Tag Archives: QR Codes

The Brilliance and Confusion of QR Code Instructions

I am a strong believer in simple and clear instructions. I think they are key to adoption and action as far as most all technology goes, particular emerging technology (like QR codes) that the general public is not familiar with. There’s no better place to observe the “general public” than the ‘burbs.

QR codes are infiltrating my ‘burbs. And when they infiltrate my ‘burbs, I know they’ve infiltrated just about every ‘burb in the U.S. At the mall today, this sign caught my eye:

QR code at mall

When I looked closer, I found brilliance, but it was quickly followed by confusion:

QR Code sign at mall

First, on the brilliance:

1. If there ever was a QR code headline that spoke to the general consumer, I don’t think it can get any better than this – “Puzzled by this image? Here’s what you can do:” Right off the bat, the copy acknowledges that this is probably something consumers are seeing for the first time and/or just don’t know what it is and/or what to do with it. It makes no assumption that anyone knows what this is and in 4 easy words, does everything it can to take the intimidation factor out of the equation.

2. Then, it’s followed with step-by-step instructions. Anything like this that needs more than 3 steps to actually engage in is too much and will not be engaged in. Convenience is key, and even though consumers will go through the steps to engage, their patience is limited.

3. It’s in the instructions where brilliance and confusion collide. I think the copywriters are on to something with alleviating “QR Code Reader” from the instructions. Making it simple – “Barcode Reader” – so that anyone can understand sure is nice. “Barcode” is not scary. “QR Code” might be. Especially when you have to pick from many different QR Code readers from your app store. Yes, you are presented with many options for “Barcode Reader,” but the wording – “Download a barcode reader…” – generalizes it to the point where it’s not confusing. It makes you think that you can choose any barcode reader for this experience to work. And while I think this is a smart generalization, I also think it can create confusion beginning from the application SEARCH.

And here’s the confusion:

1. When I search for “Barcode Reader” in the Android app store, 4 out of the first 7 results are apps that can read QR codes. 2 out of the 7 read barcodes, but not QR codes. And the last 1 out of the 7 is not a reader at all. (BTW – all of the first 7 are free.) Then, when I search “Barcode Reader” from the Apple app store, I pretty much get the same results. 4 out of the first 7 can read QR codes. The remaining 3 read barcodes, but not QR codes. So, the simple question is, “will the average consumer know which “barcode reader” to download to make this work? It certainly helps that the apps’ icons show QR codes so the searcher can make the connection between what they’re seeing on the sign and what they’re seeing in their app store.

2. The instructions, overall, are not as clear as they can be. This is a crazy case of copywriting. In my opinion, they nail a few things and completely miss a few others. Especially since they’re going for dumbed-down simplicity. If I were to be going through this the first time, I’m left a little confused by the 2nd instruction, “Now open it and use your phone’s camera and read the QR code.” How do I read the QR code? I know by experience that some reader applications automatically read the code when it’s in the target area, but some require the user to actually press the “take a picture” button. If I didn’t know that, I’d probably assume this is how I read it, but I’m left wondering. This is such a small detail, but for copywriting that does so many things right, I’m surprised that it’s leaving any room for assumption. And that’s really the test here – does the consumer have to assume anything?

3. The payoff (the destination that the code takes you to) is underwhelming to say the least. The last instruction, “Sign up for Strut Your Mutt today,” sets the expectation that signing up will be easy. Just as easy as scanning this code was. But, when you get directed to the HOME page of a non-mobile-optimized site instead of the REGISTRATION page, you might not know exactly what to do. And even if you did, how maddening is going through a lengthy registration form on your mobile phone?

QR Code at the mall

The beauty about code-based technology is that it can take the user directly to the piece of content they need to consume. In this case, the code could have taken then directly to the registration page. For that matter, the URL under the code could display that direct link, too, but both miss this opportunity.

Mobile is wonderful for conveniently connecting people to each other and brands/organizations that they love. It’s also wonderful to make taking action easy and convenient. Action like signing up for a 3K Fun Run.

4. The biggest confusion of all is timliness and relevance. As in a) the offer is not timely and as a result, b) it’s not relevant anymore. The Fun Run took place on April 16. That’s over 10 days ago. While the HOME page of the site gives me information about how much money was raised, I don’t get to take the action I wanted to take from the poster. If I even made it this far now. The poster also gives the date of April 16, which begs the question – other than me, someone who notices QR codes anywhere, how much am I incented to scan this code and get to experience what it has to offer when the race is already over? I’d say it’s about time to take the poster down.

