I have a 3yr old who loves the Brain Quest flash cards. For those not familiar, these are cards with questions that teach things like counting and spelling but also interesting stuff like the order of things (for example setting up a fish tank starts with putting in the plants, then adding water and finally adding the fish) where the cards ask you to put things in the right order. They’re great.
So when it came time to get a present for my son’s friend’s birthday I thought these would be great and headed down to Costco to get the same set my son has. After much rifling through the stacks of card decks I couldn’t find the ones I wanted. Looking at the box of a more advanced set, however, I noticed a QR code. With a small bit of hope I thought perhaps they have a site that can tell me where else I might buy these. Though, it does mention something about an app right above the code (Would the code lead to an app download?). Well, it was worth a shot at least.
I noticed the the designers at Workman Publishing – the creators of Brain Quest products – added their own design touches to the usually plain QR code. I’d recently done a webinar on 2D barcodes, which covers how and how not to add design to a QR code, so I was particularly interested in this code, which included a small cartoon and some colorful swirls.
So out came my Nexus S and with a swype and a tap I had i-Nigma running and I was ready to scan.
Scanning, scanning, scanning… Nothing! i-Nigma couldn’t read the code! Hmm. Rotating the box into better lighting didn’t seem to help, either. I tried another barcode scanner, Red Laser. Nope, didn’t work. Then I tried Scanlife, QuickMark and QR Droid. None of them worked. (Try it yourself and let me know if you are able to get a good scan.)
Disappointed in the failed code, I opened a browser on my phone and just went to the URL printed just under the code. Not surprisingly, it was not a mobile-friendly site but I was determined. After a very slow loading time and much panning and zooming – a painful experience to say the least – I was able to learn that the flash cards were also available down the street at Barnes and Noble. Sheesh.
What could have saved this campaign?
In many ways this is like so many other failed QR efforts. But the fact that they used a custom designed code sets it apart and the campaign finds itself here on http://www.mobilemarketingfail.com.
Designer QR Code – Generally, I don’t recommend brands do much if any design alterations to QR codes. Only a minority of mobile phone users know what they are and what to do and the less they look like a QR code the less likely people are to engage. That said, QR codes come with a certain amount of error correction that allows the code to work even if parts of the all-important pixels are obscured. Unfortunately in this case the combination of the cartoon and the swirls rendered it unreadable. Had they simply done one or the other the code would work (I tested this by removing the swirls using an image editor).
Testing – I say this so often my eyes roll involuntarily when I do. So, once again, had this QR been tested prior to a full production run of packaging (by scanning the print proof) this could have been caught and fixed.
Instructions – QR codes in general are still not mainstream. Only smartphones are capable of it and less than 25% of smartphone holders scan codes. If you want to create engagement with the code you need to add instructions (learn more on how to use QR codes).
A Mobile-Friendly Experience – If a 2D barcode is directing to a web site, it had better be designed for mobile. If not, the scan will be the end of the engagement.