Creative use of QR codes: QR Film Festival

Whilst I have been somewhat sniffy about brands using QR codes in their marketing (few people know what it is, fewer people can be bothered to scan one), there are one or two good examples of a really creative use of the codes. Here’s one from Korea (a country that does know what a QR code is, and will scan them) – the QR Code Film Festival. Scan the code and it plays a short movie clip or animation.

Note to brands and ad agencies: if you are going to use QR, then do something interesting.

What’s Next After QR Codes?

See new article, How to Make QR Codes Work in Advertising

Whilst QR codes haven’t exactly been a roaring success, other technologies are appearing that take the basic concept but add more engagement and interactivity. Essentially this is the next iteration of image recognition. Last year, technology company Kooaba showed of their app, which works on the basis of taking a picture, leading to more information. The obvious applications are in brand marketing and the company is focussed to these needs, including an API to integrate into their app. Last month, Royal Mail (yes, the people that occasionally deliver the post in the UK) showed off their Digital Watermarking scheme. Working with technology company Digital Space, they have created an iphone and Android app which provides enhanced information to users who hold their phone over an relevant image. Royal Mail’s interest in this technology is to offer a more exciting, engaging experience from direct mail.

The newest trend on the image recognition front is to combine it with augmented reality (AR). So far, AR on mobile has largely used location to overlay the image with additional information. With Image Recognition AR, you hold your camera over a picture and stuff happens in a virtual environment. Blippar, which was announced this week, showed off this technology in their video (below). They even got their app onto the UK TV news (no name check though) which is good going. They are calling it ‘Image Recognition Advertising’ which Blippar claim that this will make QR codes redundant. This seems to be a strange analogy. QR isn’t exactly universally understood in the way that apps, for example, have become. AR Image recognition actually offers much more than that, by providing a rich and interactive content.

Of course, as with any new technology the bit ‘if’ is that of consumer adoption. Will anyone actually use it? Mobile always works best when it taps into existing behaviours. We want to communicate, we want to play games, we want to shop, we want tools for an easier life. All these needs existed before the mobile phone, and technologies from SMS, to apps or the mobile web simply tap into this. Will the new image recognition apps meet those needs or will it be another technology that brands and marketers love, but most consumers just don’t get?

AXA Creates QR Codes with Paint Pots

I have been somewhat damning of QR codes in the past. In principle I like them, but outside of Japan, most consumers aren’t interested. Marketers tend to think that the very code itself is interesting enough to create engagement. Generally that just isn’t the case. However, AXA Belgium have done something with QR that I believe is genuinely exciting enough to interest people. They have created a giant QR code using different coloured paint pots (the lids are effectively the pixels) and stuck them on a billboard. This is from the same company that previously did the ‘cracked pavement’ magazine and iPhone ad. Their theme is all about making 2011 their year of innovation; not a bad start. The only issue I have is that the QR simply goes to a mobile site and the URL is shown beneath it. Surely such an innovative use of QR should have a more innovative call to action?

The Problem with QR Codes

Update: for examples of good and bad use of QR in advertising see:

QR Success and

QR Fail

See new article, How to Make QR Codes Work in Advertising

Whilst writing an article about using 2d or QR codes in direct mail, I started to think about why they haven’t really taken off. OK, in Japan everything has a QR code on it, from ad response, to sandwich wrappers (these will show the nutritional information), but the Japanese attitude to technology is very different to other countries. And have you ever tried texting in Japanese? There is evidence that QR codes are being used elsewhere in a variety of interesting ways. In France, magazines such as Public (like the French Heat magazine) use QR codes at the bottom of each page. Scanning them takes the reader to more content from the article. Recently in the UK, the free London paper, Metro has used QR codes in the same way. In the US, the codes are used in direct response TV, where a 45 second commercial is extended into a longer engagement with the user being taken to more videos and offers. In the UK Pepsi used QR codes on their Pepsi Max cans 2008. Although there are no figures reporting their success, if it had worked well I think we would have been told. Marks and Spencer experimented with QR vouchers on their juice packs in 2009. Again, the response appeared to be low. In many ways, QR on food packaging makes sense. With all the nutritional information, there is little room to put things like offers, but a 2d barcode can include nearly 700 words of information in a space as small as 25mm. The problem is that they are just not catching on with mobile users.

Effort vs Reward

When looking at the adoption of any technology it’s always about the relationship between effort and reward. SMS, for example required very little effort, but the reward was a cheap, fast means of communication. When teenagers got onto it, there was no stopping SMS. With QR, the effort is both downloading the reader (few phones have them), taking the picture of the code and awaiting the response. A few years ago, most of the industry thought that QR would take off when the readers were available in all phones. Since then, we have seen a shift in mobile usage where downloading and installing apps is common-place. If smartphone users want to use QR then they will download the app, without question. So, lack of QR readers on phones isn’t really a barrier. The reason they don’t use them is that the reward simply isn’t enough. Whilst it may solve problems for brands, 2d barcodes doesn’t solve anything for the user. Take the Pepsi QR code. All it did was link to a WAP site with more content. There was no offer, discount or anything engaging enough to bother to take the picture of the code.

The other problem that many users have with QR is that it simply doesn’t work very well. For a code to scan well it needs to be done it good light, on a high contrast background. I tried to scan QR code on a pavement in Paris a few years ago. The white, slightly fuzzy code on the dark grey pavement refused to scan. And there’s nothing to drive people away from technology than a poor user experience. That is particularly the case in mobile. For many response campaigns the alternative to QR are SMS shortcodes. We are all familiar with those, and you only have to look at things like reality TV voting to see that people will use them. After all, when you send an SMS it works 100% of the time. From a user perspective, why bother with QR when there is a much better option that is just as faster and far more effective?