The end of the year is generally a time to reflect on the things that got everyone buzzing and offer up a re-cap of “best of” categories. People Magazine just announced their annual Sexiest Man Alive (alas, not George Clooney), and it won’t be long before Time declares their Person of the Year. In the advertising tech world, mobile was big, but the darling of 2011 was undoubtedly the quick response (QR) Code.
That little square that vaguely resembles a black and white checkerboard became ubiquitous as marketers clamored to add it to everything from print ads to billboards, packaging and direct mail. The QR code has actually been around for years in manufacturing and distribution as a way to track inventory. It’s only been since camera phones took off that marketers recognized the potential to use the codes as a communications tool. Suddenly marketers had a new way to deliver content – for example an ad in a trade journal could link readers to bonus information.
When used appropriately, a QR code can be an effective way to enrich a brand experience or drive conversions. As a direct response device, the codes can be a convenient tool for a prospect to take action. For example, a potential buyer could scan a code to instantly download a coupon or enter a sweepstakes. In those scenarios the customer is able to realize an immediate benefit, rather than simply linking to a website. Marketers also benefit because each scan can be measured and provide marketers with data about the effectiveness of the campaign.
It didn’t take long though for critics to point out some fails in QR code use. For example, featuring QR codes in places where there is no signal, like the subway, or using them on billboards – ever try to scan a QR code at 65mph? In seeing some of these foibles, its no wonder people are skeptical. A recent study by Comscore found that only 6.2 percent of mobile phone owners have ever scanned a QR code leading some trade publications to declare QR codes a waste.
While the critics make valid points, we see this not as a failure of the QR code, but of marketers themselves. A QR code is a transmittal device, no more or less special than a phone number or a website URL. Simply having one of these devices does not make for an effective campaign, it’s the experience a consumer has once they activate that device that counts. For example, if you’re running a campaign that features a phone number, you want to make sure the person who answers the phone accurately represents the brand. The same is true for QR codes. Marketers need to have a campaign strategy that encompasses the end-to-end experience that includes the media, the QR code and the destination.