In fairness, an organization like the SPCA has a limited marketing budget. I commend them for even experimenting with an emerging technology like QR codes. And as far as their copywriting goes, it seems like they took the approach of asking someone who knows little about QR codes to write the actual copy. I think this is generally a solid approach. But again, as long as you’re answering 1 simple question when you’re writing instructions – does the consumer have to assume anything? – it doesn’t matter what approach you take and/or who writes the copy.

Creating More Problems (with QR Codes) While Trying to Solve One

This morning when I was buying my train pass, I witnessed the collision of enabling technologies. Normally, this would excite me, seeing more than 1 enabling technology in a solution, something that equates to an Interactive Out-of-Home (IOOH) technological explosion. But it didn’t.

There’s my kiosk (enabling technology #1).

DART kiosk

It’s a friendly kiosk. Easy to use. It’s always done exactly what I wanted it to do. In fact, I’ve got it down to where I can execute my transaction in a matter of seconds now. Just what I want from a utilitarian kiosk.

But I noticed something different about it this morning. Something I’ve never noticed before.

DART kiosk with QR code

That’s right. A QR Code (enabling technology #2).

My kiosk just became a little bit more interesting. So I read (squinting – white type on light blue background is hard to read and I have pretty good eyesight) about what it offered.


Learn more about using this kiosk.


So, let me step outside of myself – someone who knows a) how to make myself around most any type of interactive technology b) what QR codes are c) how to use them and most basically, d) how to use this kiosk – and get this straight. I walk up to a touch screen kiosk, something that might be a little bit confusing and intimidating, even if I’ve used an ATM before. And for the sake of this example, let’s just assume I get frustrated and don’t know how to make my way around it, I can now take out my smart phone and scan a QR Code to solve my problems?


If I don’t feel comfortable using a basic kiosk, how in the world am I going to feel more comfortable scanning a QR Code on my smart phone to get a quick tutorial?

I. Don’t. Get. It.

Well, I had to scan the thing. So, I did. In scanning, I had to crouch down low enough to get a good shot of it. In doing so, caught the attention of everyone else walking by me, I’m sure, wondering, “what is he doing?!?! With his phone, taking a picture of that kiosk, bent all the way down like that?!?! Better him than me.”

I think this is a good lesson in placement. If you want people to use anything like this – any sort of code/image recognition – it’s best to put it in standing range. People feel much more comfortable being discreet when they are doing something that no one else around them is doing. Or rather, people don’t want to do anything extra to draw attention to themselves, especially if no one else is doing the same thing. Simply, don’t make them crouch or bend down or stand on their tippy toes to take the action.

Anyway, after scanning the code, I was led to a simple page with a video and social sharing features.

DART QR website
While ultra low-fi, I actually think their concept is pretty smart. If you strip everything away, their purpose is to give people more information about how accessible, easy, and versatile their kiosks are.

Noble. Useful. I’m assuming they spent quite a bit of money making enhancements to the new kiosks and they want everyone to know.

But is the best answer really to put a QR code on a low part of the kiosk?

And even more, to be vague about actually getting that information?

Why I’m Crazy about Fluevog’s QR Code Experience

No More QR Codes | 11th Screen

It’s as if the QR code gods are getting into the April Foolsery against me this year. As soon as I make a pact with myself about cooling it on the QR codes, they dangle another carrot in my face, and I just can’t let it go.

I see a QR code when I’m out and about and I have to check it out (drives my wife crazy) and especially as of late, I likely write about it. And it seems like I’ve been writing about them a lot. I think this frequency is actually an indication that they are infiltrating our surroundings more and more, which, to me, is exciting.

As long as they’re creating an experience and uncovering value that wouldn’t have otherwise been there.

Slowly but surely, I see better experiences behind the codes emerging more and more, too.

Such is the case here, with one of my favorite brands – shoemaker John Fluevog.

They’ve placed a QR code on the insole of one of their new shoes.

John Fluevog QR Code Shoe

Maybe I’m crazy, but I think this is great. It’s an easy, smart placement. It’s personal. Not intended for anyone other than the individual shoe-shopper or shoe-buyer. And the content it unlocks is a little treat. Go ahead, try it yourself. Scan the code.

