Traditionally the call to action for a large proportion of advertising, is to call a number, send a text message or visit a particular website, with numerous well understood techniques for measuring response rates and advertising effectiveness, such as Promotion Codes, Tracking URLs and Number Diversity.
In a mobile environment, the challenge is to improve the effectiveness of advertising through increased response rates. One approach is to improve the experience of fulfilling the call to action, by removing the need to remember the numbers, URLs or SMS codes, contained in the advert.
Two competing technologies, that utilise the capabilities of internet enabled camera phones, have been developed to meet this challenge.
A QR Code (Quick Response Code) is a matrix code created by Japanese corporation Denso Wave, in the form of a two-dimensional barcode, that can store up to 7 KB of data. The matrix code can be used to directly encode, plain text, telephone numbers, SMS and email message, contact cards, geographic information, images or other information.
When the QR code is scanned, using a camera phone with a QR Code Reader, the phone prompts the User to perform the action encoded in the matrix.
A QR Code printed on a item of marketing collateral, could therefore be used to ease the response to that material, by encoding the response instructions. The QR Code below, contains a link through to our website, via a tracking URL (www.pleasestandback.co.uk/redirect/inqrcode1.html), inorder to measure click through using Google Analytics.
(Go on … Scan me)
This mechanism is widely used in Japan and Asia, and is starting to be used more frequently in Europe and the USA. For example, Pepsi adopted QR Codes to support their Pepsi Max Kicks promotion.
- Reader Availability: QR Code Readers are widely available for the majority of mobile phones, with manufacturers such as Nokia, Samsung and Sony Ericsson making them available as a standard feature within their phones or as an application download. According to Mobile Marketing Magazine, "approximately 25 million handsets across 150 different models in the UK are capable of accepting a reader", including the Apple iPhone.
- Wide Range of Response Types: QR Codes support the widest set of response types, which should be sufficient for most mobile campaigns.
- Measurement: It is possible, using existing mechanisms to measure the number of responses to a particular QR Code. However unless an action is completed, it is not possible to measure the number of times a particular code has been scanned.
- Reader consistency: QR Code readers are available from a wide number of developers, as such there are inconsistencies between differing implementations and how they interpret different codes.
- Barcode size: As camera quality can vary across different handset types, care has to be taken when selecting the size of the QR Code, in order balance against code readability.
Launched at CES2008, Microsoft Tags have been described by some commentators as Barcode2.0. Utilising a different coding technique, known as High Capacity Colour Barcodes (HCCB), Tags do not directly contain the response data itself, but encode a Link to a Microsoft server hosting the barcode contents. This allows the barcde to be physically smaller than the QR Code equivalent, however unlike a QR Code, in order to decode the contents of a Tag, a Tag Reader must first access a Microsoft server via an IP connection, to download the Tag contents.
Currently in BETA in the USA, the response types support by Microsoft Tags, are limited compared to QR Codes.
The Tag below, again contains a link to our website, again via an tracking URL (www.pleasestandback.co.uk/redirect/inmtag1.html), in order to measure click through from this tag using Google Analytics.
(Go on … Scan me)
- Measurement: As the Reader accesses a server in order to decode the Tag contents, it is possible to measure the number of scans of a particular Tag, as well as the resulting responses (allowing measurement of Impressions, Scans and Click Through). This is a significant advantage over QR Codes.
- Consistency of Experience: As there is a single developer of the Tag Reader, this should ensure a high degree of consistency in user experience across multiple devices and platform types.
- Network Connection: As a network IP connection is required in order to download the tag contents:
- Tags do not work well in environments where there is no network coverage.
- Each scan incurs a chargeable event for the User.
- Roaming Charges: Although many operators offer flat rate data tariffs, these typically only apply when within the Users home network. When Roaming, data charges can be significantly higher. Unlike other Microsoft applications, the Microsoft Tag Reader application provides no indication that additional charges maybe incurred whilst Roaming. Compare this against both Active Sync and Windows Live, where the User is explicitly prompted to allow the applications to function when Roaming.
- Restricted Range of Response Types: Unlike QR Codes, Microsoft Tags currently supports a restricted range of response types and misses out on the SMS and Email capabilities of QR Codes, which could be necessary for some campaign types.
- Print Costs: Although it is possible to generate black & white versions of Tags (they are larger then their colour equivalent), the full colour version utilise 5 colours. Depending upon print techniques and suppliers, the use of full colour Tags could add significantly to print costs, particularly over large production runs.
- Reader Availability: A Tag reader is available to download from Microsoft, for Windows Mobile, Symbian, Blackberry, iPhone and J2ME enabled phones. In future it is likely that Microsoft will embed the reader in its own mobile operating system, it is unlikely that other device manufacturers will do the same.
Until Microsoft Tags comes out of BETA and the commercial conditions (if any) for using the service becomes clearer, QR Codes remain the most viable alternative, given their flexibility and availability of pre-installed code readers in mobile phones. Although it may be necessary to download an application to use the codes, an increasing number of consumers are willing to do so, through the education efforts of Apple with it's iPhone.
Pepsi and other companies have shown that QR Codes have a place to play in facilitating mobile responses to advertising or promotions, however they will only positively influence on response rates, if they are combined with consumer education as to the benefits of the codes and compelling creative &promotions.