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Do People Actually Scan Stuff?

February 27, 2013

I was having a chat with a colleague today about NFC technology and he was saying that he really wanted to try scanning an NFC-enabled ad on the train, but he was worried about looking like a bit of an idiot (not usually something that would bother him to be fair), as he was on a crowded commuter train and the NFC tag was right by the emergency alarm.

Incidentally, on my commute today, a bus whizzed past me at 30 mph with a QR code on the rear and the thought occurred to me that it might have been slightly dangerous to whip my phone out and try and scan it whilst I cycled along Waterloo Bridge.

So this got me thinking: Do people other than us mobile industry geeks actually scan things with their Smartphones?

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve always been a bit of a QR code nerd ever since they started to emerge in the UK about 6 years or so ago (though they’ve been around since 1994). Originally designed for Toyota engineers to help them find parts, QR codes are often used to link a consumer to a mobile web site–but they can also be used for a number of other purposes, such as starting an email or SMS or linking to content downloads or App stores or even creating BBM pins.

Back to the question, though: Yes, people are scanning things. In fact, a study by comScore showed that European Smartphone users scanning QR codes grew by 96% in the past year, which equates to 17.4 million users or 14% of all European Smartphone users.

QR codes are often used in newspapers and magazines or on posters and leaflets but of course there’s nothing stopping you from creating a QR code and tattooing one on your body or mowing your field into a huge QR code if you like. Also, since QR technology is an open standard and shareware exists freely on the web, anyone can create them. However, this might be the problem as the vast majority of QR-initiated campaigns are poorly executed, damaging consumer experience and diminishing response.

As I mentioned earlier, whilst inexplicably popular, QR codes are not the only things that you can scan using your smartphone and there is currently a lot of noise about Augmented Reality and image recognition technology. I have certainly seen some very cool stuff coming out of the likes of Blippar, Layar and Aurasma, however there is still something of a barrier to entry as a user still has to download an app to interact with the campaign–and more often than not the user needs to have at least a 3G data connection.

That said, both Microsoft and Google are looking to hard wire this technology directly into the camera, with Microsoft’s Bing Vision possibly being the best example that I have personally used so far.


So, this leads me on to a much wider question: Why are people scanning things in the first place?

I mean sure, if there’s a compelling offer or competition, then I might scan a QR code or interact with an AR campaign–but I could also just type this into my search bar on my Smartphone or send an SMS to a Short-code and, hey presto, I’m where I want to be!

I totally appreciate that this may not bring everyday items like chocolate bars or tomato sauce bottles to life or have the “wow” factor of AR image recognition campaigns in magazines, but then surely the challenge for brands is to create something that has the “wow” factor and is engaging the user however they navigate to the destination, right?  Ultimately this comes back to either wanting to do something innovative or wanting to do something that people will relate to. Don’t get me wrong–I think AR technology is amazing and Google’s Babak Parviz’s vision on the evolution of Google Glass (AR contact lenses!) is likely the future of augmented reality, but we are still some way from that at the moment. In my experience, sometimes the best person to ask is the man on the street, and Karl Pilkington certainly has his views on AR technology.


In summary, I think that scanning stuff is a good way to engage with a campaign or interact with a brand, and certainly conversations I’ve had with people who have run these campaigns have seen good response rates with QR codes and AR campaigns–so it seems as though people DO scan things!

However, marketers shouldn’t forget that there still needs to be a compelling reason for doing so in the first place (other than being cool) and we mustn’t forget the Karl’s of this world by making it as easy as possible for them to interact with our brands in the first place.


For more information, help and/or tips on planning a successful mobile marketing campaign, feel free to e-mail me at mbowden@velti.com.


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