Category Archives: barcodes

JagTag Admits Defeat, Goes With QR Instead

Women’s beauty/fashion/lifestyle magazines are crazy with the mobile barcodes. Well, to be more precise, the ads in those magazines are crazy with mobile barcodes. Rarely do I ever see an article with a barcode that says, “Check out exclusive behind the scenes video of this interview/fashion shoot/celebrity, right from your mobile phone!” I guess advertisers are quicker on the uptake than publishers.

This month, my wife received the usual Marie Claire and of course I was the first to flip through the pages (the fact that Katie Holmes is on the cover has nothing to do with it). There are 8 barcodes. Five QR codes, two Microsoft Tags (more on this in a later post), and one barcode that was confusing. It looked like a QR code with the three squares in the corners but wasn’t your typical QR code. Plus it came with a slew of instructions as you’ll see.

See? It looks like a QR code. Curious, as always, I read the fine-print to see what they are saying I should do and it becomes clear; it’s a JagTag. The instructions say to take a picture with my camera-phone and email it to them. Unless I’m on AT&T or Verizon in which case I can send via MMS to a shortcode.

I’m on Sprint so I email the pic to the address given. Several minutes later I received an email (not text-message) that said, among other things: “..Click the link to watch how Advanced Color Lock Technology works.” Admittedly, this was more than the magazine ad promised to show me, which was nothing. So I clicked the link – IN MY EMAIL – and was greeted by the screenshot below.

Nice, Huh? This is a verrry tiny, eentsy weentsy video player. It’s hard to tell, I know. Here’s the closeup:

This is almost exactly the size of the video that I’m looking at on my 21″ iMAC screen. Watching the video I see that it is a 30 second commercial! Very much like you would see on the TV.  No behind the scenes scientist describing how this fantastic product is so super-awesome due to it’s polymer stuff. No bloopers of a scientist giving away trade-secrets. Nothing. A stupid ad. Sheesh.

Beyond disappointed at this point I close my browser and dream of a day when desktop computers go away and all marketing experiences will be designed for mobile exclusively.



What could have saved this campaign?

I don’t need to go into the details about the use of JagTags. They were covered nicely in this post and the campaign above has identical issues. The primary issues with JagTags are:

  • Confusing and cumbersome call-to-action (MMS vs Email depending on mobile service operator),
  • The number of steps required by the user, and
  • The fact that when a user engages via email (i.e. Sprint and T-Mobile users) the content delivered is the same as gets delivered over SMS/MMS. It’s a terrible experience and one that assumes I’m reading the email from my phone.

What is really interesting about this campaign is that the folks at JagTag have finally recognized that QR codes have killed the JagTag. The ‘JagTag’ in this campaign is, indeed, a QR code. In fact the instructions even tell you that you can scan it with a QR code reader:

As a show of reluctance to give in to the QR code completely these instructions were sheepishly added at the end rather than up-front where they might have saved the user time.

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.

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.

HenryGill’s QR Fails In The Wild Blue Yonder

Not long ago I was flying. Well, actually, I was sitting while the Frontier Airlines pilot was flying. And as we sailed along I had the opportunity to check out the seat pocket in front of me as a way of killing some time without having to work. I pulled out the May edition of Wild Blue Yonder, the in-flight magazine for this little airline.  The cover promised information about Colorado, which happened to be my destination. Nice.

Thumbing through the short articles (did you know Frontier Airlines will accept bicycles as regular checked baggage?) I came across an article on The New Mobile Office. Butimage: HenryGill QR chaos ad before I started to read I noticed the full-page ad on the opposite page. “Turn chaos into a quick response,” it shouted in all caps. Above those words, and taking up almost half the ad was a cleverly designed QR code. Each ‘pixel’ was made up of some type of media device. There were TVs, boomboxes, newspaper receptacles (more of a media receiving device, I guess) and billboards.

Notably, all the ‘devices’ were decidedly old-school but wrapped into a new media interaction technique. A technique that required me to use my mobile phone, which was powered off as is customary and required during air travel.

How was I supposed to scan a QR code while 30,000 feet above the ground? Even if my phone were on (and in ‘airplane’ mode) how would I possibly connect to whatever destination the QR would take me? Sigh.


I put the magazine in my briefcase. I intended to scan the code when I got on the ground.

[Update] Since the in-flight fail two things have happened.

  1. I scanned the code a day or two later when I returned to the office and emptied my briefcase. The scan directed my phone to the decidedly non mobile-friendly HenryGill web site. Fail #2.
  2. Re-scanning the code for this blog entry resulted in, well, nothing. I couldn’t get any of my many scanners to recognize the QR.  Fail #3.


What could have saved this campaign?

