The futility of QR codes on tube adverts

Traveling on the London Underground ‘tube’ recently I have noticed that more and more adverts have a QR code, I am not too sure if this is a recent phenomena or that I have been paying more attention as a number of the projects that I’ve been recently looking at are about the ‘web of no web': the interface between the web and the real world. I am a big fan of progressive approaches to marketing, however, the more I thought about the phenomena, the greater the waste of time that it seemed to be:

  • Londoners often joke about the tube being like cattle trucks; in reality European Union regulations wouldn’t allow livestock to travel on a train with the conditions of the tube on a hot summers day. A combination of overcrowding together with the lack of air conditioning  means that some of the lines can be as hot as a walk in the desert. The over-crowding also means that would be hard to take a picture of a QR code. So whilst the advert may have a large reach, the realistic reach of the QR code call to action is a lot smaller
  • So you happen to be lucky in terms of where the crush places you and try to snap the QR code with your phone. You probably won’t be successful, tube lines aren’t known for the smooth ride of say the Paris Métro, so you will be trying to hold your camera still whilst the train carriage rocks and sways in front of your smartphone. Your phone won’t be able to focus and take a clear image of the QR code. That’s one of the reason’s why there isn’t a tube advert shown here to illustrate this post, despite at least three attempts over the past week to snap a picture of an appropriate advert
  • Unlike other mass transit systems in the likes of Singapore and Hong Kong, huge high-traffic sections of the lines are underground or in such a deep cutting that they are inaccessible to mobile phone networks so QR code won’t take the audience through to an appropriate web page, but instead prompt a ‘network unavailable’ message

All of this shows that the media buyers, marketers and or designers don’t pay much attention to the context of their advertisement art work, which could artificially skew campaign objectives and measurement adversely.

3 responses to “The futility of QR codes on tube adverts

  1. Good post chap.

    I agree with the fact that QRs are small and can be difficult to reach on crowded tubes, but I don’t think they’re *entirely* useless.

    I know that there little to zero web coverage on The Underground, however it’s not always links hidden behind that mystic black and white. It might be a number, or merely a piece of text – both of which are good takeaways for later use.

    Getting over-crowded is a feature of the London Underground, but that does not mean all of the London Underground is over-crowded – :P

    Finally (and a bit unrelated to QR stuff but) the best mobile-related ad I’ve seen recently was that for The Clear Pill / Limitless wherein the copy itself suggested taking a photo of the advert in question so that you might remember it later (see point 2 on ‘Why this works’ – here http://whatleydude.com/2011/03/limitless-the-clear-pill/).

    My opinion? Everyone should hire Terence Eden as official QR advisor ;)

    [if you haven’t read any of his stuff, although I’m sure you have, then he’s also got some strong opinions on the world of all things QR]

  2. I agree that thinking carefully about the context, as well as the content, of your marketing approach is vital, but it’s also possible to get it right (using this new technology in this type of environment). I was recently pointed to

    http://bit.ly/nHpUMU

    about their use by Tesco in a Tokyo subway station. Well worth a look.