Opinion: A Vote for 2D

Why I’m bullish on QR codes as a marketing tool

Jimmy Matorin

The jury is still out on QR codes and their effectiveness as a new marketing tool. Personally, I am bullish about QR codes, specifically their potential as another marketing touch point that further facilitates consumer engagement, despite how inefficiently a majority of companies initially executed them.

But thanks to trial and error, many leading brands have proven the value of using QR codes as a tactic within their integrated marketing campaigns. I have a number of favorites. But first, a brief history lesson.

QR codes were originally developed by the Japanese automotive industry back in 1994. Relevant manufacturing information was encoded on two-dimensional codes that were then scanned to track automotive parts.

As smartphones began to increase their penetration of the mobile-phone market, marketers spotted the potential for using QR codes to instantly engage their consumers. One of the first pioneers was Dick’s Sporting Goods. The company flashed a code in the Dallas Cowboys Stadium back in 2009 during a college football game. The code directed potential consumers to their mobile site for an exclusive offer of $10 off a purchase of $50 or more.

Ford also was an early adopter, using QR codes at the South by Southwest Conference and on its New York Times ads in 2010 for the Ford Fiesta. In Europe, both Coca-Cola and Pepsi began using codes on their cans for numerous special promotions. From there, as if overnight, everyone jumped on the QR code bandwagon.

Following is my short list of the best use of QR codes this year.

1. Walmart and Procter & Gamble. One of the mobile-marketing publications I follow posts a quarterly top 10 list, and I recently voted for Walmart’s partnership with Procter & Gamble in New York and Chicago. The company placed codes on bus shelters and special P&G tour trucks, directing people to Walmart’s mobile site, where they could buy nine limited editions of popular items including Bounty paper towels and Pampers Cruisers.

There are three reasons I think this was a great campaign: First, they intercepted potential shoppers with the codes at bus shelters. Second, they used the marketing principle of exclusivity by offering limited-edition products. And finally, the tour trucks also gave out samples. Everyone loves freebies!

2. Peapod. Peapod currently uses QR codes in two markets at commuter train shelters to create a virtual supermarket. Consumers download the Peapod app via QR code, then can “shop” by scanning the bar codes of products on the ads. In Philadelphia, the first test market, Peapod reported that nine out of 10 code users reordered groceries in the first three months.

3. Yonanas and Exmouth. Obscure but clever, two food product placements piqued my interest this past year. The first was for Yonanas. Who? In September Yonanas, which manufacturers a kitchen tool that turns frozen bananas into a soft-serve-like dessert, placed stickers with codes on bananas in the produce sections of supermarkets to demonstrate and promote the dessert maker.

The other clever code placement was executed by the Exmouth Mussel Co. in England. It placed codes on its packages that linked consumers to a series of educational videos about how its mussels are harvested—connecting the consumer to the product in a meaningful way.

ScanLife, a global leader in mobile connection solutions, just reported a 23% increase in use of QR codes in the second quarter of 2012 vs. the first quarter, and a 78% increase when compared to fourth-quarter 2011. Another mobile marketing company, NeoMedia, reported in October that QR codes have grown by nearly 120% vs. a year ago.

 ‘Tis the season to engage the consumer, and savvy retailers should implement creative, strategic QR code campaigns this holiday season to drive their overall sales. 

Jimmy Matorin offers more than 30 years of broad business experience. For the past 17 years, he has been the leader of SMARTKETING, an innovative marketing resource company specializing in the foodservice channel, based in Philadelphia.