Classic QR fail from the Highways Agency

What’s wrong with this picture? Well, if you look at the enlarged version of this poster there’s a QR code at the bottom. Did they really think that whilst having a pee, someone would get out their smartphone and scan the code? What if I accidentally aimed the camera down a little bit much? How would I explain that photo to my partner! That aside, using your camera in a men’s toilet would probably get you arrested (I had to make sure the toilet was empty before I took this photo). Well done the Highways Agency, a government organisation. Oh, and the title of the poster? ‘Be Wise’. Something that clearly, they didn’t do when thinking about their QR code.

I’ll make an FOI request to find out how many people scanned the code. If you want to know how to do QR without getting your users arrested, then see my guide to the perfect QR campaign here.

4 thoughts on “Classic QR fail from the Highways Agency

  1. I fear you’ve lost sight of the real world and the ‘zero advertising spend’ environment of the public sector. One size has to fit all whether it’s a washroom poster a or a 16 sheet billboard. Public sector bodies are grateful to the organisations who carry their messages for free wherever they put them… they’re reliant on generosity and common goals to spread useful information and without that help they’d be screwed.

    Oh, and your first question: What’s wrong with this picture? It lacks contrast and is poorly focussed… a bit like your reasoning.

    • Many thanks for your reply. It’s always good to get a different perspective on things.

      Whilst I appreciate that budgets are severely limited these days, I’m not convinced that ‘free’ is a justification for a poor execution of a QR code (or any other campaign for that matter). Whilst I think that QR has real potential as a response mechanism, I have been critical of brands (from the government to Coca Cola to the Kabbalah Centre) who have executed them badly.

      As you appear to represent the government on this, I have a few questions:

      Is the response in other media channels so significant that it can justify the rather inappropriate use of QR above urinals? Knowing that they would be used in washrooms, would it not have been better to miss the QR codes off the campaign entirely? Perhaps you could tell me what the QR response has been across the different media you have used?

      You say it is a ‘one size fits all’, but in this day and age of digital artwork and print production, how difficult would it have been to omit the codes from the washroom posters, but use them on the other advertising? Free or not, I’d like to understand how that might be a problem for you.

      We know from Comscore that 11% of the UK have every scanned a QR code and only 6% do so on a regular basis. I’d love to see more people scanning them, but I don’t think that your campaign is going to do anything to move things forward.

      And my photo? Thanks for your critique (not that it was a cheap shot from you or anything). My photo wasn’t an attempt to create a masterpiece. I had a few seconds to take the picture in poor light when there was no one in the toilet. And that’s the whole point. I wasn’t trying to create art, but simply to illustrate the problem with the context of that particular QR code.

    • I think Mark Brill has made a very valid point about the location (physical instead of art placement upon a poster) of a poster and whether that warrants the need for a QR code – which in this situation quite clearly it doesn’t.

      Having worked in Government advertising myself for over a decade, I know that amending final artwork for different poster formats/sizes is a necessary thing to do and therefore removal of the call to action (e.g. a QR code) on a poster is an easy thing to do at a very minimal cost. The point isn’t getting the posters everywhere it’s understanding how people interact with that poster. One of the basic rules of advertising is to try and understand consumer behavior – “Onlooker” would you get out a camera phone in the toilets? No! – Then don’t expect other people to and give them a better call to action!!!

      Government very rarely get given freebies and regardless of whether this was the case this time – you still need to ensure that the message fits the location.

      “Onlooker” – regarding the “focus” of the point – you seem to be looking at it through a tinted lens!!

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