Friday 17 December 2010

Now THAT is how QR codes should be done!

What?  Is Bod banging on about bleedin' QR codes again?  Will he let it lie - we get it, he doesn't like them...

Ok, so the last couple of times I've commented about QR codes I've been critical of their execution, but that is not because of a problem with QR codes per se, just their execution in those examples.  So you know what?  Sod you all.  I'm going to flip-reverse it and talk about an execution of QR codes that I really like.  You see, I don't dislike QR codes - they are a really effective way of driving users to a destination (or indeed to provide them other information such as contact details).  The caveat being that they rely on the user having a smartphone; having an appropriate app to decode the code on their phone; and being savvy enough to understand what they are and how to use them.

QR codes have been around for a good few years already.  They were massive in Japan in 2007/2008 and there have been moves to try and establish them over here for years (anyone else remember the attempt by The Sun a couple of years back?).  The issue in the UK has always been that the penetration of smartphones (and installed apps) didn't support their use as an effective call-to-action.  It's for this reason that I've had to talk a client down from using them on more than one occasion - not because they are not effective, but that they are only effective under the right conditions, to the right audience and when executed in the right way.

And blow me, I've only found an example...

If you've picked up a copy of the Metro today (name-check for Mat Meir who found it and showed me) you may have seen this ad for Sky TV's Little Crackers (a season of autobiographical comic shorts from a few of Britain's better known comedians).  And so what makes this such a good example of the use of QR?  Well, let me explain...:

It's used in the right channel
Print is spot-on for the use of QR codes.  It means that the code can be scanned easily and you can provide information along with the code that needn't be digested and acted upon in a split second.

They educate how to use the QR code 
The ad doesn't just say how you use the code (scan it with your phone), but it also explains what you need to be able to do this (a QR code reader).  So as well as supporting the CTA in this ad directly, it is educating the audience and so indirectly supporting the ongoing use of QR codes as a CTA in the future.

They provide an alternative CTA for those not familiar with, or unable to use a QR code
So if you don't have a QR code reader or don't want to get one, for example, you can still participate. No-one is excluded.  And they don't just give you a single alternative, they go and give you two!  You can either send and SMS and receive a URL back by reply, or you can type the URL directly into your browser.  What more could you ask for?

Each different CTA is tracked with a URL parameter
In conjunction with providing multiple CTAs, each one uses a different URL.  The one provided for users to enter into their browser is, and the QR code and SMS URLs are distinguished by an additional parameter (source=qr and source=sms respectively).  This is really important.  It means that they can see how each of the CTAs is being used, including by which devices, and then integrate these insights into future activity.  I am really pleased to see this kind of (simple but often overlooked) thought going into the execution here.

The use of QR is contextual
Yes, a print ad in the Metro is not targeted so everyone/anyone sees it (a criticism I levelled at the Waitrose execution).  But in this case the context is clear - users are invited to preview exclusive content on their phone.  The ad is for the series in general, but it is offering something additional for those that are capable and have devices that support it.  This is clear in the ad so the user's expectations are set perfectly.

So in what may be my last post of the year (I'm thinking of writing a 2011 predictions piece but am struggling to decide between one that is serious and thoughtful or just outright frivolous and sarcastic - thoughts welcome) it is great to talk about something like this that I think has been really well executed.

Thank you Sky TV and may your response rates be high (I'll wager they're better than those for Waitrose or Moleskine)...


  1. They are valid points but are you not trying to come up with justifications for the solution being lets face it...a bit rubbush...something that has always happend in mobile.

    For me the URL here is the worst part. This should be:

    Text short code/keyword
    SMS bounceback with friendly link

    Way better, simpler, proven

  2. Hi anonymous,

    I disagree. I think that assuming an SMS CTA is always the right one is a bit blinkered and doesn't consider the context, audience, and content.

    The beauty of QR is that it is immediate - you don't need to wait for a response SMS and when used by an educated user it can be the quickest route to a mobisite.

    Sky include a simple SMS CTA but provide others (QR and URL) and, because they are tracking each independently, they will know which route is being used the most (including the drop-off from the SMS route of course) by their audience.

    And of course because it is being tracked Sky will know explicitly which method works the best rather than relying on conjecture.

    So I say well done to Sky for experimenting!