How QR Codes Can Create Superior Billboard Advertisements
By Aaron Brest
QR codes have been a tried and true method of product advertisement, connecting the consumer and item with greater ease and cleanliness. However, unlike a regular physical advert, QR codes also allow for the advertiser to gauge the effectiveness of the advertisement and determine those interested in the product.
The goal of the advertisement is simple. It attempts to compel the consumer to follow an idea, and whether it be to support a candidate in an upcoming election or buy a product, the advertisement in its many forms appears throughout our digital lives. The Quick Response Code, abbreviated to "QR" code, was first created by a subsidiary of the Japan-based Denso Corporation, a car manufacturer. Since the creation of QR code scanning applications on personal devices, it has seen wide use as an idiot-proof method of allowing us to access sites with greater efficiency as opposed to mashing in a link.
More recently, QR codes have been used by certain governments—such as Singapore and New Zealand—employing contact-tracing programs to monitor and control the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, with both nations' efforts yielding relative success with the virus while keeping the method simple enough to be friendly for citizens.
Ease of use aside, billboards with QR codes, unlike standard billboards, can monitor both the success of advertisements in luring consumers into websites and individuals in the pool that showed interest by accessing the website via the QR code. Some of you may know that this statement is only half true. To count how many uses an advertised QR code has received, the advertiser must use a dynamic QR code, as opposed to a static one.
Static QR codes direct the scanning device directly to the final website—a store, donation page, et cetera. The issue with this is that even with the statistics of how many have visited your site, the advertiser ultimately cannot know where any user came from if there are multiple ways to access the site. To determine the success of a single QR code, a dynamic QR code must be employed. The difference is that the dynamic QR code firstly directs the user to a separate website that tracks and tallies the uses of the code, who used it, when, where—to see which QR code was used, and other various tidbits of ostensibly mundane information, and then sends the user to his or her desired destination website. This way, an advertiser can create a dynamic QR code, that when released into the wild, per se, directs the scanning user to a tracking website.
The ability to monitor the success of an advertisement is a powerful tool in marketing. It allows for the prioritisation of certain demographics, targeting of previously interested or potentially interested customers, improvement of the ads themselves, and other optimizations that give the advertiser the most scans per dollar spent.
A more simplified version of this has already been developed by certain companies employed by restaurants to transition from paper menus to less costly website-based ordering systems. Fewer steps are required due to the consumer already being in the equivalent of a website, a restaurant. This means that the QR codes and the websites they direct to only have to track user activity itself—what they order—to determine the popularity of dishes and spending trends.
The ability to capture this data is a main selling point of services like Mr Yum, which aims to provide restaurants with state-of-the-art ordering technology.
However, criticisms have been lodged against the general use of QR codes as further gathering sites for data. While Mr Yum, along with other similar services, has openly stated that they do not sell acquired data to third parties, experts like Lucy Bernholz, the director of Stanford University’s Digital Civil Society Lab, feel that the loss of privacy brought by the technology is concerning.
In a facetious comment regarding the use of data from QR codes in marketing, she states that QR codes “are an important first step toward making your experience in physical space outside of your home feel just like being tracked by Google on your screen.”