Fluevog QR Code Shoe

If you don’t know what to do, search for the ScanLife or NeoReader application on your phone. If you don’t have either one of those, search for a QR code reader. To make the experience easier, this is what you’ll get. A video of exactly how the shoe was made.

Although it’s a little long, it’s fascinating. I really enjoyed it. Even to someone who didn’t buy those shoes, it provides real value to me in that:

1. It is insightful – I have never seen how shoes – much less handmade shoes like this – are made. This video showed me all of the raw materials, and the process, and even the hands that crafted these shoes. It automatically made me feel closer to the product.
2. It is personal – there’s something about putting something on the insole of your shoe. It’s like keeping something in your hat, like a picture or something personal like that. Not that I have ever done that, but it’s the same idea. It just screams, this belongs to ME.
3. It is meaningful – another way to say this is, it’s in the right context. A video about the shoes you’re about to buy/just bought is a natural extension of the purchase. It means something to get behind-the-scenes access that close to a product.
4. It is on-brand – it’s easy to direct consumers to any ol’ information about your brand and call it a day. That’s what most brands do with these codes right now. Fluevog is a unique, niche brand, one that prides itself on their custom product. So, it makes a lot of sense to give consumers/your fans something that is directly in line with those attributes. The video, itself, is simple – no fuss, no muss – but the concept shows the custom attention that the brand stands for.

It all equates to a smart experience. And smart experiences are not confined to specific screens. They’re screen-agnostic.

So, when you’re thinking about creating an experience that involves your product and your content, I think you can learn something from Fluevog. And as they’ve shown, it doesn’t have to be that hard.

Do you think I’m crazy? To be excited about a QR code execution on the insole of a shoe?

Realtors Selling the House with QR Codes

Realtor QR Code

March might as well be QR Code Month here at 11th Screen. I just can’t escape them. There I was at my neices’ and nephew’s birthday celebration, in Suburbia, USA, and what do I see on the For Sale sign across the street? That’s right, a big, fat QR code in place of the standard floor plan/housing sale sheet.

Realtor QR Code

Have QR codes really made it into suburbia? And I’m not talking about geography.

This was fascinating to me.

This realtor is banking on the fact that the general house-hunter knows a) what QR codes are and b) how to use them. Enough to literally sell the house.

Here’s the thing – I get it.

I get the fact that house hunters are always out and about, carrying the one digital device that can give them information in this way, and with every passing day, more and more comfortable in knowing how to get the most out of it.

I get the efficiency of it all.

I get the notion of connecting them directly to the house information they want instead of wasting all that paper, which ends up wadded up in the car anyway.

But do they, the general suburban house hunter?


The Content & Experience Behind Macy’s Backstage Pass

Macys Backstage Pass

“Fashion is fleeting. Style is forever.” So says Tommy Hilfiger in one of the Macy’s Backstage Pass videos available through their current QR code campaign. Makes me think of a similar comparison that relates directly to today’s post: Campaigns are fleeting. Content is forever. Meaning, even though campaigns come and go, whatever content is created around any particular campaign lives on forever. This can be a benefit because of it’s long-term potential impact. Good content can still sell product or reflect positively on a brand regardless of the campaign-of-the-day. Bad content – be it so tied to a campaign or of little/no value to the brand because of its quality or message – can actually influence negative behavior (not selling product and/or reflecting positively on the brand) far beyond the campaign.

So, needless to say, content is kinda important.

Throw in the fact that brands are not entirely in control of the content that is created around them and/or a certain campaign and you have a critical element in the brand experience that needs a fair amount of attention, scrutiny and thought.

It’s so easy with any code-based campaign to use the code as just an easier way to drive consumers to the .com. The thinking probably goes something like this: the technology is new and novel and slightly more convenient that typing in the URL, why wouldn’t we just slap a code on something and drive more traffic to destination X? I think there’s validity in that thought, but it’s hardly strategic and even more, sustainable. Now that code-based technology has been in the U.S. marketplace for awhile and mobile has become more and more an expected channel to engage, we’re starting to see brands defy the easy/convenient approach for a more purposeful and directed approach.

Thank goodness.

This is the case with Macy’s Backstage Pass QR code (really, it’s mobile, but the QR codes are front-and-center) campaign. It’s clear – by the content that I’ve been able to uncover across their various channels – that they have put in due time to planning and creating content to support this campaign and beyond. From my standpoint, I think they’ve done a great job and it even seems like there’s more to come.

