11.21.2012

This QR Code Analysis Teaches A Lot

Recently, I came across a website which grades the effectiveness of QR Code-based ad campaigns with a 'Hit' or 'Miss' rating, much like my 2D Bar Code Litmus Test's 'Pass' or 'Fail' system, and in one of their analyses, I noticed a couple of comments which are worth discussing.

In the review of a AAA Club campaign, this is what was written and displayed:

"AAA provided a QR Code for smartphone users on a promotional piece hanging from the rearview mirror in a rental car. They went above and beyond most companies when bridging the digital and physical, so we’ll consider this campaign a HIT."


"This operable QR Code takes the user to AAA’s mobile optimized website where the shopper can choose from a number of easily selectable options. We are impressed with AAA, because they not only provided a regular QR Code on this promo, but they decided to also include a Microsoft Tag, as you can see in the picture directly to the left of the normal QR Code. By doing this, AAA increases their potential customer base since QR codes are standardized across multiple vendors, and Tags are proprietary to Microsoft apps. Hopefully, this system will become standardized eventually so a code will be readable across all devices, but until then, take into consideration what type of operating system the consumer your are trying to reach is running."

First, some background. Several years ago, Microsoft developed its own proprietary 2D bar code called Tag. By proprietary, it's meant that only Microsoft could generate a Tag symbol and Tags could only be scanned by and read with the Microsoft Tag reader app. About one year ago, it seemed as though Microsoft realized they were fighting an uphill battle with the more popular open-sourced QR Code and decided to offer QR Code generation to their platform. Additionally, Microsoft enabled its Tag reader app to scan and read QR Codes.

So, back to the AAA campaign and its review.

The sentence, "We are impressed with AAA, because they not only provided a regular QR Code on this promo, but they decided to also include a Microsoft Tag, as you can see in the picture directly to the left of the normal QR Code." is incorrect. The picture directly to the left of the QR Code is an icon Microsoft created to help advertisers explain to consumers, in a visual way, what to do with a Tag (i.e., scan it with a phone). The Tag in the icon represents nothing and was not meant to be scanned. Regardless, this brings up an interesting point in that advertisers are always wondering should they use an icon to help educate consumers about QR Codes, or should text be used. Here there is no right or wrong answer, but it is certainly something that can be A/B tested, if the advertiser is serious about using codes in future campaigns and wanting to maximize their effectiveness.

While these two sentences could have been worded differently ("By doing this, AAA increases their potential customer base since QR codes are standardized across multiple vendors, and Tags are proprietary to Microsoft apps. Hopefully, this system will become standardized eventually so a code will be readable across all devices, but until then, take into consideration what type of operating system the consumer your are trying to reach is running."), they point to other important issues to understand and consider.

First, even if AAA used a working Tag and a QR Code, the potential customer base would not increase as much as if the company chose to display and use a QR Code for smartphone users and a text short code or URL address for feature phone users. In this way, smartphone and feature phone users can both link to the intended mobile content. Or, to know there is such a great divide between iPhone and Android users, AAA could have created a separate code for each OS, so that the viewing experience could be optimized.

Second, it's important to realize that QR Codes are open-source and can be generated and customized freely. As a result, there are numerous companies that offer these services, as well as code management, tracking and analysis reporting. On the other hand, as mentioned above, Microsoft Tag is proprietary and only Microsoft's platform can generate a Tag, manage it, track it and report on it.

Third, because the Tag reader app can now recognize QR Codes, it is no longer proprietary in the code reading sense. But, Tags can only be read by a Tag reader app so, in this sense, Tag remains proprietary.

Fourth, in relation to taking into consideration the OS of a device, this is not as important as knowing which phone audience an advertiser might wish to target (i.e., smartphone or feature phone or both). As mentioned above, if it's just smartphone users then a QR Code will suffice. If it's smartphone and feature phone users then the advertiser should also display a URL address or text short code.

In summary, please know that my goal in commenting on this other company's campaign review is not to be critical of them, as much as it is to be constructive for all who are interested in learning about QR Codes and using them to their maximum potential.  

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