Tag Archives: QR

Brain Quest Should Think Smarter About Using QR Codes

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.

image: Brain Quest Box

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.

image: Brain Quest QR code

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 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.

Kingsford Charcoal Burns Up a Matrix Code

I’m a griller. That is, I like to cook food on a grill. A charcoal grill to be specific (gas grill lovers, stand down!). So it should be no surprise that, when given the chance, I buy my charcoal in bulk. In other words, I buy it at Costco.

It’s springtime, so Costco is probably – pardon the pun – burning through the bags of Kingsford – specially packaged in a two 18lb pack just for Costco. Interesting. Kingsford offers a pack of charcoal you can ONLY get through Costco. Shows you the purchasing power of Costco, right?

image: Kingsford Briquettes with 2D code

Not only do I NOT see these ‘Competition’ briquettes anywhere else but I never see Kingsford in 18lb bags (let alone two bags).

Notice, though, the “Value Size” highlight that includes the call to action, “Scan for grilling tips and tricks”.

image: Kingsford 2D Code Call-to-Action

Next to that is a…. barcode? It kind of looks like a QR code but it’s not quite right. Looks different somehow. Having scanned many  barcodes I grab my Android phone and tap to start the i-nigma app, which seems good at scanning most barcodes. The result:

image: Kingsford Briquettes i-nigma scan result

Uh. No good. Ok, how about I try another scanner app, this one from ScanLife.

image:Kingsford Briquettes 2D code Error

Still no good. Ok, how about the ShopSavvy App?: Nope won’t scan.

Ok, um Barcode Scanner?: Huh Uh. Returns just a a number, 05415400001013127.

What about RedLaser? That’s a good app!: Grr.. won’t scan.

QuickMark app?: Same as above, just a number.

The package says go to scan.mobi to get a scanner but why should I? I already have half a dozen of them. And none of them work!

I’m done. FAIL.


What could have saved this campaign?

The world of 2D barcodes as a marketing tactic is still relatively new. Many marketers, designers, printers and entrepreneurs understand that a 2D code can help drive traffic to a web site, video, or even a contact card. What they don’t understand is the mobile user, who doesn’t have the time or patience to download an app just to scan a barcode when they (rightfully so) have already done that in order to scan some other, similar looking code.

Kingsford (hopefully not at the insistence of our friends at Costco who’s headquarters are  a few miles away) has, for two years running, chosen to use a proprietary 2D barcode system proffered by AT&T Mobile Barcode Services. Like Microsoft Tags, codes created with this service – technically Matrix codes – can only be read by the scanning app offered by the barcode system itself. In this case, AT&T’s Code Scanner.  Who among the barcode scanning, smartphone toting world has an AT&T Code Scanner app? No one.

Kingsford has lacked the guidance that would show them that there is a serious battle among only two players in the 2D barcode world, QR codes and Microsoft Tags and any other proprietary code is the equivalent of dead on arrival.

Simply put, they needed to use a QR code.

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 (https://s3.amazonaws.com/mitef-nfc/pdf/MITEF-NFC-whitepaper.pdf) .

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.