Before I get into the specifics of this particular campaign, let me first begin with the lense that I look at everything related to content through. When I think about content, there are 2 primary questions that I ask:

1. How engaging is it?

2. How effective is it at accomplishing the brand’s objectives?

Even though the intuition might be to tie them directly to each other, I think they are mutually exclusive. Creating highly engaging content does not mean that you will move the needle more. In fact, some of the most un-engaging content (coupons?) makes the biggest impact. But, as an experience guy, I think there is tremendous value to highly engaging content and I tend to focus more heavily on it, sometimes more than it needs to be.

Overall, with this particular campaign, I think Macy’s did a great job with all of the content that they created. The operative word here is ALL. They’ve created a lot of content so far, and they might even have more to go? I see 36 different videos in their Backstage Pass playlist on YouTube, most of which consumers can unlock after they scan the various codes. And it’s all good content.

What makes them so? Well, I think they’ve done a lot of things right with these videos:

  1. High production value – my take on production value, as it relates to brand-generated content, is that timeliness, relevancy, and audience need to dictate the appropriate level of production value. There is no tried-and-true formula that you can apply across the board in terms of video production. Now, with the social web, consumers (and community members) are more lenient on how it looks as long as it delivers relevant content in the most timely fashion. Side note – it’s interesting because technology has reached a point to where anyone can afford nice video equipment and as adoption rises, I wonder how these viewing expectations will change?  Anyway, I think if the brand has enough time to create highly produced videos, then by all means, it’s great to create the best-looking videos possible. For all of these videos, Macy’s took the time and resources needed to plan and produce them at a high level.
  2. Top name talent – this campaign is centered around giving consumers “behind-the-scenes” access to top designers and fashion experts like Bobbi Brown, Sean “Diddy” Combs, and Tommy Hilfiger. By participating, these celebrities lend a high level of credibility to Macy’s, which certainly helps. Add in the fact that these are highly produced videos (which they have to be if they’re going to involve talent like this) and you have a pretty good reason to watch.
  3. Good content – the key, above talent and production value, to compelling content is the content itself. The story. The voice-over. The images. Everything of substance inside the video. If that’s crap, then it undermines both the talent and the production value. And what you’re left with is a really expensive piece of content that provides no value to the consumer or the brand. These particular videos are made up of tips and tricks and sources of inspiration from all of these celebrities. They give us a look at information that isn’t commonly known or made available, and it’s all presented in an interesting, behind-the-scene-sy way.
  4. Short mobile pieces with longer web pieces – there’s nothing worse than watching a lengthy video on your mobile phone in a department store with 3 kids clamoring to watch as well and/or fighting over the phone. This would be my experience trying engage in this experience in Macy’s. My situation might be extreme, but it’s unrealistic to bring someone into an experience that requires a lot of time via video on a mobile device. At least long enough to influence their decision in a department store. For those who then want to hear more from their favorite designer or what others have to say, in a different setting (say, in front of their computer), they can access longer videos.

When you watch these videos, do you come away with the same impression I do? In terms of quality and credibility?

All of this plays into the overall strategy that seems to be behind this campaign:

“Macy’s new Backstage Pass is an exciting evolution that brings our stable of fashion experts and designers directly to the customer while they’re shopping in our store, through their hand-held mobile devices,” said Martine Reardon, Macy’s executive vice president of Marketing. “By providing fun and informative video features via an easy-to-use, direct-to-consumer platform, we are connecting and engaging our customer in a personal way that enhances and adds a new element to their shopping experience.”

What I take away from that is:

  • Get directly to the consumer.
  • Enhance their shopping experience.
  • Connect them easily to the brand.

And this is the way they chose to execute against that strategy. I’m sure they had some insights that indicate their target audience is mobile & social heavy with a propensity to consume video and it’s one of the types of content that impact their behavior in the shopping process. On top of all this, Macy’s has worked in immediate Facebook and Twitter hooks on their mobile site, and for those who do not feel comfortable with and/or know how to use QR codes, they can subscribe to this experience via SMS. There’s also a way into the experience through Macys.com, which results in a more robust Backstage Pass microsite. All this considered, I think they’re pretty much right on in their approach to content.

Now, this brings us to their objectives. And specifically, how effective this content is at accomplishing their objectives. You can see some details of really what they’re trying to accomplish by reading above, but as with all retailers, their primary objective is to increase sales. That being the case, I would question if these videos are the best tactic to achieve that objective. Do they help increase consideration? More than likely. Do they help increase intent? Probably. Do they help increase sales? Maybe. But pretty indirectly. Where is the coupon? Or the discount? Or some incentive to actually purchase what Diddy is selling?

