Tag Archives: QR Codes

3 Simple Lessons for any Interactive (Out-of-Home) Experience

I was in Seattle last week and walked into a restaurant and saw this:

Butterfly QR Code

It was large and in-charge, the only thing to look at in the bar area. The piece, as a whole, is striking with that blue butterfly.

Then, you see the big QR code.

I was the only one in the restaurant at the time so I didn’t feel awkward standing in front of the image, pointing my phone at the QR code and taking a picture of it.

Problem was, the QR code would not register with my reader (and I have a very sensitive reader).  It didn’t work. After repeated attempts.

Lesson #1 for any interactive (especially “Out-of-Home”) experience – make sure it works.

Lesson #2 – if you put something up that looks actionable, make it so.

Lesson #3 – compelling visuals (in this case, the butterfly) makes for a compelling experience. I really wanted to see what was behind the code because I was so captivated by the butterfly.

In this case, the creative drew me in, made me stop, and took my attention. I was willing to engage with it. But it. just. didn’t. work.

Does the Look of a QR Code Really Matter?

Last week, a Twitter friend – Chris Augeri – asked me what I thought about “QR art,” specifically, QR codes that are actually designed. That is, QR codes that incorporate some sort of color and/or graphical element that makes it look a little bit more pleasing, perhaps enticing, than a black and white box. Something like this:

QR Code Art

My response was that I think QR art is an exercise in design futility. At least right now. I don’t think that the way the QR code looks has any marked difference in how many times it’s scanned.

I think people will scan if they a) like the brand/organization and are just generally interested in what they have to offer or b) perceive that there is some value behind the code. That’s pretty much it. Not because what the QR code looks like. Because of what they can get from it.

So, I offer this up to you. Are you more compelled to scan this?:

QR Code Art

Or this?:

Standard QR Code

Finally, QR Codes Used Right

11th Screen | The Interactive Out-of-Home Blog

How many times have you scanned a QR code and felt jipped once you discover the content “behind the code?” All too often, I just get directed to the brand’s homepage, and more often than not, a non-mobile-optimized homepage, where I am left to fish around for whatever it was that I thought I would get by scanning. Sure, there are some instances where I get directed to the right page or a coupon or simply just a video, but even then, I am almost always underwhelmed by the entire experience.

When I talk about experience, I’m not really talking about the experience with the technology (although I tend to really gravitate to new, emerging technologies). I’m talking about the brand experience, one that manifests itself from the brand’s story, and is told across various channels, and more and more, through various technologies.

The story is the thing, not the technology.

And unfortunately, I’ve come across so many examples of QR codes, in particular, where there doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to using the QR code.

I do think QR codes can be an effective enabling technology. I just don’t think brands/marketers/communicators have quite figured out how to best utilize them to truly drive consumers deeper into the (brand’s) story. In my opinion, they shouldn’t be used just to duplicate an experience that you could otherwise get by simply going to a website, YouTube channel, Facebook page, and/or the like. They should really “unlock” information/content/offers that can’t be accessed in any other way. They should extend the brand’s story in some way. That’s when they’re used “right,” to the fullest of their ability. That’s when they start to add value to the consumer. That’s when consumers will associate them with exclusive information, not just a new way to get driven to a brand’s homepage.

Last night, I saw an effective use of QR codes and it originated, from all places, a TV screen. Before last night, I really saw no value in using a QR code from a digital screen (TV) to another digital screen (mobile). In large part, because I had never seen an effective execution. I think a real strength of QR codes is bridging a non-digital screen (in the real world, like a print piece) to a digital screen (mobile). But last night, I saw one that was effective. And it was effective at extending the brand’s story. The fact that it originated from a digital screen to another digital screen was overshadowed by how it was actually used to unlock exclusive information and drive me deeper into the story.

GoDaddy.com has always done a good job of generating interest in their “story,” even though it is one that has very little tie into the actual benefit of the brand and one that is intended for a very specific audience. But they’ve stuck to their story, and I’m sure the numbers would show they’ve been quite successful because of it. Well, last night, in middle of the football game, I see a QR code in a prominent position on the TV during a GoDaddy commercial.

GoDaddy QR Code

It’s another provocative commercial, of course, one that builds to an incomplete point in the story. You’re left wondering what comes next and the only way you can get it is to scan the QR code on the screen.

So, I did.

And I was directed to a mobile-optimized site where the rest of the story was front and center.

GoDaddy QR Code

So, I watched it and got the rest of the story. The payoff is what you would expect from any of these commercials. It’s kitchy and a bit silly.