Here’s what I think happened. HenryGill’s designers created what they thought was a clever ad as part of their print media campaign. Then they handed it over to the media buyers who purchased space in Wild Blue Yonder and probably – well, hopefully –  several other magazines. Media buyers aren’t there to question the ad design and they aren’t used to thinking about context in which an ad will be read – or rather, interacted with. This is where they were set up for the initial fail. HenryGill as an agency just isn’t up-to-speen with mobile across their various departments. Specifically, the media buyers didn’t realize that the design was a QR code that was meant to be scanned by a mobile phone connected to the Internet.

The second fail was something all too common, a non-mobile web site; the remedy for which should be obvious. Companies need to stop pointing their QR codes at their regular web site. It’s an automatic fail from a user experience perspective.

The third fail is something new! It’s a problem with the design. The images they used as ‘pixels’ for the QR code aren’t a solid color and there isn’t enough contrast between the little images and the white background of the page. Without enough contrast QR scanners can’t read it. The ink used for print has faded just enough in 4 months as to make the code un-readable.

Old-School Doritos Fails With Smartphones

In an odd twist in the world of mobile marketing Doritos’ recent mobile promotion seemed geared more toward non-smartphones..

I recently bought a small bag of Doritos to accompany me on my drive home from work. Advertised on a full 1/4 of the bag of Cool Ranch chips they lead with the offerimage: Doritos Promo that “You could become a Green Lantern in an upcoming comic” and also “win 1000s of other prizes plus a free digital comic”. This was intriguing (me? the next Green Lantern?) and really made me want to learn how.

The process was laid out in three numbered steps. The first one said “Text HERO to CHIPS”. Hmm. Ok. Opening the messaging app on my Nexus S I type ‘chips’ into the To: box and ‘Hero’ into the message body and hit Send. Oop! I get an error that says, “Cannot sent this message. Your message has no valid recipients.” Grrr..


Step two says to “enter the 9-digit code from the front of the bag” but at this point I have nowhere to enter it. I don’t even try step three seeing how I can’t even get past step 1.

Fortunately they also offered a QR code for us smartphone users. Scanning it, I was taken to what I figured was a web page but what now appeared to be just an image that only filled a portion of the screen and had text too small to read.

image: Doritos Site
Confused, I tried zooming in. Nope. Can’t zoom. Hmmmm. Try again. No zoom but this time my pinching scrolled the page a bit; there was something below the image. I scrolled deliberately this time and revealed text that told me that the campaign ended on 7/31. Bummer, I really wanted to be the next Green Lantern.


What could have saved this campaign?

First, this wasn’t a complete fail. People carrying feature phones (i.e., non-smartphones) were probably able to address their text message to ‘Chips’, though it is unclear what that experience might have been. Also, scanning the QR code did result in a page that appeared to be built for mobile viewing.  Here’s what might have happened:

1) Just use the short code in the SMS call-to-action. In the printed context there is no need for the assisted recall mechanism of having a real-word equivalent. The use of real words in place of shortcodes was made obsolete by smartphones, which don’t have number/letter dial pads. If you do use the word then also indicate the number so smartphone users can play.

2) Give instructions for scanning the QR code. According to Comscore only 15% of smartphone users scanned QR codes in June 2011. That means there are likely a lot of people who don’t know the process.

3) Provide on-going engagement. Printed promotions like this will often be picked up and tried even after the promotion itself is over. This is an opportunity to engage in a variety of ways including asking for opt-in to future promotions.

Guinness Tries Mobile With a JagTag

Jon and I were at The Trumpeter after work yesterday when, along with our pints we were offered an opportunity to “Take The Guinness Challenge This March” (It was July). The coasters under our beers (not Guinness, alas) were printed with this challenge along with instructions to “Take A Pic. Text It In.” and an image that looks a little like a QR Code or maybe a black and white version of a Microsoft Tag (the kind with dots).Image: Guinness JAGTAG Coaster

The details of the promotion say, “Feeling bold? Show us what you’ve got! Send us a photo of this JAGTAG.” My first thought was, if we’re all taking pictures of the same JAGTAG how will we show how bold we are? Not sure, but I continue reading. It appears that AT&T and Verizon customers can send the pic to a short code, 524824, but all others have to email it to “Look for a bold response, ” it says. Ok.

I’m on Sprint so I grab my phone and open a QR reader app. Oops! This isn’t a QR code. For this I need to open the camera. (I’ve become accustomed to seeing QR codes so opening I-nigma or some other reader has become almost second nature when I see promotions with little square data-matrix-looking images).  So I send a picture of the tag to the email address listed and wait. My Nexus S uses Gmail to send email so rather than wait for the mail to come in and send a notification to my phone I just switch over to the Gmail app.

I bailed out at this point and continued later that night from my computer; this is no longer a mobile experience.

