Heralded by many as the year that QR Codes would break into the mainstream, QR Codes did leave a mark on UK advertising in 2010, albeit, not the impact some of us were hoping for though. For fear of claiming 2011 will be the year of the QR Code, we’ll simply review in this post some of the big UK brands that experimented with these amazing codes as part of their mobile marketing strategy in 2010, whilst evaluating some of the issues we have witnessed with using QR Codes in their infancy.
The following list is in no particular order and has been compiled with the help of Roger Smolski’s truly brilliant online bible of 2d Codes use – http://2d-code.co.uk
Like so many brands experimenting with the use of QR Codes in marketing, Debenhams, whilst brave and innovative, made some fundamental mistakes with the first use of QR Codes in brand advertising.
We caught our first glimpse of their QR Codes, from a 2d-code.co.uk sighting in Leeds, UK. A number of Debenhams UK high street stores used Point of Sale (POS) displays in-store which displayed large, complex QR Codes, which once scanned resolved to a text based message offering a free coffee for anyone that took the message to the cashier. The purpose behind the QR Code ads were to assist the launch of the Debenhams iPhone app, which also contains its own Barcode scanning device. This initial promotion using QR Codes, highlighted three issues, namely; the fact that Debenhams tried to condense 213 characters of text into their QR Code which made it extremely difficult to scan, secondly they had no form of tracking enabled on the Codes and could therefore not evaluate the effectiveness of the campaign and thirdly assumed only those people who had downloaded their iPhone app, would be scanning the Code..
This train of thought has unfortunately followed throughout their use of QR Codes. In their latest press campaign, QR Codes played a prominent part in the creative, but alas, these codes are now officially reserved for iPhone users only and out of this small group, only those with the Debenhams app installed could scan the codes.
We know the marketing team at Debenhams will address some of these issues in time and will of course open up their QR Code strategy to the wider world of Internet enabled mobile devices, but let’s just hope their initial foray into using 2d Codes will not put them off in the long term.
2. John Lewis & Waitrose
Now, if there is one brand the QRazystuff Team adore, it has to be John Lewis and especially their Supermarket brand – Waitrose. It oozes style, quality and a pristine image. So we were especially excited to see John Lewis & Waitrose enter the world of QR Code advertising in 2010.
Waitrose had us glued to the TV during November last year, when they used QR Codes to tail their Christmas TV campaign. Whilst QR does stand for ‘Quick Response’, viewers would have needed to be as quick off the mark as the Wild West’s Sundance Kid to capture the QR Code Waitrose displayed in their Xmas TVads. The Waitrose QR Code appeared quite literally for 2-3 seconds at the end of the TV ad, giving viewers 1 second to locate their phone, 1 second to load their Reader app and if lucky, a second to focus and snap the code. Alas, we have been unable to find anyone who was quick enough to do this whilst the ad was screened live. Only those with Sky+ who decided to record this momentous event managed to pause the screen and snap the Code.
Luckily for those who don’t have Sky+, we saw Waitrose continue to run QR Codes throughout all of their pre-Xmas press advertising. The only disappointment was the lack of imagination when it came to the content. OK, the Waitrose iPhone and Android app the QR Code downloaded was an app masterpiece, but so much more could have been done with the content – recipe downloads, ‘how to’ video content or even a bit of Heston or Deila working their magic in the kitchen.
Waitrose Parent, John Lewis probably lead the mobile marketing strategy for the group and like Waitrose used QR Codes at the heart of the offline advertising strategy. John Lewis is not known for being particularly adventurous with their advertising, but have always upheld a superior brand image, renowned the world over.
Whilst browsing one of London’s free newspapers in December, we came across a rash of QR Codes on a number of full page ads, one of which was for John Lewis themselves. They had given some thought to the content and revealed a stunning Mobile site behind the Code that appeared on their ads. We thought at the time that one of the UK’s big brands really had ‘got it’ and this might well lead to QR Codes finally hitting the mainstream, lead by a Top 5 UK Brand. Obviously, only time will tell if this will be true or not, but we live in hope that John Lewis will continue to support QR Code tech during 2011 and beyond.
With the imminent launch of our QR Code generation, tracking and analysis tool – QRtag, we will be helping the likes of John Lewis properly evaluate their use of QR Codes in advertising, which many newcomers to QR Codes are yet to discover! Not ones to be cynical, but could it be that the above-the-line ad agencies are scared of having measurement tools applied to their advertising?
3. Aldi Supermarket
Aldi services a completely different market to the likes of Waitrose, but within the same newspaper we spotted the John Lewis ad, we also found a full page ad from Aldi, promoting the Medion Multi-Media PC. This ad may well have been influenced and probably partly funded by Medion, but it did receive high street recognition using the Aldi brand.
We can’t say much about this campaign I’m afraid, as the QR Code content has now been removed, so we’re all experiencing that disappointing 404 experience. However, the code originally resolved to a desktop web site, severely lacking for the mobile experience.
We’re also puzzled at who thought that slapping the Medion Logo across the middle of the QR Code was in any way creative. Our QRazyKids could have worked out a more creative use of a QR Code in Paint!