But I think, fundamentally, they’re onto a really effective method of storytelling, which is intentionally breaking the story up across different channels and points in time. They want to drive you to the site and they’re using this story to do it. Arguably, quite effectively.

So, could they do this same thing with a URL? Yes. In fact, this is the same commercial that played during the Superbowl. I didn’t see it at the time, but I’m almost certain it did include a URL vs. a QR code.

That’s the lesson here. It’s not about the technology. QR codes can be seen as a more convenient URL. It’s about the story. The story is where the value is. The story is going to create fans. The story is the backbone. When the story is put front and center, technology merely enables a better or worse experience.

So the next time you want to plop a QR code on anything, be it a print piece or a TV commercial, think about the story that you want the consumer to experience and answer this question – is this QR code driving them deeper into that story?

If you’re just merely sending them to your website for “quick access,” then it doesn’t really matter what kind of technology you use. You’ll probably have better success just including the URL.

To see the TV commercial, here you go. To see the “extended” story, here you go.

Digital Out-of-Home Demand and Noise – in 7 Parts

11th Screen | The Interactive Out-of-Home Blog

Part 1

Last week, I read an intriguing article by Garrick Schmitt of Razorfish, titled How Demand for Physical Experiences is Transforming our Physical Spaces. In it, he points out how the entire physical world around us is becoming a screen and that consumers’ expectations have reached a point to where that physical world should be turned on in some form or fashion. This is a viewpoint that I have mostly gotten behind many times on this blog. I say mostly because of those consumer expectations. I’m not sure that, even now, in August 2011, consumers expect the physical spaces around them to be turned on, and even more, transformed into interactive experiences. I don’t know that average consumer capacity is ready for that. What do you think?

Part 2

Guess when that article was written? 2 years ago, in September 2009. Awesome. In my opinion, Schmitt has always been on the forefront of these technology-led experiences in the real world around us. This is case-in-point.

I remember back during that time, it was around the time that I was leading the software development at imc2, for our interactive Out-of-Home solution. I always admired how Schmitt recognized the potential – and future demand – for these types of experiences.

Time is a funny thing, especially in regards to technology adoption. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re talking about here. Consumer demand is directly tied to their comfort level with any particular technology. We’re just now seeing smartphone use creep their way up to the majority. Smartphones have been around for years. But just now, after all these years, the average consumer is not intimidated by them. They know how to work them and, even more, know how they can make their lives better. It also helps that everyone can now afford them. Kinect is another great example. I wonder how comfortable people would have been with the idea of gesture control, at such an immersive level, two years ago?

Part 3

In the article, Schmitt points to “Out-of-Home” examples that are driven by enabling technologies (mobile and RFID) and people themselves (social media).

I think it’s easy to think about touchscreen-this-and-that when you think about the world around us being turned on. But, as shown in the Schmitt article, and in some of the more recent engaging examples, actual public touchscreens are not part of these experiences. The place or the thing is the canvas and the interactivity is controlled outside of it, either through mobile phones or computers.

The effective thing with all of these examples – and the thing that I think we can all learn from – is that consumers want it all, in the most convenient way. What I mean is, consumers want information and connections and whatever else they deem valuable. And they’re always going to be driven by what they’re comfortable with because it’s usually the easiest. They’re used to being on computers, connecting with other people through their social networks. They’re used to navigating to whatever they want on their mobile phones. Are they used to walking up to a touchscreen and interacting with it?

Part 4

Also last week (the same day I read the Schmitt article), I saw that Cinemax deployed an immersive touchscreen experience in the heart of New York City.

As you can see, the experience spans the front of an entire NYC building. It’s obviously noticeable. Consumers are enticed by it. And, by the looks of this video, comfortable enough to go up and play with it.

Having lived and worked in NYC, to get anyone to stop and interact with a storefront, is a feat in and of itself.

Yes, people can also interact with this experience through their mobile phone. But this is largely a public-facing, touchscreen experience. And it doesn’t seem like anyone in the video is a) intimidated or b) unaware of how to use it.

Is this indicative of Anytown USA?

Part 5

QR codes. What can be simpler? In the past year, they’ve gone from nothing to everything, at least in terms of visibility. My wife knows that “those are the things you can scan with your smartphone.”

They’re a great bridge between the real world with the virtual world and quite effective of turning those places/things around us “on.”

They’re everywhere now.

But the question is, despite their simplicity, why am I the only one who I ever see scan them?