The reply from Guinnessmarch to my picture is an email with a link to a video. It won’t play on my computer. Tapping the link on my phone, the video plays for 5-10 seconds and then stops and leaves me staring at a blank page. Backing up and trying again the video doesn’t even start. A bit of a fail there. During this process another email has come in from Guinnessmarch with the subject, “Bold question 1 of 2″ and saying, “Please text back the letter that matches your answer to receive a spot on the team. You are watching basketball and a guy near you is loudly rooting against your team: Do you:
a) Wager him a round
b) Quiet him with stats
c) Victory dance in his face
d) Focus harder on the game
e) Glare at him
f) Change seats

I reply with the letter “C”, the least likely that I would do – Victory dance in his face. A minute or so later I get another email. Subject: “Bold challenge question 2 of 2″  Message: “You prove your team loyalty by painting your:
a) Face.
b) Car.
c) House.
d) Spouse.
e) Boss.
f) Toenails.

I’m tempted to reply with d) but decide to go with f) Toenails. I reply with the word, “toenails”. Several minutes later I get a message that says, “We’re sorry, we could not read a JAGTAG in the image you sent. Please send us a picture with an in-focus JAGTAG in the center of the frame. ” Grrrr. I didn’t send an image. This is a fail as far as I go. I should be able to enter the letter or the single word. Fine. I reply with the letter “F” and receive an email saying,
“You have earned the position of:
Team GUINNESS Shooting Guard
You will take a bold outside shot at a beauty on the dance floor, or make an
inside move on a friend of a friend.  Now shoot for a bolder brew – GUINNESS.
Your player badge will be sent to you shortly.  Download and post it on
Facebook, or use as wallpaper on your phone or computer.
Get more info at  Now step up and order a

I then received another email with this 176px by 144px (QCIF? Really?) image. Pretty small for my computer.

Guinness BadgeIt’s over. Finally.


What could have saved this campaign?

There were quite a few rough spots in this campaign. Let’s start with the use of a JagTag. There is absolutely no reason to over-complicate this promotion by using a JagTag. Thinking about all the steps required to take a picture and send it and then how only some can use MMS and others need to use email it is a curiosity Guinness US even went through with the promotion. They could have simply used SMS or even a QR code, “Text MARCH to 524824″ They clearly already have the shortcode and with SMS you reach many more people with a much more consistent experience. I suspect someone from JagTag was just out pitching their wares and no one was giving Guinness any strategic guidance.

Now to the video. Video is a nice addition to the mobile experience. That is, when it works. In this case Guinness was using a downloaded .3gp video rather than a hosted, streamed video (i.e., This makes sense in some ways because more phones can play a .3gp video than can stream video. But, the video didn’t play on my phone – a problem that could likely have been resolved through additional handset testing. In addition, had they detected that I was trying to access the video using my computer they might have sent a format more compatible with the desktop.

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.

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.

Essence Still Trying (and Failing) With Mobile

Essence magazine has content that they are trying to let mobile readers see. It’s just that, well, you can’t see it.  We’ve written about Essence before here on  I decided to try them again to check in on their latest efforts. Here’s how it went.

The most recent edition of Essence prompts theimage: Essence Mobile Tag reader to scan the (Microsoft) tag to “Tune in to Shake Your Beauty on” Why this is compelling I’m not quite sure but I’m not a subscriber nor do I even read the magazine so perhaps there’s something I don’t know about “Shake Your Beauty.” Also, I can only guess that the tag will take me to a YouTube video based on previous experience but it doesn’t really tell me what I’m in for. Oh, well.

I pull out my HTC Hero and look through several screens of app icons until I find the one for Microsoft Tag Reader. I only do this because I happen to know that this style of barcode is an MS Tag and not because the page tells me it’s a MS Tag.. How many other people will know this? So I scan the code. (On a side-note here, one of the things that I like about he MS Tag is that you are taken directly to the destination rather than having to click ‘OK’ like you do in many other tag readers; one less step.) The scan does indeed appear to be taking me to YouTube, just as I’d guessed. And I’m on an actual video rather than at the Essence channel main page. It appears to be a behind-the-scenes video with Janet Jackson, the cover model this month. So far so good! Now I just need to play the video.  I look around for the superimposed arrow that starts the video but don’t see it. What I do see, however, is an unfortunate line of text at the bottom of the video box:

image: Essence mobile video fail

"Video cannot be played on mobile"

“Video cannot be played on mobile”




What could have saved this campaign?

Essence is getting close with this effort. They really are. That is, they are getting close to moving out of the fail column by having something that actually works. In this case the issue boils down to two things that Essence failed to do, test and re-test.

Someone on Essence marketing team should have rounded up 5 or 6 models of smartphone and tested the experience prior to print.  Any problem that comes up at that point can be solved before printing or, at worst, the tag and call-to-action could be removed.

So testing would have saved the campaign from outright failure but there are other improvements that may help such as a more engaging call-to-action. Tease the reader with a hint about what is ‘behind’ the tag. What’s so special that the reader should pull out their phone and go through all the steps? Additionally, a mobile-optimized web page into which the videos are embedded can allow Essence to control the experience a little better and give the reader additional things to do on their mobile; a direct link to a video is something of a dead-end.