Case study: The benefits and pitfalls of QR codes

The interactive portion of Austin's annual South by Southwest (SXSW) has become a paradise for the tech savvy, and where a crowd like that goes, marketers are not far behind. But making an impact in one of the most promotion-saturated events can be difficult.

The challenge
ESET, a leading global antivirus software company, planned a large-scale immersion campaign targeting downtown Austin during the annual conference, with tactics ranging from radio, billboards, and a fleet of wrapped cars, to more unconventional "experiences." These experiences included installations such as an interactive wall display that reacts to passers-by on the sidewalk, and a plexiglass-enclosed laptop covered in hundreds of live cockroaches. One of the more popular elements of the campaign was sure to be a photo booth which unexpectedly produces fake IDs using a likeness of the visitor. But one key question remained: How could we drive traffic to these experiences during SXSW?

The solution
Red Door Interactive devised a mobile scavenger hunt in which participants could use their mobile devices to locate and decipher simple, but engaging clues designed to drive foot traffic to four of the campaign installations and provide concentrated exposure to the brand. The prize? The first 200 to complete the hunt received a retail version of ESET's NOD32 antivirus software, and were entered to win a $2,000 Sony VAIO laptop.

Participants could either decode the clues using a mobile app, or receive their next clue via text message.

The 2D barcodes seen here are called QR codes. We choose these codes we believe they are becoming more viable, and this emerging technology matches our segment. After planning the scavenger hunt, we learned that SXSW organizers were planning to integrate QR technology into the event credentials, further reinforcing our direction.

Each clue card in the scavenger hunt included a QR code, as well as alternate instructions. As outlined in my previous post, participants could either read the barcode using a mobile app, or simply receive their next clue in a text message after sending the clue keyword to an SMS short code.

The best way to experience the scavenger hunt is to watch the following YouTube video documentary of two contestants going through the hunt.

The results

  • 501 SMS interactions
  • 70 percent of participants completed the hunt
  • 67 percent of overall participants at any point were from Austin
  • 55 percent of the people who completed the hunt were from Austin
  • 78 percent of Austin participants completed
  • 62 percent of participants from outside Austin completed
  • 53 percent of the people that completed using QR were from Austin
  • 55 percent completed using QR

We were pleasantly surprised to see that more than half of the finalists using QR were from Austin, as we expected that segment to be dominated by people in town for the conference. We did not gather any data that suggests that those groups are exclusive, and it stands to reason that many of the Austin finalists were also conference attendees. We were able to attract the attention of tech-savvy Austinites, which was a campaign goal.

During a test run in Austin, prior to SXSW, we discovered that only 7 percent of the finalists were using the QR codes. The SXSW event showed a much better response to QR, with more than half completing the hunt in that fashion.

Tips and learnings
If you are considering doing a similar promotion with QR codes, here are some challenges, solutions, and key learnings we found in executing the scavenger hunt.

Tracking: Without requiring a proprietary reader app, you cannot directly track the number of people who scan a QR code, and you will need to pass the interaction through another layer.

Limited reach: While QR codes are becoming more popular, the majority of people do not know what they are, nor do they know how or if their phone can read them.

QR codes and mobile web pages: Although up to 4k of text can be encoded in a QR code, there are three key advantages to simply encoding a URL, and using the subsequent mobile web page to deliver content. The first reason is flexibility: QR codes are static, and once they are created, the encoded information cannot be changed.

The second reason is measurability: As mentioned, we cannot directly track scans of QR codes, but we can measure resultant page views.

The final reason is simplicity: While the QR format can support a fairly large block of content, the codes become more complex. This results in reduced readability, particularly for print applications and situations where lighting may be less than ideal.

In short, QR codes can be very powerful as an option, but are horrible as a requirement.

Reid Carr is president of Red Door Interactive.

On Twitter? Follow Carr at @icowboy. Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.

 

Comments

Tung Truong
Tung Truong April 8, 2010 at 1:36 AM

"we cannot directly track scans of QR codes"
Hi Reid,
I agree with Roger that there are ways of tracking QR code scans, QMCODES can tell you exactly how many without having to go to page views.
One great example of engaging the audience and worth considering is how colleges are utilising it via SCVNGR http://mobilemediamarketing.posterous.com/qr-codes-and-mobile-gaming

44thfloor collective
44thfloor collective April 2, 2010 at 2:11 AM

Nice article, what about a video to hype the hunt and explain the interaction with the Qr codes & sms while they wait for their photo, at other places throughout sxsw and online. A little education always helps with new technology.

My view on having Qr codes as a requirement, is a kin to making a iPhone/Android app, going into it, you know there will be a segment that cant use it, so you either plan for that audience, like with a SMS component or mobile website.

The ultimate problem with the hunt, was its lack of excitement, engagement, entertainment & creativity.

I cant wait to see where you go from here.

Roger Smolski
Roger Smolski March 31, 2010 at 4:28 PM

Reid thank you for publishing the results, makes interesting reading.

You say "Without requiring a proprietary reader app, you cannot directly track the number of people who scan a QR code". Surely you can simply emulate and decode to a landing page with Google analytics. You may even get better data and better branding!