The do’s and dont’s of QR –
Brands seem to love QR codes. They offer a fast, low-cost method of interaction in advertising, so they happily stick them on there. However, consumers don’t always share the same love of them. Whilst there is nothing wrong with QR codes in principle, brands often fail to to get the engagement right.
So who actually uses QR codes? A study in 2011 asked whether people scan QR codes or not. This is what they said:
57% had scanned a QR code
40% said they had done it more than 5 times
72% said they would recall an ad with a code on it (doesn’t say if it was good or bad)
The problem is that the study came from a QR code provider. However an independent survey by Dubit of 11-18 year olds found that 72% didn’t know what the code did. Just 17% said they were likely to scan one. The research company Comscore tell us that 11% of people in the UK have scanned one and 6% say they do it regularly. In a market where half of mobile users have a smartphone that’s a pretty small number.
Some marketers use them because they see QR as faster and more convenient than the alternatives, such as shortcode SMS. Other brands use them as (in the words of one of my clients) ‘to make them look modern’. That, however, is not how consumers see the benefits. The real potential of QR is that it is an alternative to SMS, which many consumers distrust. Although everyone knows how to text, using shortcodes on ads can be problematic. Many consumers believe it will be expensive, and they worry that by sending a text, the brand will capture their mobile number and send them endless messages. So, the real benefit of QR to consumers is that it is free and anonymous. Even so, a majority of consumers don’t scan QR codes. Why not? I’ve often heard brand marketers often say that it’s all about educating the consumer and getting more scanning apps onto smartphones. However, quite the contrary is true. Brands need educating to understand when and how consumers use QR codes. There are three key elements to this: context, engagement and targeting.
Here is how they work in practice:
Codes can't be scanned where there is poor light or too much movement
First of all, the code needs to be in a place where you can actually scan it and redeem it. For example the London Tube has a rash of poster ads with QR codes on them. Even the Kabbalah Centre has one. But it’s utterly pointless – there’s not enough light, you can’t hold your camera still on a moving train and there’s no signal to connect to the internet. Worst of all, the unfortunate person sitting in the seat below the poster will have your crotch in their face.
If you want a QR code to be scanned you have to have ‘dwell time’. Many marketers see QR as a faster method than in-putting text. In reality the user will have to get out their phone, open the scanner and then get a fix on the code. That can take quite a while and quite a bit of effort. If you are in a busy station with people pushing past, for example, you simply isn’t practical to scan a code. On the other hand, if you show them a URL, the user can read it in just a few seconds. In practice, reading text is much faster than scanning a code. So if you want your QR campaign to work you must choose the right media. According to Comscore the most scanned media for QR are print (newspapers and magazines), packaging and TV.
Kellogg’s is one of the few brands who have published a case study on a successful QR campaign for Crunchy Nut Clusters. It had the right context and in particular, there was dwell time. It was on the back of the cereal packet. Imagine you’re sitting at breakfast, eating your cereal, starting into space and wondering what you were going to do that day. And there it is, the code is inviting you to find out who else in the world is eating breakfast. You’ve got the time to try it. In the case of Kellogg’s more people scanned the code than sent an SMS.
Tesco Home Plus service in Korea has been widely touted as a great example of QR use. And so it should be. First of all, they got the context right. They put big bright posters in train stations where people had the dwell time to scan them. Above all, they put them in places where there was a good, fast connection where people could actually use them. The success of the campaign has led other retailers to trail QR in similar ways. John Lewis is trailing them in posters in the windows of Waitrose Stores, Argos trialled them in London stations at Christmas and eBay has used them in tags on their virtual pop-up store in London.
The other aspect of the Tesco’s service was that there was the right kind of engagement. In this case, the effort was worth the reward. By scanning the code, users were rewarded with convenience. It would be a pain to have to enter a code for each item in the basket, but the addition of the QR code makes things easy. And the ultimate reward for the user was getting their shopping delivered once you they got home.
There have been reports of good responses when using QR in TV. There are a number of reasons it makes sense – screen real-estate is limited, codes scan well on light emitted media and most people (about 84% of us) have a phone next to them when watching TV. One example is from clothing retailer, Bluefly in the US. They used QR codes to take their customers to the item advertised on their website. Not only that, but they incentivised it with a $30 discount.
AXA in Belgium produced a fairly engaging QR code by using paint posts on a poster to create it . The code was to promote their home renovation loans and it has the intrigue factor. However, it ultimately fails as the reward is not sufficient. All it does is takes you to a web URL shown underneath.
Other brands have attempted to be engaging by changing the look of their QR codes – Louis Vuitton and Coke are two examples. They look nice, but that simply isn’t enough to create engagement.
Another good example of engagement comes from Korea again. This time is was a short film festival poster. Each artists had a QR code next to their name and photo. Scanning the code presented a short video clip or animation.
The great thing about mobile marketing is that you can precisely target to your audience. We know that different demographics tend to use different handsets and do different things with them.
According to Comscore, 65% of people who scan codes are men. They are mostly used by 18-35 year-olds, so the younger and older age groups are less bothered. We also know that iPhone users scan the most, followed by Android users. Few BlackBerry owners scan QR codes.
Marks and Spencer’s tried QR codes on their juice packs. It makes a lot of sense as there isn’t much room for additional advertising or promotions, so QR solved a specific problem. The context was fine, as you could scan the codes whilst shopping or even afterwards, and the engagement was there through the reward of a free juice pack. However, their core audience are women and generally older women. Are these people likely to have a QR reader? Or download one? Or scan one? The answer was no, as the campaign did not generate a significant enough response.
Kellogg’s campaign was well targeted. Their audience was more men than women and in the 18-35 age group. In a similar vein, Heinz in the US used QR codes on their new environmental packaging. Scanning the code took the user to more information about the packaging and enter them into a competition. The campaign was well thought out – they were aimed at people in diners who would sit there looking at the bottle. It had dwell time. The target audience was skewed towards younger men and it had engagement. Did it work? One million people scanned the code. Probably the most successful QR campaign of all time. The company is running the code again, but this time it is to both raise awareness and make text donations to the charity they support.
QR may not be the future though. 2011 saw the development of image recognition and augmented reality (IR/AR) as a response mechanism. Innovative campaigns from Net-A-Porter, Heinz, Marmite, Tesco’s and Fiat showed where the channel could go. Even with IR/AR, the same principles still apply: without the right context, targeting or engagement consumers just won’t bother using them.