4. Wilkinson Sword
Having been brought up as a dry shave family (including Mrs QRazystuff), we’re not often seen browsing the shelves for wet shave products like the Wilkinson Sword Hydro Razor 5, especially Tesco shelves (note, our preference for Waitrose above). So, thanks once again has to go to Roger Smolski and his intrepid band of QR Code spotters for this one. As quoted in Roger’s Blog, “Wilkinson Sword’s announced that QR Codes would be part of their £20 million campaign for the new Hydro Razor 5 in the UK. The first appearance, on a product display in Tesco’s, has been captured on camera by a reader (image below). The QR Code resolves to a mobile site with videos that show the Hydro Razor 5 in action and the chance to enter a prize draw.” The mobile site is still live, so why not check it our by scanning the code below – it’s everything a good QR Code scanning experience should be; good quality content, optimised for the mobile viewing experience. Also great to see the ad offering multiple mobile response channels (SMS & QR) too!
5. Labrinth – Syco Music
Our QR claim to fame for 2010 has to be the discovery of the UK’s latest pop sensation – Labrinth and his amazingly creative use of QR Codes in firstly building his brand and subsequently delivering some brilliant content to his fans via QR Codes and the mobile channel.
We have written a couple of 2010 posts about Labrinth and the team behind his brand and entrée into the UK music scene, which can be read here –
6. Liberal Democrats
The highlight of the year for some in the UK (but not many) was the country’s general election. It wasn’t the most exciting event for the QRazystuff team, but did spark one imaginative political campaign by Martin Tod, the Liberal Democrat MP for Winchester. Embracing Social Media and QR Codes allowed Mr Tod to drive traffic to his Blog through Twitter and the use of QR Codes on print media, kindly donated by the UK tax payer.
It’s probably true to say that the use of QR Codes on Mr Tod’s election posters didn’t win him a single vote, but he has to be applauded for embracing Social Media and running a slick election campaign. Best of all, he’s an honorary member of the QRazyClub for his use of QR Codes in the 2010 UK General Election!
7. Metro Newspapers
Perhaps its something to do with the number of times we venture into our capital city (commuting by train) that has brought so many press ads carrying QR Codes to our attention, or maybe, we are just the standard punter demanding newspapers deliver another dimension to our daily readership? Either way, we have witnessed a marked increase in the number of ads in London’s free newspapers that now carry QR Codes as a response mechanism.
One such newspaper, The Metro, continues to run full, 1/2 and 1/4 page ads (no doubt limited to how much empty space they left at the time of going to press) each of which carries a QR Code as a central feature of their app download ads. Ok, so it’s another bland and boring use of QR Codes for downloading apps, but this could be the start of how this newspaper in particular might exploit the use of QR Codes for their advertisers. To us, it’s simple… QRtag is a new QR Code and Microsoft Tag advertising platform designed for the multi user environment. We can deliver multi format Code/Tag generation, whilst providing full scan metrics and subsequent social media interaction analysis. Offer this as a white labelled solution to the newspaper owners and they then have a self serve 2d Barcode ad platform for all of their titles. Hacks – Get in touch or let’s meet in a Fleet Street wine bar when you are ready guys!
8. Channel 4 TV – Little Big Brother
We have previously posted about Numbers 8 & 9 of the top 10, which both came from UK TV series. Not quite the channel we would expect to use QR Codes, but given their intriguing qualities, perhaps this is a good channel for them..
Big Brother Little Brother, used QR Codes on screen throughout the final series, teasing viewers with additional ‘secret’ content only available from the show’s QR Codes. Read the original post here
9. ITV2 – The Only Way is Essex
We all love mass exposure for QR Codes, but we are stunned when earlier in the year, one of the UK’s top TV Channels (Channel 4) launch their latest series – The Only Way is Essex, using QR Codes to tease and tantilise the audience. These codes have continued to make appearances on both The Only Way is Essex which will continue to run throughout 2011. Read the original post here
10. British Library
The final entry in this year’s UK Top 10 QR Code Advertisers goes to the British Library. Again during one of our many trips to London, this one was spotted on the platform of Bank Underground station.
Research tells us that the platform is actually 61 meters underground and unlike some underground train services, London has NO internet service! Media placement has to be an integral part of any advertising campaign and this particular campaign failed beyond belief not just because of the fact that the QR Code resolved to a Desktop Website, but also because of the physical position of the QR Code itself. When you view platform based posters, they sit approximately 15cm from the platform floor itself, which is usually dirty and generally not somewhere you’d want to lie down to snap a pic of a QR Code, no matter how compelling the creative or copy! So, if you were willing to lie on a dirty platform, make a complete fool of yourself, snap a camera shot of a funny looking matrix like bar code, curse about not being able to get an internet signal, then maybe this ad is better than we give it credit for. However, we doubt it..
We appreciate there are a number of negatives raised in this post, but whilst it has been a good year for QR Codes in the UK, we’ve still got a long way to go. We hear too often that global brands don’t need any help with QR Codes, after all, “all you need to do is download a QR Code from the web, slap it on an ad – job done….”
When QR Codes are used properly and the issues raised above are countered, they have the potential to deliver stunning, engaging and valuable content to an audience which is going through a growth explosion. Mobile is the future, so let’s all make a New Year’s resolution and agree to treat delivery channels like QR Codes with some respect and consider content and delivery in the same way as you would any other form of advertising.