Express uses QR Code

Express, the specialty retailer of women’s and men’s apparel, has recently launched a two-page advertisement in Gotham magazine using a QR Code (the code is located in the lower left hand corner, but was cut off in the picture). Lots to talk about here.

First and foremost, the QR Code displayed in the advertisement is so small that it is nearly impossible to scan. Using two of the better code readers on the market (NeoReader and i-nigma), it took me about a minute using each reader separately to scan the code. With so much advertising real estate available (Gotham is a over-sized magazine), why print the code so small? Was the creative team too concerned that a larger code would distract from the overall design? At a minimum, a QR Code should be 0.75 to 1.0 inches square to ensure successful scans.

After scanning the code, I was brought to a mobile website and, once there, tried to play the video, but the video stopped playing only after a few seconds. Not optimized for mobile viewing is my assumption. Because the company also displayed a URL address next to the code, which I consider a best practice, I was able to view the entire video on my laptop. The video is 30 seconds long, but really offers nothing in the way of value or benefit for the viewer. When the video finishes, I am left staring at a blank screen. Why? Why do companies do this time and time again? If the hope is that a viewer is going to like what they see, why not enable them to 'like' or 'share' the content with people in their social network(s)? Also, why not motivate or provide incentive for the viewer to move further down the purchase path (i.e., visit a retail store or shop on-line)?  

The mobile website also offers the ability to download the company's 'Get Your Style At The Speed Of Life!' mobile app. What this app is I have no idea, as no additional information is provided and I did not feel like downloading the app just to find out. There is plenty of room on the site to write some promotional copy, so why not.

What I also don't fully understand about the mobile website is the line "Text* GO to EXPRES (397737) to receive Express mobile updates! Standard messaging & data rates may apply. Texting GO to EXPRES (397737) also opts you in to receive on going  EXPTXT mobile alerts (up to 6/month)." I admit, I do not do a lot of texting and maybe I am missing something here, but does Express assume that consumers are just going to remember the texting instructions while they are switching functions on their mobile device (i.e., going from the Internet browser function to the phone or text function), if, in fact, they choose to text at that very moment in time? What if they don't then, how is a consumer to easily retrieve the instructions?

As a parting thought, I wonder how a company like Express would articulate the strategy, objectives and reasons for conducting a 2D barcode campaign in the first place.

Lastly, I don't see this campaign passing the 2D Barcode Litmus test anytime soon.  And, speaking of the litmus test, what I plan to do in future 2D campaign reviews is to end the review with a 'pass' or 'fail' as it relates to the test, and then keep a running total of the results for the fun of it (see scoreboard in right hand column).

2D Barcode Litmus Test: Fail


  1. While it's almost entertaining to see the string of #Fails you analyze here, taking a step back, it seems that this pattern is part of a larger issue?

    I don't believe it has to do with the complexity of printing or even understanding the basics of QR (including providing instructions). I think these failures occur at a root level of the advertising industry who simply are not loving QR.

    These campaigns appear more of an obligation than a passion.

    Let's admit they don't like it and figure out how to become more attractive?

    If we keep thinking they don't "understand" it, then we're barking up the wrong tree. They don't "like" it. If they did like it, we'd see repeat campaigns, not experimental one-off failures.

    Seems that's the crux of the matter?

  2. A: While I agree with most of what you write about and comment on, I have to disagree here. At the end of the day, who pays the agency? The brand does. Who gives the agency its marching orders? The brand does. Who signs off on the final creative? The brand does. So why would you believe it is a matter of the advertising industry simply not liking 2D? If an agency doesn't like 2D and they come up with a poorly executed design/campaign the brand should recognize this and demand better or not pay. In my mind, what it comes down to is that the brands are not educated and knowledgeable of the technology and how it should integrate with other mediums, channels, programs, campaigns, etc., and this is why we such failure.

  3. To your comment, Roger, part of an agency's function is to educate and facilitate best-practices in their client's interests. The agency is supposed to be the expert, not the brand manager on the brand side (the agency's head of interactive or mobile or digital is to guide the brand and the agency team). If a client opts-out of that advice, fine, their choice, but, if an agency launches a campaign that fails based on their representations of being experts in the media buy, placement and execution, the agency has failed and should be fired.

    I perceive these (numerous) failures as being on the shoulder of the agencies who are not overjoyed with QR to begin with.

  4. A: I see your point, but even if an agency was the "expert" shouldn't the brand manager, or whomever on the client side, know enough about marketing/advertising in general to know when there is no value or benefit being provided through a campaign, or when there is a weak call to action, or if a non-mobile optimized video interferes with a customer's overall experience with the brand, etc.? The brand people have to take some responsibility in signing off on such poor campaigns, whether they make use of 2D or not.