Monthly Archives: February 2011

Essence Magazine Just Can’t Get Mobile

Essence Magazine has a thing for 2D barcodes. They have used them many times and as often as not fail to get them to work.  In the December issue – one that we’ve talked about here before – they have a special advertising section promoting the Essence Musicimage: Essence Magazine Festival Ad Festival, which is said to be, “the nation’s largest annual gathering of African-American musical talent.”

Eager to give the interested reader something more than can be conveyed in print the editors chose to add a mobile element to the ad using a Microsoft Tag. The difference this time is that they created a branded version of the proprietary barcode by using a background image of two men, presumably jazz musicians. This sort of customization is an interesting feature of the MS Tag service but it can obscure the fact that it is a barcode that calls for scanning.

So, out comes the HTC Hero (is this phone already a relic?) and I pull up the Microsoft Tag reader application. I’m fully anticipating a YouTube video as that is where all the Essence tags seem to be pointed – with varyingimage: Essence Magazine MS Tag degrees of success.  The reader app opens and I point it at the custom tag, careful to frame it completely inside the viewfinder. Nothing happens. Try again. Nope. Apparently the reader can’t recognize the custom tag as one of its own.

Fail. Again.


What could have saved this campaign?

In the Microsoft Tag implementation guide there is a section of Dos and Don’ts. Putting aside the suggestion about localization 6 of the 8 remaining Dos are about one thing, testing. Test on a variety of devices, browsers and operating systems. Test with actual users. Test in the actual environment. Finally, test the tag after it’s been printed. Test, test, test.

I’ll add one more. Test the tag before you print 1 million copies. Test it from a high-quality printed proof layout. It’s one thing if your target url or video is broken. With MS Tag you can re-point your tag to a different page. But if your code can’t even be scanned there is no going back – you’ve got a permanently broken experience.

How Not To Use A QR Code On A Catalog

SOG Specialty Knives and Tools has just released their 2011 product catalog. It’s a very nice piece with 60 pages of full-color product pictures and specifications. Having thumbed through it I think the Arcitech (A01 -p) model with the jigged bone handle and Arc-Lock suits me best. At almost $500 it’s a bit on the pricey side, though worth every penny, I’m sure.

The interesting thing is what they put on the back cover of the catalog. Along the bottom is a one-inch high space that includes a standard barcode on the right, a badge from the American Knife and Tool Institute (who knew such a thing existed?) on the far left and in the center is a QR code. Under the QR code is some instructions to, “Scan the QR Code to find out more about SOG Knives & Tools.” Hmm. OK. Not really sure what else they could tell me that isn’t in this gorgeous catalog already but I’ll give it a go.

image: SOG Knives Catalog

Back Cover

Whoops! My NeoReader app doesn’t recognize the code. I try Google Goggles but it only recognizes the text, not the QR code.

Sigh, another QR code fail.


What could have saved this campaign?

The problems here are many but the primary issue is that the QR Code has been cropped by the designer or layout person. It needs to have a white border of at least a few pixels. The border was there when the code was created but was cropped out when placed onto the catalog. Of course, some basic testing prior to print would have caught this.

I guess the good news is that the placement of the code makes it appear to be something required by the postal service. No one will scan it.

We can only presume that the code is pointed to Had the scan been successful we’d have had a different kind of fail; their web site is – as you might guess – rich with images and flat-out not fit for viewing from a mobile device.

Verizon FAILS to follow MMA Rules for SMS

Anyone who has ever implemented an SMS campaign in the U.S. using a common shortcode knows how challenging it can be to conform to all the guidelines and best practices.  For those of you who don’t know, these rules are a common set agreed upon by the MMA and the mobile operators like AT&T and Verizon. They lay out key elements

image: CanYouHearMeNow?

that must be present in any SMS campaign in order to be ‘certified’ to run your program across the carrier networks. These include disclosures about the price of messages, if any, as well as the handling of universal functions that apply to all programs such as the ability for the end user to learn more about your program by sending the word ‘HELP’ or to opt-out by sending ‘STOP, END, CANCEL, UNSUBSCRIBE or QUIT.’

As more programs have launched these rules, while sometimes challenging to follow, have helped reduced SMS spam and provide a safe environment in which users can feel free participating in SMS programs knowing they can always stop the delivery of messages to their phone. The mobile operators have done right in agreeing to these standards.


The rules don’t apply to the operators themselves. Here’s the latest SMS marketing effort by Verizon:
Free Verizon Msg: You currently have a 250 text messaging package to upgrade to our $10/500 text package, reply “TEN” to this message to sign-up.  Excess messages billed at $0.10 sent/received.  To stop Msgs reply X.

Uh, “To stop Msgs reply X?” What the hell is that? Where’s the ‘STOP’ keyword required by the MMA and enforced by Verizon themselves? Was there nowhere they could save a few characters so that ‘stop’ would fit? Hardly.


In fact, I didn’t even explicitly opt-in to these messages per another set of MMA rules. But I won’t go there. What’s the point? You see the hypocrisy.


What could have saved this campaign?

Well, I think the answer here is obvious. If Verizon had simply followed the MMA rules they require everyone else to follow this simply would have been an annoying message rather than a failure.

Additional relevance might also have saved it. Had the message stated that I am consistently over my 250 msg plan this message would turn into a customer service rather than blatant spam thereby diminishing the importance of the opt-out clause. As-is, why would I upgrade if  I’m only averaging 200 messages?

Rutgers FAILS Promoting Mobile MBA

Last week Rutgers announced a new ‘mini’ MBA Mobile Marketing program. The program, offered in multiple formats and taught by assorted Rutgers professors and industry professionals, requires 30-36 hours and 10 full sessions to complete.  It sounds like a very interesting program:

“The Mini-MBA certificate program helps participants design, manage, and track mobile-marketing programs and campaigns. It provides the business case for integrating and leveraging mobile into marketing plans, as well as practical and tactical uses of mobile tools.”

Also interesting is that the course materials are delivered on a program-supplied iPad and iTouch.;  though it doesn’t state if those are yours to keep after you ‘graduate.’

All this is very cool until you discover the QR code they are using to promote the program, presumably in an effort to walk-the-talk and give a glimpse into how mobile can be used to bridge digital and non-digital realms.

image: Rutgers MBA QR

There’s nothing wrong with the QR code itself. It’s fine. It’s a standard 2D code and scans easily enough. The problem, an inexcusable one given the context, is that the code takes you to a website that is not optimized for mobile viewing.  You’ve got to be kidding me.



What could have saved this campaign?

Well, I think the answer here is obvious, create a mobile-optimized site or landing page where mobile users can have a good experience and perhaps learn more about the program.

You might argue that there isn’t a real solid use-case here for mobile and that the QR code shouldn’t have been created in the first place. After all, who’s going to research continuing education from their mobile phone? But Rutgers chose to create a QR code – which are mobile almost by definition – and is positioning themselves as qualified to teach mobile marketing. Perhaps they’re not.