Monthly Archives: October 2011

15 Simultaneous QR Fails by Butler at Home

It came in the mail with the rest of the ‘junk.’ Every U.S. household receives them in one form or another. Sometimes the coupon offers are stacked inside a Valpak envelope. This one, from The Butler At Home, is in booklet format in glossy full color.

This month, as you can see, there is a QR code displayed just above the mailing label.  Nice. It even comes with at least some attempt at instructions, “Scan with Smartphone”, though I’m not sure anyone new to the whole QR code thing would get it. (In fact, there was an older student in the course I teach at the University of Washington who, when told to scan the QR on the coffee cup simply waved his new iPhone phone over the code in a conjuring motion, like waving a magic wand. He had no idea what ‘scan’ meant.)

I went ahead and scanned the code and, you guessed it, I was directed to the Butler at Home main web site. To be fair, the home page wasn’t too bad. Clicking through, though resulted in long lists of offers in type too small to tap with fingers like mine (they’re not sausages but they aren’t dainty either). Oh, well.

I then spent the next 15 minutes or so flipping through the coupon book for other QR codes. There were 14 others on a variety of ads for companies ranging from restaurants to furniture:

  1. Pearl Bar & Dining
  2. Valentine Roofing
  3. Intuitive Integration
  4. Le Grand Bistro
  5. Discount Tile Outlet
  6. Solatube Daylighting
  7. Solarstar Attic Fans
  8. Queen Anne Upholstery
  9. Woodmark Homes
  10. Ballard Refinishers
  11. Agave Cocina& Cantina
  12. Bath Simple (more about this one below)
  13. RC Concrete
  14. Eastside Insulation

Not ONE of these codes direct you to a mobile web site/page. Not one.

A couple of the sites were marginal at best; if I were really motivated I might find what I was looking for. The rest were what you’d expect. Terrible.

There was one I couldn’t test though, the one for Bath Simple. Here’s a pic.

The QR code had been reduced to such a small size that my QR scanner wouldn’t scan it.

Notably, all but the Butler at Home and Bath Simple codes were created using – I noticed the common domain before being redirected. The former two were linked directly to their respective sites. It’s almost as if the QR effort was coordinated centrally by The Butler at Home. Maybe they shouldn’t do that.



What could have saved this campaign?

This is one the flimsiest efforts at ‘doing mobile’ that I’ve ever seen. It appears that there was some level of central coordination by Butler Publications but the result was the same mistake made over and over and over. Here are a couple redeeming thoughts:

  1. Point the QR codes to mobile web sites/pages. This is painfully obvious but so basic.
  2. Have the QR codes actually deliver the offer to the mobile device. The QR could start a text message that requests the $10 lunch certificate. Then I might actually go there for lunch in the next day or two.
  3. Dedicate some space at the front of the booklet describing these new fangled square things.  Tell them that they need a scanner app and where to get one.
  4. Coach your advertisers on how to give a decent mobile experience by building a simple mobile landing page. There are free services they can use to do this.

iLoop Showcases Super8 Mobile Fail

I’ve been receiving promotional SMS messages from iLoop Mobile. Their “iLoop Market” program is intended to showcase mobile campaigns that iLoop thinks are good and interesting. Last week’s iLoop Market offering arrived on-time and on-schedule. Here’s what they like:

So far so good. I tap the url (, which looks like it was made for mobile so my expectations start to rise (seriously, few sites are actually made for mobile). Here’s what I see as I hold my phone in the ‘normal’ (i.e., vertical) position:

Hmm. Made for mobile? Doesn’t look like it. I try rotating the phone to check the horizontal view – maybe it was made for a wider screen (e.g., iPad)?

Hmm. The sky and clouds. I scroll down to see the menu I already caught a glimpse of a second ago.

This is starting to look better. It fits the width of the screen nicely and doesn’t require any horizontal scrolling. Though, why I had to scroll down so far to see it I don’t know. Curious about the movie I tap the VIDEO link. I’m taken to a page with the word ‘TRAILER’ and an image. I try tapping the image. The screen flickers but nothing seems to be happening. I click again. Same. Then, I notice the notifications area on the top of my phone. Something appears to be downloading. Hmm. Ok. I open the notifications screen and see that I’m downloading two copies of a file with a HUGE name that ends in ‘.tv’. I’m assuming this is a trailer for the movie. I cancel one download and 8 minutes(!) later have a video to watch.

Notice the file size – more than 5 megabytes; they could have warned me.. This video is larger than most apps I’ve downloaded. Well, I waited long enough for the download, I look forward watching it. I tap the video and a very high quality video starts to play.

Problem is, I don’t hear anything. It is a silent trailer? I put my ear closer to the phone’s speaker and while I do hear something it is soooo quiet. I have to keep my ear so close to the phone that I can’t watch at the same time. The audio is also messed up somehow. The voices sound like they are under water. I can’t understand a word.


