QR code void

The emergence of QR codes in the American marketplace has been precarious at best. Arriving (in earnest) about a decade after their adoption in Japan and partially in Europe, they were never sufficiently presented to the public. No mass adoption by advertisers and the lack of an education campaign from a large proponent all helped to hinder their acceptance by John Q. Public. Slowly, but surely, large advertisers began to include QR codes in their campaigns. A few cutting edge real estate agents began including them on home listings.  Best Buy asked employees to scan a QR code to declare the mood they were in. Macy’s actually produced a :30-second national TV ad telling people what they were and how to use them to get more information on their “Backstage Pass” promotion.

According to a Feb. 2011 study by MGH, they found that 65% of smartphone users have seen a QR code and 32% of smartphone users have scanned them. Serving as more encouragement to advertisers, 72% of respondents said they would be more likely to remember an ad with a QR code in it. However, comScore’s study in August 2011 were -I think- more realistic. It showed that 6.2% of mobile phone users in the United States had scanned a QR code.

Even if the number was as low as five percent, I would love to capture that attention and bring them to our content.

Setting Up a QR Codes Test

As the Director of Marketing for Moss Bros. Auto Group, I decided that QR codes were worth a test for us in 2012. I devised a plan to utilize cross promotion for our social media efforts. On our websites, we created a page that provided links to all of our social media sites. The goal was to make it as easy as possible for people to find us, then Like us (or Follow, subscribe, etc.) without having to search their favorite social media site for our Page.

We then created QR codes for each store that linked to that webpage. They were inserted in key test media: newspapers (to determine usage among older, more affluent shoppers), direct mail (to test more general market usage) and in-store posters (to determine showroom activity). The test was launched in January 2012. To alleviate any “education” issues, the codes were almost always shown with instruction to “scan” and what they would be scanning for (how to join us on social media) with the promise of exclusive sales or service savings.

The Success Stories

None. (That was easy.)

The Challenges

Throughout the entire test period, we never registered more than single digit scans each week per media. Keep in mind, we are the largest automotive advertiser in our local newspaper which boasts a circulation of 100,000+ daily copies and up to 140,000 on a holiday weekend. We run half-page or full-page ads depending on the dealership and they are run each weekend. After eight months of testing, results never improved. Direct mail scan rates were nearly identical to newspaper. In-store scans usually registered a big donut on most weeks.

Now that we have passed the two largest automotive sales weekends of the year (Memorial & Labor Day), I can sufficiently say this idea has been tested. Despite the implementation of QR codes across multiple media, the usage by the market was nearly flat line. Prominent position, instructions for use, and incentive to scan resulted in a disappointing test result.

The Decision to End the Test

Shortly after lunch this afternoon and a review of the usage patterns, I made the decision to end the test. There is no question that a better usage of the real estate once occupied by the QR codes could be found. It will give us additional room in our ads for layout, less clutter in an already busy automotive ad campaign, and more time for my website administrator who was creating the QR codes and generating reports for me.

I certainly don’t view this as a failure. It was a test. A learning experience. My take away lessons are:

  1. QR codes are still not generally known, accepted, or used by the mass market, especially on a local level.
  2. The average newspaper reader may not be a good demographic in which to eventually implement a QR code campaign
  3. I can improve an eventual inclusion of QR codes with greater promotion and education.

If you have a different experience with QR codes, I’d love to hear about it. Please leave your story as a comment below. In the meantime, I’ll be trying to scan the new augmented reality (AR) tag on the Mars rover, Curiosity.

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