Good QR, bad QR

I wasn’t going to write about barcodes, and QR codes in particular, because there are already plenty of articles on the subject. I was moved to write this anyway, though, after reading this quote: “As soon as the consumer scans that barcode, you’re getting an engagement.”

No, I thought, when a consumer scans a barcode, they’re entering a URL. Real engagement depends on what happens next.

I found some sensible guidelines on the Xcite Media Group site; they recommend that the barcode scan “should provide the consumer with a brand experience that is exclusive, dynamic and interactive.” They also point out that since barcodes are targeted primarily at users of smartphones, they should deliver “instant results” that those consumers expect. A colleague at Vodafone told me once that their metric for mobile experiences was “five seconds to enjoyment”; if your consumers need to wait longer than that for something interesting, you may lose them.

One more feature I would add is a clear call to action; it makes sense that if someone is already motivated enough to scan your code, you can build on that motivation by offering an opportunity to do something concrete, beyond just looking at a web site.

With these guidelines in mind, I went out in search of barcodes in downtown Washington, DC, to see how they are being used in real marketing campaigns. Here are three examples, which, in the spirit of Hanukkah, I rated on an eight-candle scale, with two candles each for four categories, based on the guidelines mentioned above:

  • Ease of scan and response time
  • Clarity of call to action
  • UI quality and interactivity
  • Exclusivity
Please let me know what you think. What good (and not so good) campaigns have you seen around your town?

WWF: Be The Voice

This campaign was the best one I saw in my little survey. The QR code was a bit hard to scan while standing, but the scan led quickly to a mobile-optimized page with a clear call to action and several engaging options (including “Donate”). I can’t be confident of this, but the page looks like exclusive content. It was well-matched to the poster and contained content specific to this campaign.

I also liked how the WWF turned the code itself into part of the design. Those codes can be ugly, so anything that makes them more attractive is a big help.

My score for this one: Ease of scan and response time: 1 (-1 for the placement of the code), Clarity of call to action: 2, UI quality and interactivity: 1 (static page), Exclusivity: 2.

Total: 6 candles

Focus Features & Landmark Theaters sweepstakes

I found this next campaign inside a movie theater downtown. The display described a sweepstakes campaign linked to two new releases from Focus Features, and included both QR and Microsoft Tag codes. The scan led to a non-optimized site that offered more information about the sweepstakes. What’s more, the site asked me first to choose which movie I was interested in. Why not create a separate code for each film, that leads directly to the microsite for that production?

I can see the appeal of a barcode campaign for the sweepstakes, to encourage customers to sign up right away, while they’re in the theater. That earns some credit for exclusivity.

My score for this one: Ease of scan and response time: 1, Clarity of call to action: 1, UI quality and interactivity (static, non-optimized page that requires another click to get to the real destination): 0, Exclusivity: 1.

Total: 3 candles

TSA: Secure Transit

The TSA has plastered QR codes on trash cans in the DC Metro as part of its campaign to encourage greater awareness of security among subway passengers. Call it “If you see something, scan something.”

The scan leads to the generic web site for the TSA Secure Transit campaign, not optimized for mobile devices, and with no specific call to action for mobile users (besides the call to “say something” that is already written on the trash can)

My score for this one: Ease of scan and response time: 1, Clarity of call to action: 0, UI quality and interactivity: 0 (static, non-optimized page), Exclusivity: 0. Total: 1 candle


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