A Tale of Two QR Codes

I’m not a big fan of QR codes, though I have seen some really innovative uses of them; for example, this billboard in a Korean subway station that was turned into a virtual supermarket for commuters:

It almost hurts me to think of how awesome that actually is; but the US is nowhere near that level of awareness or adoption.

The best application I can think of for QR codes at this point is something like at a street-level bar or restaurant say, in San Diego’s Gaslamp district.  You put the QR code on the front window, on scan it pops up with some text saying “show this ad to the bartender for a free appetizer” or something like that, just to get people in the door.  This exposes one of my main flaws, which is just that I’m not that creative.  However, I’ve run across two QR codes in the wild recently, and it got me thinking to what disparate experiences scanning them with my smartphone was.  I’m using an HTC G2 for this, by the way.  Both codes come from products I use commonly and I came across them just through living my normal life, I wasn’t seeking them out.

The first code I’ll review here was on the back of a local parenting magazine, mostly talking about stuff to do with the kids this summer.  It’s a code for the new Little Mermaid ride at Disney’s California Adventure- which I’ve already ridden, as I have a 4 year old and between annual park passes, food, souvenirs, movies, coloring books, stickerscrayonspullupsclotheshairstufflipsticktoysbooks she requires, I’d say 10% of my gross income goes to Disney in some form or another.  (It’s a pretty okay ride if you were wondering, we waited about an hour, and it’s maybe a 5-minute trip through a Haunted Mansion- like animatronic display, which is very well done.  Ariel’s hair, in particular, looks like it flows in the water, and I’d kill to see the robotics in there making it happen).  Anyway, back to the QR code.   The placement of the code is a little questionable, and it’s in a spot that someone who isn’t versed in QR might mistake as being the ISBN for the magazine itself.  There’s also no call to “SCAN HERE” or anything; the placement is almost nonchalant:

Ariels Undersea Adventure Ad with QR code

It’s fair to say that a parent wrangling a kid that’s Disney-aged wouldn’t necessarily know what to do with that code and their phone, though I do live in Orange County, California, which has high rates of smartphone adoption.  That’s not based on anything scientific, by the way, and I don’t have a link to prove it- it’s just my personal observation.  Most of the 8th graders around here have a newer phone than I do!

Scanning the code is actually a really great experience. It takes you to the following URL: http://qr2.it/Go/256531.  Now please excuse my sloppy Photoshop, I just can’t bear to pay to take screenshots on my cell phone and I’m not rooting it, either.  Here’s what opens when you click through to the link:

If you click to play the video, here’s what you get:

You are clicking a static ad to see a well-produced video ad, which in and of itself…big whoop?  However, I could see a frazzled parent standing in line at a grocery store being grateful to have 30 seconds of peace while a littleun watched the video.  It doesn’t end there, though, you can click through the other three buttons to see the following screens:



As you can imagine, clicking Ariel’s button takes you to a page that talks about the new ride, with a short video much like the Ursula video on the home page.  Clicking C-3PO takes you to a funny (and already widely circulated) video of Darth Vader visiting Disneyland to open the revamped Star Tours.  However, the “money” button, the reason why I think this QR code works where others don’t, is the compelling call to action the User is served when they click “Special Offers”:


On my cell, those big green buttons DIAL MY PHONE FOR ME to call the number; I can’t think of a much more compelling call to action; and it’s there twice, with bonuses if the User acts then.

In all, this is a well-executed QR code.  It makes use of existing assets- the video spots- provides the User with good entertainment and practical value, and supplements the print campaign nicely.  I still dunno how many people actually bother to scan the code- the Wall Street Journal had a huge, (non-functional) bar code as a section headline a few months ago and no one I know thought to scan it, though nearly all of them have a smartphone and barcode scanning software installed.  I guess that’s kinda depressing, what are people buying $600 phones for if they aren’t gonna use all the features? Just to have them?  Anyhow, I digress :)

Up next is actually a QR code from a company whose products I also occasionally consume (though nowhere near on the scale of Disney); Marlboro. Let me just stop you right there- you’re right, I SHOULD quit.  Thanks.

Delivery of the QR code ensured that I was going to see it; it’s IN the pack as you open it (this was, until recently, a coupon for snus.  I mean, smoking is gross enough; do we have to have everyone spitting into cups too? I still get nightmares about the half full dip spit bottles in my sophomore dorm room.  EEEEEEeeewwwww.)  Anyway, you can’t get to the smokes if you don’t physically handle a little insert that looks like this:

Being the curious sort that I am, and conveniently- having 6 or 7 minutes to kill- I naturally thought to eschew my Words with Friends obligations and see what this code was about.  I was met with The Dreaded Login Screen.  Ugh, even if I’ve already registered, I have to enter a Username, Password, and my age (granted, that’s a market restriction on this product) before I can see what lurks behind the wall.

Wait, even if I open the link in a browser instead of using the mobile version of the site,  I’m supposed to track down my unique 9-digit Customer Number that’s on all the shit I immediately chuck in the recycling as soon as I see it’s from Marlboro?  Registration requires filling out 12 fields and verifying my identity? I am immediately unmotivated, and I’m switching over to Words With Friends.  I don’t want to be a Registered Smoker, and I’ve lost interest, and oh hey there comes one of my brilliant co-workers and now we can talk instead of this silly QR thing.  I still don’t know what the hell my free gift from the Marlboro Team is, because I lost interest, because nearly anything in meatspace will take my attention away from my phone!

This campaign could have been more successful, although I’m sure there are restrictions about gating content to minor-restricted products.  Wait…if they’re a minor…HOW’D THEY GET THE SMOKES IN THE FIRST PLACE?!?!?!?

What’s the takeaway from all of this?  Well, there are several:

  • Even if you can get a QR code in front of someone easily, it might not always make sense to.
  • Leverage the power of existing assets AND QR codes together to make the experience interactive and compelling.
  • Use the technology to do the work for the User.
  • Don’t make the User aggravated for having bothered to scan the code.
  • BE CREATIVE.  The subway shopping example is where we MIGHT be in 3 to 5 years if people start thinking laterally.


Still not sold on these things.  Prove me wrong, people!

2 Comments. Leave new


I’ve created a QR code that is now on my resume. It takes people to my blog. This seems a little odd because a QR code is usually scanned with your phone but I’ve gotten some interesting responses. Having said that the responses have been about the QR code and not about my blog but, I’ll take what I can get at this point.

Also, at a recent convention, I created a QR code with my contact information and a little note (we met at so and so conference, hi!) and used it as the background for my phone. Since the conference was about technology and education I thought it was a good way to show that I was ahead of the curve (compared to public education).

Bottom line is: both of these applications have gotten responses which, in the marketing world, as you know, if half the battle.



My business card has a QR code on it, and it also makes for a great avatar, too! Thanks for reading, Anita.


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