This is where I think the campaign falls short. I don’t pretend to know the ins and outs of the retail industry and couponing and everything that goes into all that. But for the organizational considerations they made (even the sales reps are wearing “How To” QR code name tags) for this campaign, I would think they could pull off something like couponing.

Perhaps this was more of a campaign that focused on the top of the purchase funnel – awareness to consideration. And they weren’t using this is as a tactic to function well at the bottom of the funnel – purchase. I could see that. There are so many other things at play inside a department store like Macy’s that I would be shocked if there aren’t promotions tied to any of these particular designer’s brands going on all the time. But I’m just surprised that there’s nothing powerful enough in the experience to directly drive consumers to the cash register.

All in all, I think this is a really solid campaign. There’s a solid mobile component. There’s a solid social component. There’s a solid offline print component. There’s a solid broadcast TV component. There’s a solid in-store component. There’s a solid .com component. This spans many channels and the impressive part about it is that it leads with the QR codes.

It just goes to show that if you think about all of the channels in a brand’s ecosystem when planning any campaign, you can plan for creating the right content for each channel. And if you have the luxury, then the result will be enough content to create a deep experience in those channels. Then, perhaps you can create content that addresses consumers’ needs at every stage of the shopping process.

And if you do it right, that content will outlast any one campaign and live on far beyond.


Macy’s Shows Us How to Think About (& Use) QR Codes

Macy's Backstage Pass QR Code

I have a love/hate relationship with QR codes.

On one hand, I love them because I think they’re a great enabling technology – a technology that bridges the offline world with the online, which is essential in driving any level of engagement when connecting with consumers outside of their homes. They’re efficient, convenient, and potentially rewarding. That is, they’re easy to use and they can unlock rich content.

In theory.

This is the hate side of the equation. Bad QR code executions are commonplace out there in the real world. Brands don’t know where to put them – should they go on TV or other digital screens or just be confined to print materials? Brands don’t know what content to put behind them – should they just unlock a website or an entry form or some sort of rich, multimedia content? But most of all, brands don’t seem to understand consumers’ awareness and comfort level with them – should they include instructions or an alternate way to access the information or just leave it to consumers to figure out how to use them? These are all general statements, I know. Yes, I have seen my fair share of quality code-based initiatives over the past 1.5 years, but they pale in comparison to the poor executions.

I believe now we’re seeing something that normally happens with any sort of technology that doesn’t wash out to the ocean of nothingness – on the consumer side, there is an awareness with what the technology is, and on the brand side, there is a drive to understand how best to use the technology to impact behavior. This adoption/impact wave is a long one. Right now, we’re just seeing brands actually understand how to best use social media to build relationships and impact consumer behavior. And social media (er, web 2.0) was introduced 5-6 years ago. That’s not to say QR codes will take 5-6 years to figure out, but adoption of technologies and new ways to utilize them do not happen overnight. They also require a fair amount of deliberate thought. They’ll hardly work if they’re just thrown out into the world for everyone to figure out.

This is what I’ve seen more often than not with QR codes.

So, it was refreshing to actually see a brand utilize traditional media channels in their marketing mix to raise awareness of their QR code campaign. A couple of weeks ago, I saw this Macy’s commercial on TV.

I did a double take. I had to rewind it to make sure I was seeing this right. A brand devoting a national TV spot to their QR code campaign? Brilliant.

I think the true brilliance is in the spot itself. It doesn’t just highlight the technology, it explains it. It explains what it is, where to look for it, how to use it, and most of all, what consumers can expect to get out of it. It also doesn’t limit this content to QR-code-only access. Have mobile phone? Can text? Then, not to worry, you can still experience this same content.

Now, when consumers go anywhere near Macy’s and see one of these pixilated stars, they at least have a better chance knowing what it is and what they can get out of it – two critical pieces needed to drive adoption and result in success.

And they’re not just focused on TV. They’re using many channels in their ecosystem to introduce, educate, and drive engagement with this star. Like on their Facebook page:

Macy's QR Code

On their windows:

Macy's QR Code

And of course, in their store:

Macy's QR Code

This, along print ads and even their staff wearing lanyards that explain what the program & code are, show how deliberate they want to be with this campaign.

