The Blog

Can QR code usage data support investment cost?

Tying offline advertising efforts to online goals is a difficult nut to crack. Many organizations use vanity URLs (e.g. drugsnot4me.ca) to measure how offline advertising is impacting their website, but there is the possibility to lose potential visitors if they can’t remember the domain or if the URL is inconvenient to enter on a small keyboard or touchscreen.

Enter QR codes

A QR code that, once read, will send you to Wikipedia's article on QR codes.

QR (quick response) codes are small barcode-like boxes dotted in black and white squares that interact with mobile-phone cameras to connect offline advertising like posters, newspaper ads, and billboards to mobile content like websites and videos. Just snap a pic of the box and your phone knows to open a browser bringing you directly to a website or other online content.

Though these codes have been in widespread use in Japan for more than a decade, they have only begun to spring up in Canada (with some pretty cool possible uses) in recent years as mobile Internet devices have proliferated.

Read more about mobile internet devices on PublicInsite.com.

A quick and dirty survey

If you’re considering including a QR code in your next offline advertising campaign, there are some flags that should be raised before investing significant money into this technology. I’m certainly not sold on it and here’s why:

  1. There is a general lack of data on usage of these codes in North America. Unlike mobile internet use, there is no widely used statistics on QR code usage easily found online. Even those who cite that usage in Canada grew 442% in Q3 2010 have left absolute usage numbers conspicuously absent.
  2. Lack of data concerning engagement. Do QR-code users make quality visitors? It’s difficult to say due to lack of data. Even if QR code visitors make up 50% of total visitors, are they an engaged (low bounce, high time-on-site) segment of your visitor base? There’s no way to speculate one way or the other with publicly available information.
  3. Not made for North America. Some have speculated that QR codes grew popular in Japan because they hit the market while camera phones were popular but before QWERTY keyboards (aka “full keyboards”) were included with most mobile Internet devices. In North America, QWERTY keyboards are now widely available with both Blackberries and touch-screen devices like iPhones. Therefore, QR codes are not needed to make the leap to online content.
  4. Anecdotal evidence not generally positive. A quick and dirty survey of some Twitter users revealed a general awareness–and dislike–of QR codes. I asked “Have you ever used a QR code to access online content?” Here’s what some of them noted.
  • @AlexSmyth: I did when I first got my Blackberry, but the app for it (I think it was called ScanLife) was terrible, so I stopped using it.
  • @TravisBoisvenue: I never have. I think it’s a pain on the iPhone. @iancapstick and I have been wondering about these as well.
  • @rkennery: I tried to scan one on the bus once and almost fell over when the driver hit the brakes
  • @djswany: Yes. They’ve been around for a long time in the ROK [South Korea], and were especially usefull since they would link to english content.
  • @wAlex: Nope, considering you generally need a third party QR code reader, they are generally useless.
  • And two people, @jaybaltz and @brianalkerton just said ‘Yes’ but chose not to elaborate.

Though the above people are not a representative sample of any North American population, their experiences do shine some light on the day-to-day challenges to QR code usage. For instance: a lack of apps that make use of the coding standard, challenging to use while riding public transit, and poor technological integration with the iOS devices.

So beware of promises made by marketing companies and trust your instinct. Buying-in to QR codes could be a great benefit for your campaign, but a lack of data makes it difficult to project any added value for integrating the technology at this time.

Read more about mobile internet devices on PublicInsite.com.

This entry was posted in Technology, Blog, General Blogs, User Experience and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.
  • Aaron

    Seems like a lack of data is heavily influencing your doubts on effectiveness of QR Codes. Seems premature to be on the negative side without the whole story. It’d be interesting to see it’s prevalence in japan still after 10 years. As much as new smartphones are making it easier to type in URLs, URLs will always be harder than scanning a QR code (assuming n app with good UI).

  • Aaron

    Seems like a lack of data is heavily influencing your doubts on effectiveness of QR Codes. Seems premature to be on the negative side without the whole story. It’d be interesting to see it’s prevalence in japan still after 10 years. As much as new smartphones are making it easier to type in URLs, URLs will always be harder than scanning a QR code (assuming n app with good UI).

  • Bruce

    I started using QR codes at the LCBO when choosing an Ontario wine and became hooked. They are a great way for instant access for a product.

    After using them mysylf I incorporated into an Out of Home campaign and overall they were a success. Uptake was moderate but the feedback and media we received exeeded expectations. We will be using them in almost all campaign moving forward.

  • Bruce

    I started using QR codes at the LCBO when choosing an Ontario wine and became hooked. They are a great way for instant access for a product.

    After using them mysylf I incorporated into an Out of Home campaign and overall they were a success. Uptake was moderate but the feedback and media we received exeeded expectations. We will be using them in almost all campaign moving forward.

  • http://www.auns.ca Dan Auns

    QR codes are here to stay, unless of course they aren’t.

    As for the cost, I am not sure I follow? ….you are talking print/offline media here, that has hard costs associated with it. Adding an additional graphic element to the design, is all that is required. There are a boat load of free generators available, even the mighty Google – available via a simple .qr addition to their shortened URL.

    For example:

    http://goo.gl/AFcJb > a Google short URL for this blog post.

    http://goo.gl/AFcJb.qr > adding .qr creates the graphic. A keen eye on the URL will reveal the obvious hack if additional sizes are required.

    http://goo.gl/TRd7O > If you really want to drill down the stats, a simple variable added to the URL (like this one) will provide crystal clear visibility in any onsite analytics package.

    With NFC (Near Field Communication) on the horizon, which is already baked into the latest Nexus S, might give QR codes a run – though the cost of NFC will be the barrier to entry there. It’s not just a graphic, after all.

    Good read Ben. Cheers.

    D.

  • http://www.auns.ca Dan Auns

    QR codes are here to stay, unless of course they aren’t.

    As for the cost, I am not sure I follow? ….you are talking print/offline media here, that has hard costs associated with it. Adding an additional graphic element to the design, is all that is required. There are a boat load of free generators available, even the mighty Google – available via a simple .qr addition to their shortened URL.

    For example:

    http://goo.gl/AFcJb > a Google short URL for this blog post.

    http://goo.gl/AFcJb.qr > adding .qr creates the graphic. A keen eye on the URL will reveal the obvious hack if additional sizes are required.

    http://goo.gl/TRd7O > If you really want to drill down the stats, a simple variable added to the URL (like this one) will provide crystal clear visibility in any onsite analytics package.

    With NFC (Near Field Communication) on the horizon, which is already baked into the latest Nexus S, might give QR codes a run – though the cost of NFC will be the barrier to entry there. It’s not just a graphic, after all.

    Good read Ben. Cheers.

    D.

  • http://publicinsite.com Ben

    Aaron,

    I hear what you’re saying. It’s not my intention to poo-poo the whole concept, only to caution those who intend to spend thousands of dollars on such a campaign and are expecting large and immediate results.

    With risk-reward in mind, there are some free tools online now that can create QR code images for no cost! I would recommend starting with something free and measuring the impact of QR codes on your campaign before a large-scale rollout.

    Thanks for the comment! Keep ‘em coming!

  • http://publicinsite.com Ben

    Aaron,

    I hear what you’re saying. It’s not my intention to poo-poo the whole concept, only to caution those who intend to spend thousands of dollars on such a campaign and are expecting large and immediate results.

    With risk-reward in mind, there are some free tools online now that can create QR code images for no cost! I would recommend starting with something free and measuring the impact of QR codes on your campaign before a large-scale rollout.

    Thanks for the comment! Keep ‘em coming!


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