn

Tim Dunn, Director of Strategy at Isobar Mobile and Mobile Futures

No worries! Stay tuned to @timmcdunn for mobile goodness, and let me know if you use them!

over 5 years ago

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Milind

I am not so sure I agree with your 'NO Camp' position. QR codes are there for ease of things, if I may out it that way. The problem is, we do not know how to make best use of them. I love the couple of examples that you have pointed out in this article. A real good use I can tell you is QR code storage. I mean look at it from some HR or recruitment agency personal point of view, someone who will need to carry some profiles (from linkedin etc) with him always so he could discuss about them with his clients. QR codes of those profiles could be stored on his smart phone and retrieved later anytime he would need.
Long way to go still....

almost 5 years ago

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Paul

I personal dont like the QR codes, barely have used them. Like most things these days Gimmicks seem to rule the waves.

about 4 years ago

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