How QR is raising the barcode in marketing
By Karlin Lillington, www.irishtimes.com
Ireland is 10th biggest user of the electronic communication code scanned by mobiles
BIG IN Japan. Not so big elsewhere.
For several years, that has been the general take on QR (quick response) codes – high-density, two dimensional barcodes that can be quickly scanned with a mobile phone.
Extensively used in Japan since 1994, where they are ubiquitous on ads and business cards, the codes are little monotone images made up of an abstract collage of squares and oblongs, though there are other variations – several vendors offer a multiple colour format, for example.
QR codes most often appear in advertisements, and usually link directly to a webpage with more information on a product, service or event.
Market trends worldwide are shifting rapidly. In an international survey of QR code use, Ireland scanned its way into 10th place internationally in January, according to ScanLife, a QR code company that analyses scan use and traffic for its own codes and those from other companies.
QR code traffic has jumped by in excess of 800 per cent this year over last. The US is now the largest user of QR codes, with more than 14 million people scanning away in June alone, according to the most recent ScanLife report.
Over 6 per cent of smartphone users are scanning the codes, found everywhere from products to supermarket displays to magazines to ads on public transport. Some 12 per cent of users even scan them off television, where they appear in ads and on shopping channels.
As usage has accelerated, countries such as China and South Korea have fallen off ScanLife’s top-10 user list while Europe and North and South American nations move upward, helped by booming sales of smartphones.
In other words, QR codes aren’t just about Asia anymore, even if it is not clear whether ScanLife’s data reflects the full QR usage picture in Asia.
And even though there are still plenty of sceptic – a recent Twitter discussion in Ireland indicated not everyone thinks such trends will continue beyond a curiosity-based dalliance – nonetheless analyst Gartner sees the codes on a rising international growth curve. “We are seeing them being used with significant success across most geographies at present,” says David Kenny, country manager of Gartner Ireland. This fits with ScanLife’s evidence – scans from over 125 countries come into its measurement system every day.
Internationally, a major take-up barrier has been that users have to chase down scanning applications themselves and download them to their phones, whereas such software is standard in Asian mobiles. However, dozens are available for free online and from app stores. Many companies online, including Google, let anyone create a QR code linking to any URL for free.
According to Gartner’s 2011 Hype Cycle for Emerging Technologies report, “the use of QR codes is poised to take off in North America once the tipping point – a sufficient number of enabled mobile phones balanced by marketing campaigns employing QR codes – is reached”.
Gartner says the codes are on the “Slope of Enlightenment” phase of its Hype Cycle evaluation tool, where an increasing range of organisations are starting to use the technology. Gartner sees QR codes as “early mainstream” with somewhere between 5-20 per cent adoption, and ranks it as having “high benefit” for organisations.
Part of the attraction is their versatility. They can offer further product details, link to a coupon, a music download, a game or a competition, or provide contact information. They can bring someone directly to a video, a Twitter or Facebook page, download a business card or even auto-dial a contact number.
In Ireland, the codes are becoming more commonplace in advertisements. They are popping up in newspapers and magazines, on print ad inserts, on billboards, on posters in bus shelters and Dart stations, and on television and webpages.
For example, over recent months, estate agents have started to use them in newspaper listings; readers scan a property’s QR code to be taken directly to further information online.
Bus shelter ads for Linkin Park’s latest album used the codes to bring users to an iTunes download page.
Betfair used the codes for a print and online job recruitment campaign. On Dart trains, commuters could scan a code to see a Lucozade promotion for a Katie Taylor boxing match.
Many of these implementations were designed by Dublin digital advertising agency Digital Reach, which has also placed QR codes in campaigns for the Audi A7, Sony Ericsson’s Experia smartphone, and the VW Passat.
“We put a QR code on the car itself, so that if staff were too busy, you could scan the car and get more information or schedule a test drive,” says Digital Reach commercial director Kevin Foley of the Passat campaign.
They are “doing loads” of the codes for advertisements at the moment, he says.
Foley says they use ScanLife’s codes, after meeting the company founders in Barcelona over two years ago and feeling they had an idea that would work – not just the codes, but accompanying analytics that could provide agencies and clients with a better understanding of how a campaign is working.
“We knew would take off. We knew it would be slow, but they would get there,” he says. For clients, “it’s an add-on to your print campaign. Ultimately, it makes print more accountable,” he says.
He thinks QR codes now have momentum in Ireland and “are about 50 per cent there at the moment”.
Will they get there in the end, and become the mainstream force Gartner predicts?
“It really comes down to penetration and understanding from the consumer side. And that’s all beginning to change.”