Guest Post: The Utility In QR Codes Misunderstood and Undervalued

This is a second guest post from Peter Levitan, a Baby Boomer with a new book out about Baby Boomers offing themselves before they go broke.

Agencies and their clients are slow on the uptake when it comes to fully valuing all that technology can deliver, namely a better customer experience. That’s the rap. But how accurate is this portrayal?

A bit of background. My old agency Citrus did some work for the technology company Digimarc and its Discover QR code product. Digimarc Discover lets advertisers embed next generation QR codes, or what we called invisible barcodes, in to publications. These new invisible codes are not the ugly boxes we are used to but can be embedded, actually hidden behind logos, copy or images.

Because of Digimarc, I spent a fair amount of time thinking through the QR code opportunity. It seemed clear to me that QR codes offer print and outdoor advertisers, package designers and retail marketers an opportunity to mate good old-fashioned advertising and point-of-sale to powerful mobile experiences. I even went so far as to make the pitch for Discover barcodes to our client Nike and to a large gathering of Asian newspaper publishers. I concentrated my pitch on the print to mobile experience. I received generally blank stares from each group. It reminded me of my early 90s Internet sales calls.

I didn’t understand the reactions. According to the website Statistic Brain, Nike sells 120 million shoes per year. That’s a hell of a lot of shoeboxes. Today, these boxes arrive at a buyer’s home with limited marketing follow-through. They are what we called, “dumb boxes” in our pitch. Why not add a QR code, or better yet, a hot Swoosh or LeBron mark that launches a mobile experience? We even showed up with a sample “smart” box. Reaction: nada.

Despite some early excitement and high usage in early adopter markets like Japan, QR codes have not taken off in the United States. I assume that this is primarily due to the ugly nature of the little box that art directors simply hate and that most agencies do not think like direct marketers who would, I would imagine, at least see the advantage of driving a reader to an interactive sales experience.

The other key reason that I think that QR codes have lost momentum is that they have been grossly misused by marketers and therefore left mostly unused by the public. In too many cases, QR codes are exceptionally well hidden by art directors and come with little to no reason to take the action of scanning. For example, most ads simply slot in a tiny QR code in the corner and expect that a reader is going to scan it whether it delivers any associated value or not. They won’t. Why don’t most QR codes make a direct and valuable offer that the reader can only get by scanning? I think that the direct marketing gene is missing here.

An example of using QR codes to actually entice the reader to scan was done by Devito/Verde for their client Duane Reade. They put a huge QR code front and center on bus kiosks and circulars and offered a big reason to scan. The QR codes were the star of the ads and they clearly delivered deals. People like deals and will actively work or scan to get them.

Previously on AdPulp: Guest Post: Curiosity Is Fuel, Light Some Fires



About Peter Levitan

Peter worked at Saatchi & Saatchi for 16 years. He was CEO and founder of Advance Publication’s New Jersey Online. Most recently he was CEO of the Portland ad agency Citrus which he sold in 2011. Peter also recently wrote Boomercide: From Woodstock To Suicide about Boomers “offing themselves” before they go broke.