QR Codes make a comeback

QR Codes make a comeback

David Fieldhouse

David Fieldhouse, co-founder and strategy director at Linking Mobile, says QR is on the rise and is here to stay. Companies must consider relevance before they use QR for their brands, but the benefits are now big enough to take the plunge…

I have to confess I haven’t liked QR codes much over the years. Three or four years ago they seemed to be the default selection for any agency or brand wishing to tick the “innovation” box.

Often I would spend an hour in a room talking about all kinds of (in my opinion) relevant and effective ways to use mobile only to hear the inevitable question at the end – “So why don’t we trial QR, they’re massive in Japan!?” I normally battled against the idea (and invariably lost), which just further fuelled my dislike for those funny little black and white barcodes. They are now, however, making a comeback and I, for one, am now embracing the technology. (Yes, it’s a U-turn even Nick Clegg would be proud of).

For those that don’t know what a QR (Quick Response) code is, it’s a two dimensional barcode that when scanned by a mobile phone delivers content back to the device. The content could be a mobile site or video for example. These barcodes can exist on any printed surface so it is, on the face of it, a brilliant way to link traditional media such as press and outdoor with digital/mobile without using messy SMS short-codes and keywords.

The reason I railed against QR back in 2008 was chiefly because consumers in the UK did not have a clue what they were, and critically didn’t have the technology on their phones to scan them in! The codes are primarily designed to elicit a response from consumers so this seemed a reasonable position to take. This was before iPhone, apps and Android remember and so, as a response mechanic, they were doomed to fail.

Fast forward to 2011 and the landscape is very different. Smartphone penetration in the UK is approaching 30%; and the concept of downloading an app to scan a code is easy for consumers to understand. Crucially brands now understand that any content returned to a mobile must be optimised for the device to enable consumers to receive useful, entertaining and easy-to-digest information. Media owners are also playing their part: with brands such as The Metro using QR regularly in the paper, thus helping to educate consumers.

We have just launched QR technology on our network, to deliver ‘cost per action’ leads for advertisers; which means these codes can, for the first time, actually generate revenue for an advertiser.

Smartphone growth and the increase in consumer awareness are ensuring that QR codes are springing up like mushrooms on mainstream advertising campaigns. Domino’s Pizza uses them regularly to link through to their app and mobile site from press media, which ultimately means more pizza sales. Anecdotally I know they are happy with the levels of response this currently achieves.

There are bad examples too however, Waitrose bravely put QR on their TV ads and should be applauded for doing so; the problem was the QR code only appeared for two seconds on the end frame of the ad. Nobody could have got their phone out in time to scan the code, which rendered the exercise broadly useless. (I accept you could pause live TV and scan, but that seems to add another layer of complexity)?

For me, however, I think the QR code must evolve further to become ubiquitous. We can call on the creative side of the industry to make this happen: as more visually interesting and intriguing QR codes will attract consumers, and drive ‘scans and clicks’. Below are some examples which demonstrate how creativity is already creating interest and responses.

It would be remiss of me not to point out how scanning technology is evolving however. Clever companies can now “watermark” pages, so content is returned without the use of any codes or changes to advertising creative. This is, in some ways, offering a more seamless experience for consumers – and newspaper groups are looking at the technology right now. Augmented reality is also becoming more mainstream, with apps such as Aurasma allowing pages to come to life quickly and easily, without huge amounts of development. It will be interesting to see how these technologies progress.

QR for now, however, is on the rise and I believe, is here to stay, for some time. Companies must consider relevance before they use QR for their brands, but the benefits are now big enough, I believe, to take the plunge.

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