Guest Article: Gauging the popularity of QR Codes

Satwick Saxena, Head, Thmbstrk, takes a reality check on QR Codes and lists ways marketers can ensure consumers’ QR Code experience is a fruitful one

e4m by Satwick Saxena
Updated: Jan 31, 2012 8:46 PM
Guest Article: Gauging the popularity of QR Codes

2011 was the year of the QR Codes (Quick Response Codes) in India. From being an unknown entity, QR Codes have gone on to become practically omnipresent. Flip through any newspaper or magazine and every other ad features a QR code. Right from large consumer brands to the restaurant next door, everybody has jumped on to the QR Code bandwagon.

This should be good news for both brands and consumers, right? After all, QR Codes allow brands to create engagement and even generate leads from their offline ads (especially print ads), while consumers are able to get more information about the product being advertised in a quick and easy way. In theory, it’s a win-win scenario for both. But is that the case in reality? The honest answer is ‘no’. In reality, instead of making things simpler for consumers by providing a solution (as done in campaigns by Tesco, JC Penny, JP Morgan), QR Codes in India are being used for the sake of using a QR Code (a la 3D in Bollywood movies).

And what makes this even worse is that instead of being an ‘easy & quick’ way for consumers to get information, most QR Codes in ads are difficult, if not impossible, to use for consumers. They are either too small to be scanned by feature phone users (sometimes even smart phone users) or lead to content not even optimised for mobile devices or sometimes lead to completely irrelevant content. The result is that even as more brands and marketers start using QR Codes, consumers may start turning away from scanning them due to a string of bad experiences in the past.

So, should marketers refrain from using QR Codes, or at least lower their expectations from QR Code based campaigns? The answer is, No! The benefits that QR Code based innovations can provide consumers and brands are substantial. However, with bad consumer experiences related to the onslaught of QR Codes, it is very important for a marketer to vet carefully a QR Code campaign and ensure that it fulfills a basic criterion before going ahead with the campaign.

Does the QR Code provide sufficient value to your consumers?
This is the most important question that you should ask while considering a QR Code as part of your campaign. A QR Code added to a campaign just for bragging rights will not be well received by consumers and may deter them from interacting with your QR Codes in the future as well. Ensure that the QR Code delivers a rewarding experience to your consumers. This could be in the form of interactive content (accessed via a mobile web page/ mobile app), discount coupons or even m-commerce. Remember that the consumer does not care about the QR Code but the content/ experience that the QR Code leads to.

Does your ad copy (Print or OOH) communicate clearly what the QR Code will lead to?
Most ads with QR Codes have a vague description, such as ‘Scan the QR Code to experience the magic’. Given that many consumers have scanned many such QR Codes only to experience disappointment, it is best to communicate clearly what the consumer is going to gain by scanning the Code. Even for consumers who have not had a bad experience with QR Codes in the past, establishing the benefit clearly will help convince more consumers to try it. So try using ‘Scan the QR Code to visit our mobile site’ or ‘Scan the QR Code to participate in the contest’ instead.

How easy is it to scan the QR Code, for your consumers?
Make it as easy as possible for your consumers to scan a QR Code. The more time consuming or painful the scanning process, the more likely it is that consumers will drop out in the middle of the process. To ensure that the QR Code has the highest possibility of being scanned successfully by consumers, keep in mind the following points while generating a QR Code and placing it in the ad unit:

i) If the QR Code is to encode a URL, please ensure that you use a shortened URL, especially if the original is longer than 11 characters. (You can generate and track shortened URLs from This will ensure that the QR Code generated is easily readable from feature phones with even 2mp cameras.

ii) Specify the ECC (Error Correction Capability) for the QR Code to be at least 15 per cent when generating the QR Code. ECC percentage indicates that the QR Code will remain readable even if a certain percentage of the code is damaged or not legible while scanning. This will ensure that users who need to click a picture of a QR Code to scan it, (which is the case with most BlackBerry phones, for example) will be able to scan the QR Code easily even if the image is not perfectly clear.

iii) Ensure that the QR Code is of the right size. Ideally 3cm x 3cm or at least 2.5cm x 2.5cm. Keeping the QR Code smaller than this may result in feature phones not being able to scan the QR Code successfully. The size of the QR Code is also impacted by the texture of the surface on which it will appear (matt or glossy). If the QR Code is on a billboard then the size of the QR Code should be determined by the maximum distance from where you want the QR Code to be scanned successfully.

iv) Also, be careful about where the QR Code is placed in an ad. For example, if it’s a print ad, then try to keep the QR Code away from the bound edge of the page and from potential ‘dog ears’ so that the QR Code does not get curved or damaged. Similarly, be careful not to place QR Codes on OOH properties in areas where mobile phone network may not be available, like in-flight magazines, subways or basements.

v) And last but not the least, it is always good to provide a free QR Code reader for users to download. Remember that many consumers have still not used QR Codes and, therefore, will not have a QR Code reader pre-installed. If the QR Code redirects consumers to a URL, mention the URL alongside the Code, just in case somebody does not want to use the QR Code, but wants to access the content.

Keeping these points in mind and ensuring that your QR Code confirms to these best practices will help make them more accessible and useful to consumers. This will help your brand get the best possible results. Remember, for consumers there are no bad QR Codes, just bad campaigns. Happy QR Coding!

(Satwick Saxena is Head, Thmbstrk (, the full service mobile marketing division of Indigo Consulting, one of India’s leading interactive marketing and technology agencies.)

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