American Marketer


Five ways to ruin a 2D bar code campaign and how to fix it

September 7, 2011

Bill McQuain is director of business development at Microsoft Tag


By Bill McQuain

In today’s digital age where we sleep with our smartphones, crave instantaneous information and stay in constant communication with those around us, 2D bar codes are emerging as a go-to resource for brands to connect their customers to relevant information, entertainment and interactive experiences when and where they want it.

And with smartphone use on the rise – some 1 billion people are already using smartphones to connect with the world around them – 2D bar codes can tap that user base, bringing a deeper connection and personalized experience to consumers.

However, as 2D bar codes become more popular and campaigns pop up all around us, many companies are failing to follow some of the golden rules and best practices of implementing mobile codes, leaving consumers frustrated and confused.

To captivate your target audience, get them excited about your brand and keep them coming back for more, these are five pitfalls you must avoid.

1. Naked codes

A naked bar code at the bottom of a page in a magazine, on a billboard, or on a movie poster that offers no explanation to the action required, what kind of bar code reader is needed, or what kind of experience awaits behind the code is useless.

Education is crucial for a successful campaign and providing basic guidance will help significantly.

With all 2D bar codes, it is important to indicate that the bar code is enabled by a smartphone, note the specific reader that is required to access the information, and where to download the reader if consumers do not already have it on their phone.

Additionally, make sure to give them a sneak peek into the experience they are about to unlock.

When you add a short description of what is behind the 2D bar code you can capture consumers' curiosity and they will be more likely to scan because they know what to expect.

2. Lame experience

The best way to alienate consumers who scan a mobile code is to direct them to a non-mobile-optimized Web site.

Consumers are increasingly mobile-savvy and expect mobile-optimized experiences, so give it to them.

And while you are at it, think about incorporating contests, rewards for loyal customers, exclusive content and destinations that only live behind your mobile code. This will encourage repeat scans and ongoing brand engagement.

3. The lone bar code

No bar code should be an island. Typically, the more mobile codes you see, the more likely you are to scan.

If you have mobile tags on all of your product packaging or on most of your materials that offer exclusive content or an opportunity to win a contest, consumers will want to download a reader, scan bar codes and receive access to special content.

If consumers only see one 2D bar code promoting your brand, but never encounter another code in association with your company again, why would they feel the need to scan?

4. Poor location

How would you scan a 2D bar code on a billboard on the side of a freeway from your moving vehicle? You would not – not safely at least. Bar codes are most likely scanned when someone is stationary, focused, and has their mobile phone handy.

Try placing mobile tags on the back of stadium chairs at a ballgame, on your product’s packaging, on a magazine page, or on a shelf talker in a store.

5. Repetitive experience

If you link to the exact same experience with every code you put on your advertising or marketing materials, your audience will likely stop scanning your codes because they already know what they are going to get.

Mixing up campaigns and code-usage is important to keep consumers engaged and to avoid stale or overused experiences.

When you plan your next 2D bar code campaign, make sure to think through all of these pitfalls in order to create a positive experience for your consumers that will have them scanning for years to come. And, most importantly, be creative.

There is no limit to the innovative campaigns that mobile codes can support to help build engagement and loyalty with your brand.

Bill McQuain is director of business development at Microsoft Tag, Redmond, WA. Reach him at