I go back to the web site and try tapping ‘UPDATES’. A page loads that asks for my phone number, email and birthdate.

They don’t really tell me what they propose to ‘update’ me on. Hmmm. I’m on a mobile phone so I guess they’ll send stuff to my phone but why do they want my email and birthdate? Reluctantly I enter the information (though I did shave a few years off the birthdate!), check the “I hereby certify” box and tap Submit. A largely blank page loads thanking me for signing up and assuring me I’ll be the first to know about all the latest news for Super8 (apparently things will be changing often). A minute or so later I receive a text-message from 33287:

Really? They want my date of birth? I JUST entered it into the web page along with my email and mobile number!  They already know my (fake) birthdate. I’m not doing this.



What could have saved this campaign?

Well before we get into how this should be fixed I want to acknowledge that I received the url from iLoop Mobile and not from Paramount. I don’t know if Paramount intended for the URL to be accessed from anything other than an iPad, on which it works well. iLoop, however, should know better than to promote such a broken experience. Is this what their clients can expect? I’m just sayin’.

First, this site needs to fit the screen in the vertical position. This is the most natural and likely position from which someone will be clicking on the url from an SMS.

Second, the image of the sky and clouds is cool but this is mobile. Get me to the content without making me scroll down. The link menu on the web site should be ‘above the fold’.

Third, the font needs additional contrast. It’s dark grey over black and some of it is very, very small. Mobile – and the inherent variety of devices/screens – calls for something more crisp and easy to read.

Fourth, use a lower quality video, and stream it rather than download it to the device; space can be precious on mobile devices. This also helps you be data-plan friendly; not all users have unlimited data and 5mb is a good size chunk of a person’s data plan. If you insist on the high quality be sure to tell people up front. Video is a challenge in the mobile environment so be sure to test on many devices and networks.

Fifth, tell users what they are going to receive updates on and by what means. The subscription page asked for both mobile number and email address. What will be sent to these? Set a clear expectation here.

Sixth,  explain why you want – and require – a birthdate. Blatant and unexplained solicitation of data creates suspicion, particularly in a personal medium like mobile.

Seventh, connect the databases. The subscription page required a mobile number and a birthdate. The resulting SMS should reflect that knowledge and NOT ask for birthdate again. It should simply thank the person for subscribing and ask them to confirm by replying with “YES” or “OK”.

Eighth, test the program on multiple devices. This one worked ok on an iPad using WiFi but completely broke down on an Android phone using 3G service.

MIT Enterprise Forum NFC Fail

Last week I attended the MIT Enterprise Forum on Near Field Communications (NFC). This is the Northwest chapter of the Forum and was held at the Museum of History and Industry in Seattle. On the way into the museum I noticed an 8 1/2″ x 11″ sheet of paper taped to the cement pillar to the left of the many entrance doors.

The paper had a QR code on it but didn’t tell you what would happen if you scanned it. I didn’t scan it. (In-part because I’ve been trying out a Windows Phone and I had yet to download a scanner.) I continued inside to the conference.

After the conference ended I had more time to stop, get a scanner, and scan the code. What a surprise! The QR code was pointed directly at a .pdf file hosted on the Amazon cloud servers ( .

The .PDF was a 28 page whitepaper on Near Field Communications!

Was I supposed to read this on my phone? I tried zooming in to the point where the type was legible but then I was forced to pan across the page twice in order to read a single line. Panning on a smartphone is both a side-t0-side and up-and-down affair so as I was panning the line of text was also floating up and down as my finger wasn’t dragging it perfectly sideways. Kind of makes you seasick.



What could have saved this campaign?

I understand what the organizers were trying to do here, distribute the NFC whitepaper to attendees. But was it their intention the people have the whitepaper in their hand to refer to during the conference? There were printed versions available to attendees for that purpose. To their credit, the mechanics worked fine. The scan resulted in a download.  Saving this campaign, however, would have required a different approach:

First, it’s never a good idea to tie a QR code directly to an asset url such as a document or video, which this one is. QR codes should point to urls than can be redirected at the conclusion of a campaign. In addition, if the url of the actual doc/video ever changes – particularly if it’s hosted somewhere like YouTube – the QR code will no longer work. Not good if something is in print or worse, tattooed.

Second, a mobile phone is no place for a 28 page document. On the Android phone (on which I also tested this campaign) there’s no easy way to get the document off the device. You can’t attach it to an email and side-loading is a hassle.  Instead, the QR might have either initiated  a new email where the user could then email the link to themselves or it might have landed the user on a page where they could input their email address in order to receive links to the whitepaper as well as video or pictures of the actual conference. The idea is to use the ‘in-the-moment’ impulse of mobile to secure a future contact or interaction, not necessarily to be the delivery agent of the content.