An Observation: Digital Lab's QR Codes - A Point of View

Digital Lab, an initiative created and offered by BBDO Worldwide and Proximity Worldwide, recently presented a paper titled QR Codes - A Point of View and, as informative and insightful as the paper is, there is one item mentioned in the paper, which I believe merits greater attention and discussion.

The paper states that there are a number of companies currently experimenting with QR Codes, but I ask, are they really? Are companies really "experimenting" with QR Codes, or 2D technology in general, when all they do is place a code in a print advertisement as a mere after thought, or for only one occurrence at a time, or in only one advertising channel at a time, or when the code resolve does not function properly, or when the code resolve does not change from one advertisement to another, etc? Yes, the number of QR/2D-based advertising campaigns are increasing from one month to the next, which is terrific for the industry, but are these campaigns being experimented with to the same level of vigor and sophistication as other marketing mediums (e.g., web home pages, landing pages, banner ads, emails, direct mail packages, telemarketing scripts, etc.)? From my vantage point the answer is no, and I wonder if this might lead to a slower adoption of the technology by advertisers.

Without proper and thorough experimentation of QR/2D codes, I believe it becomes too easy for a marketing or creative executive/team to blame the code itself, or the technology as a whole, for low scan rates or for a campaign's overall poor performance when, in reality, it could be any other creative or tactical element found in the campaign (e.g., headline, body copy, offer, call to action, image, layout, placement, etc.). And, if that's the case, advertisers might be too quick to nix the thought of using QR/2D codes in the future (actually, after speaking with a number of marketing and creative executives I know this is the case).
Even though the paper's author recommends to companies "a limited 'test and learn' approach" towards QR/2D codes, which I am in total agreement with, I believe companies need to go one step further and take action as mentioned above (i.e., experiment with just as much sophistication and level of detail that other advertising mediums and tactical/creative elements receive). So, where can a company start? How about experimenting with different calls to action; different code size, color,  location; different scan resolves; multiple channels; or different instructional copy, and to do so in such a way that market research best practice is adhered to and taken into consideration.


  1. I hear a hint of Seth Godin saying " make your qr code campaign remarkable "

  2. Advertising agencies and brands often have some discretionary "experimental" dollars to spend. When they position a campaign in this manner, first it's low dollars and second they aren't held accountable at an ROI level.

    They do it so they can appear leading edge or to win awards. Sometimes they really hope the new technology/format will succeed, since it will increase their work and fees going forward. SECOND LIFE was an example of a platform agencies loved, largely because they loved the work (lots of design).

    QR and 2D as has been mentioned by others, exists in a strange hybrid space, often between print and mobile (when there isn't even a mobile department or budget), so, it's pulling from interactive (internet) or reducing print budgets. Based on basic "territorial" pressures, not everyone in print and design care to see dollars shifting to mobile, even if it should be more collaborative.

    The Digital Lab's largest omission was to the point of agencies can best manage and implement QR and 2D campaigns. What expertise is required, between departments, and how can these teams increase their department's value? But, that's the "strategy" side, not the technology side, and it's often overlooked.

    There are already mobile technologies being presented as the next "will be huge" in 2011. QR and 2D may have already been passed by. I don't see repeat campaigns for significant dollars here. QR and 2D may continue to exist at some fairly pedestrian packaging information level, but to see it used in major advertising campaigns beyond "experimental?" That opportunity may have already passed us by.

  3. Patrick: Thank you for the comment. First, I am a huge fan of Seth Godin, so I appreciate and understand the comment. Second, it's not as much a matter of developing a remarkable 2D campaign, as it is to simply test and experiment properly and according to best practice. That's my main point. It seems as though the vast majority of companies/agencies are just throwing something against the wall to see what sticks, when in reality more thought and process needs to go into it.

  4. Anonymous: Thank you, as always.

    Because I am not of the agency world, I am not familiar with all of the nuances that seem to be present within agencies like you are. So, I appreciate the comments and insight you offer and provide, however, I do take issue with part of your comment.

    You said, "Advertising agencies and brands often have some discretionary 'experimental' dollars to spend. When they position a campaign in this manner, first it's low dollars and second they aren't held accountable at an ROI level." How can a QR/2D-based full-page color advertisement on the back of The New York Times business section be considered "experimental"? Again, I am not of the agency world, but I do know that placement like this is not inexpensive.

    Here's another example of the point I was trying to make. The other week, I wrote about a QR Code print ad that SAS placed on the back cover of Bloomberg Businessweek magazine. In this week's issue of the magazine, I noticed the exact same ad, with the exact same code resolve, but it was placed inside the publication. I find it hard to believe that 1) SAS does not care about ROI with placements like these, and 2) just because the ad appeared in two different locations in the magazine that SAS is actively experimenting with 2D. (I contacted SAS about this campaign but, unfortunately, the CMO and his colleagues never wished to pursue the conversation.)

    There is something about your statement that does not seem to add up or make sense, especially when, in times like these, the only thing we as marketers hear and read about is how everything marketing needs to be tied to ROI.

    With respect to other mobile technologies that are currently being presented for 2011, and may bypass QR/2D, I am curious to know what they are. Care to share?