Part 6

Simplicity and comfort are not the only two linchpins to this demand that we all know is coming. You can bring up the Minority Report analogies all you want, but this is not a far-fetched representation of our future world. Glorified, perhaps. But not unrealistic.

Two years ago, all of these interactive Out-of-Home activations were novel enough to garner attention. Are we still in that novel stage?

Part 7

Value. That’s really the question, right?

In this constantly-on physical world, what’s going to be noise and what’s going to be valuable?

By virtue, demand always creates noise.

Are consumers ready for all that noise?


QR Codes + Digital Screens + Timer Does Not = Love

Mall Network with QR Code

I saw this in the mall the other day and I thought it was pretty good. Here’s what I like about it:

It being on a digital screen, there is a timer to indicate when the QR code will disappear.

I think context is critical with any new technology. Generally, the more context you put around a new technology, the more you’re knocking down the barriers of people using the technology. While I still don’t understand the benefit of QR codes on digital/moving screens, if you’re going to put them on digital/moving screens, including a timer is perfect context.

The problem to this experience is that, even with a timer, it wasn’t on the screen long enough. I walked up when there was 10 seconds to go and I couldn’t get my phone out of my pocket and open up the QR code reader application in time to scan the code. And I sure wasn’t going to wait through this compelling content (below) to scan the code. So, overall, this isn’t a strong showing of mobile/DOOH integration.

And one more thing, I never see anyone standing in front of these digital screens at malls. And for that matter, I never see anyone scanning QR codes. Other than me.

The One Key to QR Code (and other emerging tech) Success

The 1 Key to QR Code Success

Can you guess where I saw this QR code?

On the ground.

That’s right. On. The. Ground. Where my feet have a better chance to trample on it than my eyes to see it. Especially when it’s small like this.

This brings up Rule #1 when building anything, especially when using any sort of emerging technology: Make it easy.

In every way possible.

Easy, in most all cases, will give you the best chance to succeed. Your audience – the end user – will dictate where you can push the limits (i.e., how detailed you need to be with things like instructions and call-to-action), but if you’re not asking yourself, “am I making this as easy as possible for them to take the action I want them to take?” then stop what you’re doing and ask it.

Your audience will love you for it. In the end, they just want a good experience. They could care less and less about the technology required to have that experience. They just want easy. And easy is paramount to a good experience.

Diesel Uses QR Codes to Connect People

11th Screen | The Interactive Out-of-Home Blog

Enabling technologies like QR codes have the ability to drive deeper brand experiences. Unfortunately, we’ve seen many poor QR code executions over the past 1.5 years. As brands have experimented or observed what’s worked and what hasn’t, they’re starting to develop smarter, more effective executions (see Macy’s Backstage Pass campaign.)

Now, Diesel is doing something nice with QR codes. Not only are they using them to drive deeper brand experiences (which is really the byproduct of using any enabling technology – it’s really in how effective brands are and how deep they go in using them), they’re using them to connect people through a shared passion – fashion.

Good video, by the way. I think they do a great job telling a story, so their payoff – with the QR codes – makes a lot of sense.

There are a fair amount of shoppers out there, specifically those who I would imagine are Diesel shoppers, who like to tell other people what kind of clothes they like and/or purchase. For them, fashion sparks good, solid conversation. Here, Diesel is giving their customers an easy opportunity to start and/or engage in that conversation, centered around their brand (which could be a good or a bad thing.)

The virtual catalogue feature in the experience is a nice addition and the only feature that can actually drive additional sales. But to me, this is more of a connection play. And Diesel is smart enough to recognize how easy that can really be through QR codes.

Smart execution. And it’s important to remember that the technology merely enables the experience. The experience is the thing. Here, it’s the connection. The extended shopping. The conversation. There’s meat there. Not just a website.



Friday’s 4-1-1, The Case of the Mysterious QR Codes Style

There are two things I know to be true right at this moment: 1) I have slacked severely at keeping up with this Friday 4-1-1 series and 2) QR codes are everywhere. And they’re mysterious. Because they don’t include any instructions alongside them. They’re just there. So, I thought it was perfectly appropriate to marry the two to resurrect my Friday’s 4-1-1.

1. Starbucks hides a gem behind their mysterious QR code – while waiting for my coffee one morning, I glanced over to my left and saw a QR code sticker haphazardly slapped on a Frappuccino ad.

