While browsing through the free Sport magazine on the tube this morning I noticed that a number of the ads included QR codes.

I never scan QR codes largely because the user experience always used to be quite poor.

But as the technology has been around for a while now surely marketers avoid the cardinal sins of failing to include a call-to-action then linking to desktop pages?

I tested all the QR codes I could find in Sport to find out…

Best practice

You can find out about this in more detail in our blog post highlighting eight best practice tips for using QR codes in marketing, but the basic rules are:

  • Make sure the QR code serves a purpose and adds to the user experience.
  • Don’t link to a desktop site.
  • Put it where people will notice it.
  • Make the code big enough so people can scan it easily.
  • Include a call-to-action (CTA) telling users what they stand to benefit.

So, have marketers actually started adhering to best practice?


The QR code really stands out on the Lacoste ad, as there’s little else happening on the page.

It also includes a CTA – “Scan to discover” – and the URL in case people are unable to scan the QR code for some reason.

After a successful scan you reach a mobile optimised landing page that allows you to watch four different ads, each just 19 seconds long, and claim a free sample.


It’s not the smoothest web page in the world and navigation between the different products is a bit clunky, but at least Lacoste has recognised the importance of having a mobile site.

Unfortunately if you want to request a free sample you are directed to a desktop site, which shows that Lacoste either hasn’t thought about the entire user journey, or simply didn’t have the time or budget to optimise anything other than the landing page.


Just like Lacoste, Toyota’s ad tells users to “Scan to watch film” and also includes the URL. You are then linked to an intriguing mobile landing page that displays an ‘Engine Start’ button.

If you press it (you know you want to) you are linked to a page that includes social media sharing buttons, an animated ad and a link to the full mobile site.

The full mobile site contains a massive amount of information, including everything from media reviews, details of the car’s specifications and a media gallery.


There are also a few neat interactive features, such as a 360-degree view of the car and audio of the engine revving.

But it’s not all for entertainment purposes – Toyota has also made it easy for users to request an e-brochure, book a test drive or find their local dealer.

Nearly all aspects of the user journey – from the huge CTAs to the swipeable menus – are perfect for mobile and this is the best use of QR codes on this list.


Police’s ad doesn’t include a CTA so there isn’t any incentive to scan the QR code.

That might be because there isn’t really any point in scanning it – all it does is link to the Police Facebook page. This strikes me as an example of a brand putting a QR code on its ad without any real thought or strategy behind it.

You can almost hear the thought process:

Just stick one on there. We might get some extra Facebook fans out of it, we might not, but it’s cheap to do so why not experiment?


HMV has found a great, practical use for QR codes, but it’s unfortunately let down by the execution.

The ad is for Top Gear’s new DVD, so the QR code links directly to a mobile optimised product page to try and capture those impulse purchases – great idea.

However the QR code is tiny and the instructions to “Download a QR reader and scan this code” are so small you need to squint to read them.

If you do manage to spot it, you hit a perfect mobile landing page that tells you the product’s price, stock information and shipping details. 

You even have the option of buying online or using a ‘Click & Collect’ service.


However, our office is in Farringdon and when I tried to use GPS to register for the Click & Collect service the app told me there were no stores in my area. HMV has no stores in central London?

The checkout process is also poorly designed. It takes two clicks until you get to the checkout, which then forces new customers to register an account.

This is a terrible user experience, as nobody is going to take the time to fill in loads of forms to buy a single DVD on their mobile.

HMV needs to severely reduce the number of pages in its checkout process and remove the need to register. Just get users straight to the credit card form, and consider letting them use PayPal to make payment even easier.

Helly Hansen

This is a prime example of marketers getting it wrong. The QR code is tiny, there is no CTA and it links to a desktop site.

You can just about make out a red CTA on the landing page, but I doubt anyone on a mobile will get round to completing the entry forms.


Go Entertain

This ad is to promote three sports box sets, each containing 21 DVDs from various historic occasions.

At the bottom of the page there is a huge ‘BUY NOW’ CTA and Amazon’s logo, but the QR code links to a YouTube trailer for the box sets.

Again the QR code is quite small, but at least this time there are instructions that read: ”To view trailer scan code.”

The trailer is quite stirring and should impress most sports fans, but initially I wondered why it didn’t just link directly to the product pages on Amazon?

The likely answer is because the box sets will set you back £109.99, which is going to deter most impulse buyers.

Therefore linking to an ad makes sense, as it gives another opportunity to sell the product before the user finds out how expensive they are.

In conclusion…

Based on this test, marketers clearly still don’t understand the correct uses for QR codes.

Linking to desktop sites is pointless yet several of the brands on this list still do it.

Similarly, you need to give users a reason to scan the code by telling then what they stand to benefit, but too many ads fail to give any incentive for getting your phone out.

Toyota stands out as a brand offering an excellent experience, which both entertains the user and makes it extremely easy to ask for a test drive or request further product information.

If all brands offered a similar user experience then QR codes would have a much better reputation among consumers, but unfortunately the Helly Hansens of this world are ensuring that people remain rightly sceptical of the technology.