Who knows if it will work? And more, who knows if QR codes, as a technology, will endure time and actually become adopted by the general consumer. In 5-6 years, we’ll know, right?

But this much is certain, and has endured over time – whoever reaches consumers at the right time with the right content will win.

The problem is – we’re living and consuming media in an evolving world, where consumers are on the go, out & about more than ever, technology is not the barrier it once was and everyone is connected. The rules have changed. Now, the right time to reach consumers is different for everyone. And it’s typically when they’re not in the confines of their homes.

Traditional broadcast channels like television are still great awareness channels, regardless of what you say about DVR. Non-traditional, emerging channels like Out-of-Home (OOH) and mobile are more and more becoming great engagement channels. Everything needs to work together. And Macy’s – much to their credit – has recognized this and is actually doing something about it.

I know the jury is still out on QR codes so I’d be interested to know if you think even a full-out marketing blitz like this will move the needle, in terms of QR code adoption and engagement? What do you think?

I Am #4’s QR Code #Fail


Yesterday at the movie theatre, I ran across I Am Number Four’s movie poster and of course, the first thing I saw was the QR code.

Without any instructions.

Without any hint of what’s in it for me.

Could the TEXT call-to-action be a clue? A chance to win?



I scanned. Got a white “Web page not available” page.

I texted. Got a “The GuestAssist service requires a valid keyword. Please check the keyword and try again or visit www.qtags.com for support.”

I gave up.

Today, just to see, I revisited the web page. Still nothing. But when I check it on my computer (vs. mobile) I find out the sweepstakes has ended.


This is the problem with codes that lead to time-sensitive information. There comes a point to where it doesn’t work.

I wonder if it worked even when it worked?

I am #fail.

MINI’s QR Code Masterpiece

Leave it to MINI. Again.

These guys are at the forefront of using emerging technology to connect with consumers.

First, they created real-life LA Story talking billboards through the use of RFID.

Mini RFID Billboard

Then, they created a real-life/virtual world game of chase through the use of Augmented Reality.

Now, they’re taking a simple approach – yet just as unique – with QR codes. Only to drive to a different Augmented Reality experience.

How would you launch the all new, bigger MINI Countryman? How about a big QR code? Like bigger than anything in the ad.

Mini QR Code Magazine Ad

Here’s the thing about MINI – from my perspective, nothing is a mistake. Or an afterthought. It’s all purposeful. Here, they didn’t just oh-by-the-way-stick-a-qr-code-in-the-bottom-corner-of-the-ad. They made it the ad.

And it works.

And for those who don’t know what this is, they give directions. And for those who don’t want to scan the code, they give another way to get to the information. And for anyone else – those who wouldn’t even want to take part in the complete experience – this campaign, this app, and ultimately this brand is probably not for you.

These guys are smart. They’ve gotten some insight that their target audience has a high propensity to engage through various mobile technologies – even more, that their target is not constrained by location, they like to be on the go, and are early adopters. Can you imagine this out of the MINI owner? I can.

And to their credit, MINI goes full tilt.

I think there are many ways to connect with consumers when they’re out and about, not in front of their computers. More and more, this is a mobile world, and I’m not talking about a mobile-phone world (although we are) – mobility is a way of life. So, being able to connect with consumers while they’re on the go, in various ways – especially through enabling technologies like this – will become more and more critical for brands to figure out.

MINI’s making it easy for everyone else.

Take note.

This is interactive out-of-home. Where experience masterpieces happen.


The Case of the QR Code Cutesies

As soon as I write a post on focusing on the basics– like setting clear expectations – when implementing QR Code (or other code-based) initiatives, it’s only natural that would find clear examples supporting the problem.

Take a look at these, all from the same publication:


QR Code example


Microsoft Tag example


QR Code example

Do you know what they have in common? The case of the cutesies. Like so many of the code-based implementations I’ve seen over the last year, they forget about one of the simplest best practices of getting a user to take action: provide a clear AND compelling call-to-action.

It’s like this is sacrificed for the (seemlingly) sake of being cute. Cute design. Colorful. Mysterious. Shapely.


As a consumer, I’m less likely to take action just by the “look” of the code. I want to know what I’m going to get, and more than that, I want to know if there’s anything unique in it for me once I do scan it. These calls-to-action are uninspiring, at best.

“Get Access & Info.”

“Info on Activities.”

And the kicker – absolutely nothing.

Intriguing, guys. Really.

