Beantin

James Royal-Lawson

QR codes: how not to use them in your campaign

During the summer months, Sveriges Radio, the public service broadcaster here in Sweden, broadcasts a series of programmes featuring talks by guest presenters. Sommar i P1, or “Sommarpratare” (“Summer talkers”).

On my metro train this morning, there was an advert for the radio series. What caught my attention was that it featured a QR code.

SR advert on the Stockholm metro featuring a QR Code

Armed and ready to scan

Naturally, this meant just one thing. I had to take out my phone and try to scan it. Being who I am, I know exactly what one of these funny little square codes is – I also have a barcode scanner installed on my mobile and my tablet. I’m armed and ready to go.

I was sat on the train (which is pretty normal for my journey) and the advert was about 1.5m to my right, on the inside of the window.

On the Metro here in Stockholm, the seats are grouped in clusters of four. This meant I had three other people sat around me. Standing up and getting a closer shot of the code wasn’t going to happen – if I was going to scan this code, I needed to do it from my seat.

So, out came my phone and I pointed it discretely (as discretely as you can on a morning train into the city) at the QR code and waited for the app to focus and get a lock. Nope. Nothing. It was just too small to scan from this distance.

Linking to a non-mobile site?

Not wanting to give up, I entered the URL included on the advert. It was good that they’d included a link (as well as the QR Code) – at least this meant I wasn’t totally dependent on the code – presuming that the code contained the same link!

I entered the link into my mobile’s browser and erk! Everything ground to a halt, my smartphone pretty much locked up. I hadn’t been automatically redirected to the mobile version of the page, instead I ended up at the full standard version of the site – complete with built in radio player – was loading and trying to come to life. Not the mobile experience I was hoping for.

When I got to the office, I brought up the picture of the code (that i’d uploaded to Flickr during my journey) and managed to scan it off the screen. It decoded to the same URL as on the poster.

This isn’t helpful.

Think mobile

You always scan these codes from your mobile. It’s an advert on a train, there’s not really any other option! Any content they contain has to be useful, accessible, and relevant for a mobile user.

The saddest part of this story is that SR do have a mobile version of their website – including a programme page for the summer programme.

Offline meets online

It’s crucial that you consider exactly how people will consume your advertising. If you are going to join the offline and online worlds together – which you should – then QR codes is a good tool, but if you don’t think mobile, you might as well not bother.


James Royal-Lawson+ is a freelance web manager and strategist based in Stockholm Sweden.

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