AT&T Has Its Own Barcode – Fail

If you’ve read many of the FAILs on this site you won’t be very surprised to see another one tied to the use of a QR (Quick Response) code. That is, unless it comes from one of the largest mobile companies on the planet.

MediaPost has an ad running (or did) in its November 10 edition of the MobileMarketingDaily email publication. The entire email (well, the three prominent ads in it) appeared to be

image: AT&T Barcode Banner ad

AT&T Barcode Banner Ad

dedicated to a promotion  for Mobile Barcodes from AT&T (Mobility).  I was curious about this, wondering if AT&T was trying to commercialize a technology that is for all intents and purposes free.  So, of course, I clicked one of the ads.

I was presented with a rather nice flash-based landing page promoting the AT&T Mobile Barcode Service.  The main thrust of the page is to get you to watch a video. On the main landing page there’s a video for marketers and on the “Experience” page the video teaches consumers about mobile barcodes. Oddly, neither of the videos or the site use the term ‘QR code’, which made me wonder if the lawyers made them strike it for potential copyright issues.

The other call-to-action, aside from the standard request for more info, is “Want to scan this barcode? Click here.”

image: AT&T Scan now bubble

Cool! Ok. I clicked and out popped a fairly large image of a barcode/QR code and beneath it instructions to “..visit on your Smartphone to download the free code scanner app.” Do I really need to download a new reader?  I already have 4 barcode scanners on my HTC Hero but one is forimage: AT&T barcode Microsoft Tag and the other is built into a Best Buy app. MS Tag is clearly different – to me, at least – and the Best Buy app probably only works on consumer products, though I don’t really know. I’ve had good luck with NeoReader scanning barcodes in magazines and such so I popped open NeoReader. One of the AT&T videos mentioned using barcodes in magazines so this seems to make sense. Scanning the code NeoReader said it found: “Code: 5415400001005399″. That’s funny, I usually get a URL. Oh well. I select ‘continue’ and let the app do the work. I end up on the NeoReader site,, where I see an error message saying that the code is invalid.
image: AT&T QR Error

Hmm.. Maybe I’ll try a different scanner. I try the ShopSavvy app. Nope. ShopSavvy doesn’t even recognize it as a barcode at all. Grrr.. Do I really need to use the scanning app that AT&T told me about from Seriously? No, I won’t, and neither will most people.


There is no way that QR codes are going to proliferate if each style of code requires its own scanner. To be fair, however, I downloaded the app, which is proudly provided by MobileTag, and it worked perfectly. Great. Now I have 5 barcode readers.


What could have saved this campaign?
Well, it isn’t really a campaign as much as it is a puzzling decision to use a technology that requires it’s own scanner/reader. But there is the issue. Why would the second largest mobile operator in the U.S. use a proprietary technology or, at best, a technology that is not compatible with others in the market? The only thing that will save this is to make the barcodes they’ve committed to scanable by other barcode readers. They may, indeed, have the best barcode technology and reader but at this point they need compatibility; too many smartphone holders have a scanner app already installed.

Oddly, the ad in the MediaPost email that I clicked on was no longer available 4 hours after I received it. Clicking on it takes you to the MediaPost CMS platform provider, Maybe AT&T discovered their problem?

2 thoughts on “AT&T Has Its Own Barcode – Fail

  1. Andy Sanders

    Totally agree with you on AT&T requiring their own scanner rather than just encoding a direct URL. Lame!

    As for why AT&T didn’t use the term QR code… um, maybe because it’s not a QR code?!? It’s a Datamatrix code. The appropriate generic terminology is “2D barcode.”

  2. Pingback: How to Harness the Power of 2D Barcodes — GigaOM Research

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