As mobile and smartphone camera technology continues to become more powerful, there has been increased speculation into the usefulness of camera phones for driving consumers of offline marketing towards digital content via scannable tags, codes and images.
Mobile tagging adoption
From crowd-sourcing reviews and comments of physical products via barcode scanning, to embedding URLs in QR codes, there is certainly a lot of scope for methods of delivering relevant information to mobile users more efficiently than depending on them to type in a web address or make a Google search.
Yet, despite success in Asia (particularly Japan, where QR codes were created by Denso) since 2003, adoption in the West has been relatively subdued. According to research conducted by Toluna Quick, just 19% of UK consumers have scanned in a QR code (11% have done so in the US, say Simpson Carpenter) and 31% know what they are (36% in the US).
There are numerous possible reasons for the relatively lacklustre uptake of mobile tagging to date, such as:
- Lack of standard code. The numerous different types of 2D barcodes available may be confusing and/or off-putting to potential users. For instance, in the US Data Matrix codes are also popular while in the UK, QR codes dominate. Most mobile users need to download either paid or free apps before they can attempt to scan the tag they see (although some handsets, such as Android, come equipped with QR/image recognition tool Google Goggles). There have also been a number of other niche codes released, such as Microsoft Tags.
- Not quick enough. Despite the supposed simplicity and efficiency of using a camera phone to read a tag (QR stands for ‘Quick Response’), scanning can be tricky. If tags aren’t clear enough (particularly when there is little light) it can take a few attempts for scans to work – and certain phones are equipped with better cameras than others.
- Content not worth the effort. It might also be argued that content that is most often beyond the code or tag is rarely of any more interest to the consumer than what can be found at the website anyway. There have even been reported examples of tags leading to websites which aren’t optimised for mobile.
Already beyond codes?
Mobile tagging technology is undoubtedly moving quickly, and it may even be argued that we are moving into a post-QR era, even before they really took hold. Recently launched, Blippar is an app which uses the camera on smartphones or mobile devices to unlock digital content simply by recognising the imagery – be it an ad in a newspaper or even a product itself.
By eliminating the need for a code or tag at all, services such as Blippar (other Augmented Reality tools, such as the Layar browser, exist too) have overcome the hurdle of the lack of a standard barcode. And although it remains to be seen whether ‘blippable’ content imposes any restriction on what can be included in the image, it is likely that many designers will be keen to see an alternative to the ugly black and white pixel boxes of QR codes.
There is also increased versatility with non-code mobile tagging, giving advertisers and marketers the scope to develop impressive augmented reality animations and games as well as links to URLs and more compelling content such as discount vouchers.
With more opportunity for developing inventive examples of augmented reality, Blipper and others look likely to become quite significant, particularly for multichannel and mobile commerce campaigns by larger organisations and businesses which can afford to develop such ads. If this happens, then mobile tagging will certainly reach a larger audience, and QR codes may continue to have a place too – with their remaining sole USP as the mobile tag which anyone can generate.