Over the past few months QR codes have been one of the most hyped (besides check in / geo) technologies and have created a lot of conversation between bloggers, digital strategists and others in the media industry about what is the most effective use of QR codes, what constitutes a good QR code campaign and lots of other subjects.  I thought that for the company I work at it was important to state our position on QR codes and to highlight two facts 1) we are testing QR codes and are not writing them off and 2) we are having a lot of success with texting and won’t be abandoning texting anytime soon.

QR Codes vs Texting
Over the past few months the use and buzz around QR codes has been growing in the United States and within the Digital Out-of-Home (DOOH) industry it’s all the rage.   Like most new technologies (well, you can’t really say QR codes are new since they have been used in Asia for several years now) there is an adoption curve and as the technology becomes more widespread standards become more important.

Currently there are several types of QR codes in use (Microsoft and JAGTAG to name a few) which make it confusing to consumers as to which QR code scanner they need and when to use each one.   If you have to put instructions next to the code on where to download the reader from and then how to use it seems to diminish the effectiveness of the campaign.  In the case of DOOH if you are watching a screen and a QR code is displayed with instructions on how to activate / use the code chances are that you won’t have enough time to get your phone out, download the app (if you don’t already have) and then scan while the code is still on the screen.  And the worst thing about QR codes on a screen is that you can’t get scan the code if it’s not there anymore.  With the way DOOH and content loops work there is a chance you won’t see the promotion again while you are in the venue.

Text messaging on the other hand requires no special application to download, no line of sight or specific distance to the screen and can be used when the keyword is no longer displayed.  And the largest benefit is that almost everyone who has a mobile phone can text and does text (to the tune of 276 million wireless users and 740 BILLION text message in the FIRST HALF of 2009).  The number of people using QR codes (that’s 6.2% of mobile users in US according to ComScore see Mashable article) is similar to those using check in services like Four Square – a small percentage of the population (7 million users as of Feb, 2011) and for the most part early adopters.

It might be cool to scan a QR code or check in to get a discount at the Gap on Four Square but until a critical mass is engaged in those activities it’s hard to build effective campaigns around it.

Just a few examples of how Texting can be used in DOOH:

Mobile Commerce:
Text “JOE” to 444 222
Viewers of theBITE (our show) can text to download the latest single from musical artist Joe Jonas.

Extending Content: 
Text “MIGGS” to 444 222
Viewers can text to download trailers and additional content to their mobile devices and take the content with them.

Product Information: 
Text “NTL” to 444 222
Viewers of theBITE can text to receive information about advertising on the network.

We are not 100% sold that QR codes don’t have a role in DOOH but we are leaning more toward texting as our main method of engagement with our viewers.   We will soon be testing a few different QR code campaigns and comparing the results to what we are currently seeing with texting.  One thing we do see as necessary for our model for QR codes to work is to air the campaigns full screen so that the code is large enough to scan from a distance and prominent enough to get the viewers attention.  I am curious to also measure the different between engagement with the QR code on a 15 sec ad and on a 30.  Intuition tells me that the longer the code is on the screen, the better chance someone will make the effort to take out their phones and see how close they need be to the screens to scan it.

Here is a similar position as we have on texting and QR codes from a small company named CBS.

CBS exec: SMS more valuable than QR codes

By Lauren Johnson

September 14, 2011

One of CBS’ new SMS-enabled ads

Broadcast network CBS has opted for SMS calls to action as opposed to QR codes within its print advertisments to draw in primetime viewers.

CBS is creating buzz for its fall lineup that includes five new series with SMS calls to action, which let consumers learn more about the TV shows. The ads bridge mobile, video and print.

“Everyone has phones that support SMS,” said Philippe Browning, vice president of advertising and operations at CBS Mobile, New York.
Full Article…



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