Google, QVC try out "scan anywhere" QR codes

Published on: 2015-02-05

As AdAge reports:
Google and QVC are taking another crack at using bar codes to link print and online ads -- but this time around, the bar codes can be scanned using a mobile phone....

For Google, the technology represents a second chance at bringing QR codes to the newspaper industry, with a few tweaks along the way. Spencer Spinnell, head of sales strategy for Google Print Ads, a division of the AdWords platform, said the ultimate reason CueCat never took off was because consumer adoption of bar code scanning never caught up with the technology. "It was way ahead of its time," he said. CueCat relied on consumers using a scanning tool given away free by the newspapers. Google's effort relies instead on technology consumers have already widely embraced.

The barrier for Google, or any other marketer or mobile company looking to enter this space, is to change the consumer's perception of the mobile phone before a major new function can be rolled out. "The obvious bridge here is the fact that every consumer has a phone and a very small percentage of those phones have a camera," he said. An even smaller percentage of U.S. phones have the scanning technology required to read the codes -- fewer than 5%, to be precise. Although Google's forthcoming Android platform is likely to have scanner-friendly applications, the usage will need to be encouraged well in advance.

Google has already seen results from a recent test campaign conducted in three markets with jewelry retailer Blue Nile. Each ad contained a QR code and a response tag, and was tested against the same ads without the tags. The code-enhanced ads ended up driving 6.5 times more revenue than the ads without. Mr. Spinnell added that the majority of the web traffic to the ads' micro-site was also enhanced by search, which is the ultimate proxy at Google in determining how traditional media is performing. "Aside from the fact that it was a great way to bridge the gap and make these newspaper ads clickable, aggregating these calls-to-action will really benefit the end user."

Our take:

The Cue:cat was a computer-connected barcode scanner that virtually everyone got in the mail back in early 2000. The idea at the time was to embed little bar codes into print advertisement that readers wanting to know more about the advertised product could simply scan. This would take them to a specific web page with more information.  Needless to say, the idea was an utter failure and is one of the better-known marketing blunders of the past 50 years. The fact that Google thinks they can revive the plan leaves us puzzled.  Cue:cat didn't fail because the technology was expensive or hard to use. It failed because the idea was terrible, and millions of people were worried about the vast amount of personal information that a company could collect by tracking their scanning habits.

Fast forward eight years, and admittedly people seem to have lightened up about what they feel is appropriate in terms of personal privacy and behavioral tracking.  However, should the pilot with QVC ultimately turn into a full-fledged offering, expect to see the same privacy advocates make their case, this time against a company that already collects an immense volume of personal information about us.

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