While 2011 may technically be known as the Year of the Rabbit (at least according to the Chinese Zodiac), the past few months have surely been the summer of the QR code. Created more than 15 years ago, these pixelated geometric designs are now popping up everywhere from Taco Bell to graveyard tombstones to hand-painted scarves and beyond.
With nearly one in five people in the U.S. using some form of mobile Web device each day, it looks like QR codes (along with other 2D barcodes ScanLife, Jagtag Datamatrix and Microsoft Tag) have moved from the realm of tech fad to necessary evil. But before you jump on the wagon and start tacking black and white squares onto all of your promotional items, take some time to learn what works (and what doesn’t) for these 21st century barcodes.
Here are just a few of the latest QR code follies, and tips for ensuring your own campaign is a success.
Betfair ads hit below the belt
When Olympic volleyball hopefuls take to the sand this week in London, one pair in particular will draw extra attention. British athletes Shauna Mullin and Zara Dampney have been sponsored by online betting firm Betfair, who has supplied the duo with QR-coded bikinis to wear at the competition. Each athlete will sport a large QR code on her derrière which links back to Betfair’s website.
Under normal circumstances, asking a woman if you can photograph her butt would brand you an inappropriate creeper at the very least; however, this is exactly the action Betfair is hoping to encourage.
Obviously, this Olympic-sized stunt will create buzz, fulfilling Betfair’s goal of being “seen and remembered” among sports fans. But how many people will actually be able to get close enough to one of the hot-linked bikini bottoms to get a clear scan of the code? Not to mention the fact that these athletes won’t exactly be standing still as they dodge and dive around the court. Even after the match has concluded, it’s hard to imagine many fans would walk up to one of the women and kindly request her to turn around so they could get a picture of her behind.
Despite generating a huge amount of debate over this next-gen advertising controversy, Betfair has missed the mark in actually using QR codes to drive traffic and conversions to their site.
Going nowhere fast with JetBlue ads
Nothing sounds more appealing to weary workers packed in on a rush-hour train than the idea of a tropical getaway. A widespread campaign by JetBlue encompassing the metro New York area teased commuters with images of sun and sand, telling them of the fantastic vacation they can win when they scan a QR code featured on the ad.
Unfortunately, these particular advertisements appeared in New York subway trains, which run below ground and largely out-of-reach of cell towers above. While other cities have hardwired cellular service in underground train stations, New York’s subway remains a dead zone.
Daydreaming travelers attempting to scan the code and win their promised getaway were instead faced with harsh “Network Connection Unavailable” messages on their mobile devices. Even subway-goers who were able to find the ads in walkways closer to ground level weren’t able to scan the ad due to an error in the code, which led JetBlue to launch a revamped version of the campaign.
Car-based QR codes drive traffic, and accidents
Advertising agency Bruketa & Zinic is hoping to show some national pride when Croatia joins the European Union in July of 2013. Following a tip from a Croatian journalist, the advertising firm drew up plans to feature a red QR code in the middle of Croatian License Plates. The code would take users to the Croatian Tourist Board’s website to promote tourism and European unity.
While you have to give credit to anyone trying to give their country a helping hand, placing QR codes on the back of moving vehicles might be one of the worst implementations yet. Not only do various safety concerns arise when people are trying to tailgate the car in front of them to scan a tiny code, but drivers are then surfing the tourism website while they are still driving.
Sure, people could scan these codes as they walk past a parked car at the local grocer or gas station, but these folks are likely locals who have little to no interest in a national tourism website. The target market for a tourism site would be affluent people living outside of the designated travel country. QR codes linking to the Croatian Tourist Board would be much more effective if placed on billboards in neighboring Hungary or bus stops in Slovenia.
Luckily, this campaign has not been implemented yet and there’s still time for Croatian officials to step in and prevent loads of unnecessary road kill.
Prep your TiVo for QR commercials
The newest frontier for QR codes is apparently television, where they are beginning to appear during commercial advertisements. Fox has developed a series of “Fox Codes” that appear at the end of certain show promos and take visitors to mobile websites with bonus show footage and insider information. While Fox has nailed the content offering in this campaign, the actual use of QR codes in television has yet to work out all the kinks.
In most instances, QR codes appear for only the last few moments of an ad, lasting for as little as two to seven seconds on screen. Unless a viewer is paying acute attention to their TV set with a QR scanner app at the ready, it is highly unlikely they will be able to capture the code in time. DVR users have the distinct advantage of being able to pause the screen while they hunt through a purse or backpack for their iPhone, but normal cable subscribers are forced to be at attention during each commercial break.
Fox could just as easily drive traffic to a dedicated microsite by having the commercial announcer tell people to visit a simple address like foxinsider.com while displaying the URL on screen.
Despite the foul ups committed by these well-intentioned organizations, there are a myriad of potential uses for QR codes both online and off. Keep the following tips in mind to ensure your venture into the 2D world is a successful one:
Acknowledge your audience. If you are aiming to capture the attention of anyone other than young, tech-savvy individuals, QR codes probably aren’t the way to go.
Code with purpose. Don’t use QR codes just because all the cool brands are doing it. Come up with some kind of exclusive content such as videos, downloads, special offers or coupons as an incentive to scan your ad.
Test and test again. Before even running your campaign, make sure that the code works for all applicable forms of mobile device in the way it is intended.
Location, location, location. Position your code in a place where it is easily accessible (ahem, no clothing items please) and where there is abundant cellular service.
Always give instructions. Since most people still don’t quite understand QR codes, give explicit directions for how users should interact with your ad. Something as simple as “Scan this code and download our app to win!” will get people started in the right direction.
Make it mobile. Whatever you do, do not send mobile users to your full site homepage. Create a mobile landing page with easy navigation for people clicking through from your ad.
Ease up. If your QR code doesn’t make an online interaction simpler or easier for a user, it’s not doing its job.