Starbucks QR Code SRCH

When I scanned it, I was sent to a digital scavenger hunt game called SRCH. After playing around with it for a little bit, it’s an awesome experience. You’re given a series of clues that you need to solve and at the end, you could win a number of different prizes. The clues are served up as videos, scrambled words, riddles, and photos. It’s a gem of an experience that seemingly can only be discovered through this unmarked, mysterious QR code, slapped onto this ad like an afterthought.

2. Bubby’s hides a coupon behind their mysterious QR code – I recently had the pleasure of eating a great farm-to-table restaurant in NYC called Bubby’s. On my way out the door after dinner, I looked down and saw a flyer with a QR code up in the left-hand corner. Completely unmarked.

Bubby's QR Code

When I scanned the code, I was directed to a coupon to get a free appetizer or 2-for-1 cocktails during their midnight brunch. What a find. Too bad, I didn’t know what was waiting for me behind the code, since there was no context on the flyer. But is it too bad? I’m starting to feel like I want to scan these codes, just to see what kind of gems I can find. But then, when I do, I get a dud like this…

3. NYC Realtor hides housing details behind their QR code – specifically, housing details that I find when directed to a Google search page. Boring.

Realtor QR Code

This is what I’d expect to see behind a QR code like this, especially one with no instructions or call-to-action. But here’s the interesting thing – after scanning the two above before this one, I was expecting a nice surprise. And when I didn’t get it, I was let down. Down to the point that I don’t want to scan again? Of course not….

4. The Canal Room hides their website behind an MS Tag – standard fare again. At least the site behind the code is optimized for mobile.

Canal Room MS Tag

On the site, you can see everything that the Canal Room has to offer – acts, events, showtimes, etc..And I suppose, in this context, right beside their other web properties, this tag makes perfect sense. This the first time I’ve seen a tag placed right alongside the social extensions for a brand, but I think it’s interesting in the sense that it could become as recognized as the Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace logos.

“Duh” – if QR Codes are just going to be another version of a URL shortener that sends consumers to the brand website, I have serious questions about whether or not they’ll ever catch on. Especially if they’re not accompanied by any instructions, enticements, and/or calls-to-action. I see them everywhere, but I never see anyone scanning them.

“Uh-huh” – I think QR Codes are an ideal enabling technology to catch consumers when they’re out and about, in exploring (and shopping) mode, to drive them to take some sort of action. I also believe that they are a great way to drive a deeper brand experience, but as Starbucks and Bubby’s has shown us here, they can be effective at driving purchase decisions. They’re efficient. Even if these are mysterious.

Actually, that could be the key to larger adoption. If they’re synonymous with mystery, would the average consumer scan these things?

What do you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Have a great weekend, everyone. Thanks, as always, for reading!

Redbox – The Good, Bad, and Ugly

Redbox Touchscreen Interactive Out-of-Home Kiosk

I’ve explored many examples of what I would consider to be the 11th Screen solutions here – those that are in some way interactive, by nature, and occur outside of the four walls of your home or office.  That’s a bit of an oversimplification, but the result of interactivity outside of your home is bridging the real world with the virtual world. And as you might have seen here, or observed on your own, there are many different ways that the bridge can be built.

I think one of the simplest examples of this bridge is Redbox (the red movie kiosks). I’m sure you’ve all seen many different Redboxes along your daily journey. I probably have 6 of them on my way to the train station to/from work. In many ways, Redbox is the quintessential 11th Screen example. It’s an Interactive Out-of-Home (IOOH) solution that is enabled by touch. You don’t have to own the device to participate in the experience. It’s a solution that has achieved (mass) scale and perhaps most of all, it’s a revenue generator. There might not be a better utilitarian kiosk solution out there.

Recently, I’ve noticed a few additions to the Redbox kiosks near me and I find them fascinating. Because they’re scratching the surface of becoming effective multi-channel devices. They’re only scratching the surface, though, and I wonder if Redbox is at crucial tipping point. With the introduction and accessibility of live streaming through services like Netflix, the act of renting movies is becoming more and more about the convenience than anything else – more than the true cost associated, more than the experience, and more than the physical disk. And while Redbox has served as a convenient and accessible utilitarian device, the game is constantly changing, in terms of technology and consumer expectation. So, these additions that Redbox has introduced and continues to explore are good, but they have some bad and just plain ugly characteristics that they need to address – and in short order – to have a chance in this rapidly evolving technological world of ours.

