Over the last few weeks I’ve started to see quite a few little black ‘maze’ icons (like the one above) on advertisements in papers and magazines here in the UK. While they may look like the latest evolution of the Sudoku puzzle craze, they are actually QR Codes (QR = Quick Response) – basically bar codes containing details of a web address, which can be read by your mobile phone (if you have the right software installed). This one is actually the QR Code representation of the home URL for this blog.
You point the camera of your mobile phone at the code and the software translates it into a message and web address and takes you directly to the advertisers website. No waiting to respond until you get to a computer; no searching the phone’s menus for the internet browser; no URL to enter using your tiny phone keypad. If you can scan it, you can go straight to the site. Sounds like a direct response advertisers dream!
Thinking about it from the fundraising perspective, right now my daily papers are carrying a range of different ads requesting donations in support of either the Burma Cyclone or China Earthquake emergency appeals. In most cases the response options offered are threefold: a traditional coupon, a credit card donation line (not always 24hr), and a URL. It’s pretty easy to see how in the future a QR Code, taking the reader direct to a mobile web donation page could streamline online response to such emergency ads. Read, scan, click, donation made – nice!
Over recent years there’s been a whole lot of discussion about the exciting future of the mobile internet, so the big question is just when we might start to see QR Codes being used in this way by fundraisers?
I first heard of QR Codes from one of our other planners at WWAV Rapp Collins, who had seen them all over the place during a trip to Japan back in August 2007 and predicted that we’d see them all over the place here in the near future. Sure enough, in early December 2007 the UK’s highest circulation daily paper The Sun devoted several pages to explaining and promoting QR codes – presumably hoping to get ahead of the curve in offering this extra response option to its advertisers. By the end of the following month the paper was reporting that its new service was a ‘hit’, with some 11,000 users, and announced intentions to continue to promote the approach.
While UK advertisers are clearly starting to test the approach, not only in The Sun but in listings magazines like Time Out, it’s still early days – but the potential for this type of response mechanic seems obvious. The fundamental barrier to its adoption on a mass scale is simply the need to download the QR Code software. This is freely available from i-nigma, whose smartcode reader is one of the most widely used (you can also create your own smartcodes on their website). But the truth is that most mobile phone users probably wouldn’t know where to start when considering downloading extra software to their phone, so adoption based on this is likely to be slow and gradual.
However, all that we need is for the major handset manufacturers to start shipping phones with smartcode reader software pre-installed and this could go mass pretty quickly. We can be sure that commercial advertisers will leap on the opportunity as soon as it starts to scale-up- and switched-on fundraisers shouldn’t be far behind.