Will Mobile Visual Search kill the QR Code?

There have been low level, techie-driven grumblings about QR Codes for several months now. Predominantly based around the fact they will soon be replaced by another type of scanning technology: Mobile Visual Search. So is it time for your Dubai advertising team to ditch your QR Code campaign?

Not quite. It’s taken over two years for QR Codes to gain the broad public awareness to become the viable marketing tool it is today. But it will help your marketing team enormously to get a heads up on Mobile Visual Search.

MVS is a slow burning technology that allows mobile phone users to scan their environment and get information pushed to their phone. For example, point your camera at the Burj al Arab and an app on your phone will send you the information on this iconic building.

However the apps for this technology haven’t reached the saturation of QR Code apps, and there are only a handful of MVS developers in the world, who use an even smaller number of companies for the image recognition technology behind the apps.

It is a very niche idea at the moment. Google has invested in their own MVS app, Google Goggles, and the potential is very alluring – point your mobile’s camera at anything, instantly finding out about it. No messing with intermediary codes.


QR code

Would you like a present from ISM ?

But, for advertisers the QR Code still has traction. You can put one anywhere, on anything. When Calvin Klein wanted to seduce trendy young people in New York with a risqué ad, it was done through using a QR Code. There was no need to put a picture up on the billboard, similar to the ones that have got the company in hot water in the past. The QR Code is like a present, you are not sure what you are going to get before you open it.

With Mobile Visual Search, this element of surprise is gone. You point your camera at a product, building, painting or some foreign words and the information is delivered to your phone. It just isn’t as exciting as receiving a present, it’s more like opening a guide book.

Advertising and marketing companies are going to have to get very creative with this new technology if they want it to work on the scale that QR Codes currently do. One of the objections to QR Codes is they are ugly and interfere with advertising real estate. But they don’t have to be ugly and can direct customers towards specific pages of content, videos, or purchase points.

And this is where MVS falls down currently. You can make sure anyone accessing your logo through MVS technology goes to your corporate website, but how do create a journey for them? How do you take them to the latest video, how do you give them a present?

One article on the web has stirred up a lot of the current controversy surrounding the possible death of the QR Code, and has spawned other blog posts on the subject. On Mashable, the owner of a company that develops MVS said he didn’t think 14 million people accessing a QR Code was impressive. However, these codes can only be accessed by smartphones and there are 1.5bn worldwide mobile web users (i.e. smartphone users). Suddenly 14 million in one country is starting look at lot more impressive.

Mobile Visual Search is advancing, but just like video didn’t kill radio; QR Codes will develop and adapt to counter the new tech on the block. So don’t stop your QR Code advertising campaign in Dubai just yet. Dubai is one of the most advanced countries in the world when it comes to QR Code usage. It’s not wise to let such a savvy audience down, but enhancing your offering with new technology is always a good move.






Mobile Marketer

International Telecommunication Union


Strange lines China

Just what are these lines in the Chinese desert?

In 2011 strange lines in the Chinese desert were compared to QR Codes across the media. Which is pretty good going for an odd looking marketing tool that has only been in use for a couple of years.

Originally designed by Denso Wave, a subsidiary of Toyota, in 1994 as a way of tracking vehicles during the manufacturing process, QR Codes weren’t considered until smartphones cameras made them more publically accessible.

Although still extensively used in tracking products, with over 20 million Americans accessing AR Codes (source ComScore) in October 2011, the QR Code has rapidly become an integral part of some very clever marketing campaigns.

An excellent example of this is Calvin Klein’s Jeans X campaign. Banners were placed in three locations in New York. The banners, mostly composed of the QR Code in bright red, teased passers-by with the promise of content that couldn’t be shown in public.

By carefully selecting their locations in the heart of a New York’s busiest shopping areas, the smartphones accessed a racy 40 second commercial that quickly went viral – the golden egg of new media advertising.

For those unfamiliar with the way they work, it’s incredibly simple from the users point of view. A QR Code (which is just one of 70 types of what is termed Mobile Tagging) is usually a black and white box with what appears to be badly printed pixel art inside it. Point your smartphone at it and (as long as you’ve downloaded the right app) your phone automatically reads it and takes you to a website to view new products, houses, special deals.

And once you start looking for them you quickly realise they are everywhere. From magazines and newspapers, which is a beautiful blend of new and old media, to websites, billboards, t-shirts and as part of graffiti on pavements and buildings. Some enterprising job seekers are even replacing old style resumes with a QR Code.

This is a significant leap forward because the gloss has gone off having a web address on a billboard or advert in a magazine – it just doesn’t cut it anymore. People like the idea of the new, there’s a seductive pull to be able to play with something different. Why type a long url when you can point and access the information almost instantaneously? You don’t even need to click.

And it is this speed of information transfer is at the crux of the success of QR Codes. With a smartphone people access the web on the move, as well as at home, which necessarily means they don’t want to click through several pages of a website to get to the newest pop video or get a great discount on their favourite make-up. They want it now, not in two minutes time.

QR code usage

Where are people accessing QR codes from?

There are 6.1 billion mobile phones (cellphones) in the world. Of those, according to leading mobile equipment manufacturer, Ericsson, 30% in areas such as the USA, Germany and the UK, are smartphones. And as this market share rises, so does the need to keep in step with the way people are using them. In the U.S. 20 million mobile phones scanned a QR code in a 3 month period ending October, is technophilic UAE scanning them? Well, the beauty is they are easy to track the effectiveness of in any marketing campaign using analytics.

QR Codes or Quick Response codes are matrix bar codes that can be read by barcode readers and mobile cameras. They are easy to generate using free software courtesy of Kaywa amongst others. The reader can be downloaded directly from your mobile (if it is supported). There are many other code generators out there and you can code website URL’s/text/maps/telephone numbers/images or even sound files. Zoo Records demonstrated this beautifully with their Hidden Sounds campaign in Hong Kong.

Interested to see how businesses in Dubai are incorporating this new social medium into their marketing strategy, I spoke to Gaurav Sinha, Managing Director of innovative brand communication firm , Insignia.

“While QR codes are a great tool to create audience engagement, they are currently being used in this market to shorten the process of typing URL’s. At Insignia, we believe Augmented Reality applications are the way forward; creating engaging environments and bringing the brand experience directly to consumers.”

An example of QR codes in Dubai can be seen at Le Meridien Airport hotel allowing users to access restaurant facilities at the location.Other companies using the codes to target techno savvy customers are the Dusit hotel, Music Master and Ajman Bank. The Dusit hotel are using them to track interaction with its advertising in different mediums and for promoting special offers. Dubai Municipality is using QR codes to provide up to date and extensive information on each building or land plot in Dubai. Users can access a range of information about the building from safety inspection details, municipality procedures and planned land use. Whether the planned QR themed hotel designed by Sohne and Partner’s in Studio City goes ahead is another matter but many believe that QR codes offer limitless possibilities to deliver information straight to the consumer in a compelling way by connecting offline and online worlds. Obama may well be using QR codes in his next campaign for 2012, replicating Andrew Lang’s use in the Canadian elections earlier this year. What will your company be using them for?

For more examples of how QR codes are being used see the following article