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Tying offline advertising efforts to online goals is a difficult nut to crack. Many organizations use vanity URLs (e.g. 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


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.

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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.

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State of Digital Marketing Analytics

The 2020 State of Digital Marketing Analytics examines the marketing technology that supports the world's most successful enterprises and highlights the challenges and strategies for navigating the new normal..