Clear instructions are essential in a call-to-action, especially with emerging technologies. But consumer expectations are to the point where that, alone, is hardly effective. They don’t just want to know “how,” they want to know “why.”

I bet if you got 5 people together who best represent the “average consumer,” showed them these ads, and asked them if they knew what “it” (the code) was, at least half of them would say no. Then, once explained, they might say something like, “why would I do that?” And in this case, the answer would be for “more information” or “our activities” or “just because.” Sounds compelling right?

Does that compel you to take action?

As I said the other day, I think this question is a great filter when implementing any code-based campaign. And it’s simple. If the answer to that question – would this call-to-action compel me to take action? – is no, I’d highly recommend re-thinking a) the actual call-to-action and/or probably most importantly, b) the content “behind the code” (the content you offer up after scanning the code).

Consumers don’t just want to know “how,” they want to know, “why.” Answer them both, and make it clear to the consumer, and you’ll have cracked half of the nut.

How Much Does (QR Code) Size Really Matter?

Common sense, expert opinion, and the most fundamental best practices would tell us, of course it matters – the size of QR codes (especially in public spaces) directly impacts how many people see it, therefore how many people end up scanning it. But I wonder how accurate that really is.

Recently, I saw this huge billboard in the Denver Airport with three large QR codes on it.

QR Code at the Denver Airport

I don’t know how much bigger they can get, particularly in relation to the overall real-estate of the “canvas.”

Then, conversely, I saw another huge print advertisement in a mall here in Dallas with a tiny QR code on it.

American Idol QR Code

That’s it in the bottom left-hand corner. You might have to squint to see it.

Both advertisements were large and placed in high traffic venues, in high traffic areas, so the chances for noticing them on a daily basis is high. But guess how many people I saw scanning either of them?


And that was me.

Now, in fairness, I was only in the vicinity for a few minutes. But in those few minutes, it was as if I was the only one who not only noticed the ad, but was actually interacting with it.

So, I think the size is a relevant question. Because the real questions still remain – Do people even notice QR codes (or Microsoft Tags) when they see them? Do they know what they are? Or know what to do with them?

I still don’t think the average person knows what they are or how to use them, so when they see them, they have no impact. Regardless of their size.

Now prominence is another thing. As a marketer or brand who’s implementing these types of codes, you’re not giving yourself any chance of succeeding when you place a tiny code in the bottom corner of an ad, where only the wheel of a stroller would notice it. Be that as it may, I think brands/marketers have alot of flexibility in size and prominence. As long as it’s big enough and can be seen within a reasonable line of sight, I would say that you’ve covered the size and prominence aspects. But there are bigger issues to solve around these codes.

I think the only way we can get the general person/consumer to become aware and adopt a new behavior (scanning these codes) is to add real value to the codes. “More information,” which seems to the “value” associated with most of the codes I’ve seen in the past year is not enough. There haven’t been many brands who have cracked this nut and as a result, probably not seeing the success they anticipated.

PSFK recently released a “Future of Mobile Tagging Report” and they key takeaways for me were:

1. There is potential in using these codes and even more, the codes becoming commonplace in our world.

2. Content, namely the content “behind the code” (the content that consumers see after they scan the code) is the only way these codes can take hold and succeed. That’s the value. And yes, “value” looks different for everyone. But it’s not about the size or the prominence or the design. (You can see the general sense of “value” when looking at these examples, even if you’re not the target audience. So, I don’t want to use this forum to debate “value.”)

If you haven’t seen the report, check it out. There are some solid examples of the wide range of uses with these codes.

PSFK presents Future Of Mobile Tagging Report

(View more presentations from PSFK.)
Another thing that stuck out to me in these examples were how the expectations (for scanning the code) were made clear from the outset. The pieces included language around the code that informed people what would happen/what they would get if they scanned it. And it wasn’t “more information.” Even when real-estate is limited, it’s essential that expectations – and more clear than not – are set. Enlist a good copywriter and I guarantee they’ll write something that’s clear and concise.
So, all in all, in the end, I think it boils down to an even simpler question – when you’re thinking about implementing any code-based initiative, ask yourself, “would I want to scan this?”
That assumes, then, you’ve reasonably thought through basic elements like size and prominence and expectations. And you’re answering that question based on the “value” – be it content, offer or purchase – that you’re going to get. If you skimp on the value, it doesn’t matter if the code is a size of a building. No one will scan it.