First, let me start with the GOOD – as I mentioned, I’ve noticed their effort to become more accessible cross-channel. It makes perfect sense because the one thing that everyone carries with them when they’re outside of their homes is their mobile phone. So, they’re likely to have it right there with them when they interact with the Redbox kiosks. Over the weekend, I saw a special promotion on the front of the Redbox kiosks that drove people to use a SMS shortcode for special offers.

Redbox Interactive Out-of-Home Kiosk Shortcode

This is not a new tactic, but an effective one, especially for a physical kiosk like Redbox. The shortcode promotion instantly provides another channel to drive people back to the kiosk.

In addition to the shortcode, Redbox is using QR codes to make it easy on people to download the Redbox mobile app for iPhone and Android.

Redbox Interactive Out-of-Home Kiosk QR Code

There could be a better way to drive people to the apps, but say what you will about QR codes, they provide instant, easy access directly to the app. And I think they’re more actionable than a standard text call-to-action.

Once you download it, the app is pretty handy. It shows you all of the Redboxes in your vicinity and allows you to search movies, which is an important feature since they’re not stocked with the newest releases right off the bat (which I think is one of the major downfalls).

All in all, these two extensions/gateways through mobile are both solid ways to keep people connected to the Redbox experience and drive them deeper in it.

But in my opinion, they are missing a major piece as it relates to connection, which is the glaringly BAD. Watching movies is a social activity. Where are any of the social hooks in the Redbox experience?

In many ways, the Redbox experience is a 1.0 web experience. There are no ways to connect with other people with similar interests, yet the sheer act of watching movies is a shared interest. What would this experience look like if the sign-up mechanism were initiated through Facebook Connect? Not only would sign-up be streamlined, people would have the ability to instantly let their friends/family know what they’re watching, what they like or dislike, and even tell or see others what they think about the movies. And I think that’s just the beginning of something like that.

IntoNow – the audio-recognition mobile app – does a good job of providing a deep experience on a seemingly surface-type of action. There, once you check-into the show that you’re watching, you have the ability to learn more about the show, the actors, the episodes, etc. They include a direct link to imdb.com, which is a deep experience into itself, especially for movie buffs. They’ve gone beyond the audio recognition and incorporated many smart social features, more than just sharing. What if Redbox had some sort of check-in and/or deeper “learn-more” experience like IntoNow?

Maybe Redbox has done just fine the way it’s been operating, in its 1.0 experience. But aren’t we at the point where playing the game has gotten more intense? Aren’t consumer expectations way beyond this type of experience?

I know I want more.

Then, there’s the UGLY. Redbox is an efficient machine. The fabrication and engineering of the box is really top notch. I think it’s a model for so many self-serve kiosks. But in all its glory, what is up with the sun flap?

Redbox Interactive Out-of-Home Kiosk sun flap

That is the most awkward piece of fabric that I’ve ever had to deal with – even more than the baby sun shades for your car. If they would just create a simple latch, the process of renting movies in the sunlight would be so much more enjoyable.

The sun flap is an afterthought. And afterthoughts, to me, are short-term solutions. And short-term solutions tend to turn into headaches. This is what I think Redbox is dealing with now. A headache that perhaps they don’t want to get rid of.

But here’s the question – in the game of convenience, why create an experience that might just be good enough? In the end, that’s what I walk away from Redbox with – it’s a good experience.

And the problem with good is that it’s not great.


A Lesson in Context, Thanks to QR Codes

Once there was a code on a movie ad. It was lonely. Not accompanied by any sort of identifiable information. No instructions. No call-to-action. No expectation-setting. Not to mention, eye-level with a bug. Just the code. A hidden, lonely code. (Can you find it?)

QR Code on Movie Poster

Then, there was another code on a movie ad. This one not hidden at all. Right in front of your face (waist, really), saying, “hey look at me, guess what you can do here!” This code was not lonely. It was surrounded by all sorts of friendly information. Instructions. Call-to-action. Expectations of special offers. All, with its different colors and fancy style.

MS Tag on Movie Poster

These two codes teach us an important and elementary lesson in context.

Codes like this are intended for interaction. If interaction is your game, you must be clear and prominent to have any chance of meeting the intention. It’s this intention that must be present in the context of whatever you’re trying to drive interaction around. In this case, a code. But what about touch screens? Or check-ins? Or short codes?

There are interactive whoosits and whatsits popping up all around us – on the places and things that we encounter every day. Soon, even all those physical screens outside of our homes and offices will be interactive, too. To have any chance at driving interaction, proper context must have a presence. Without it, assumptions are made. And assumptions, as far as emerging technology goes, will lead the way of the lonely code.