Nyah! Nyah! Made Ya Look!

"What is it?" my partner asked as we stood this weekend before a large puke-green movie poster with only a single graphic, a big honkin' 2D scan code. That was it. No title for the film, just a fugly code that was supposed to engage our curiosity.


"It's a 2D code for your phone. It wants us to scan it."

"Oh, I thought it was one of those optical illusion things where you focus right in front of it and a hidden image is revealed. This is just ugly."

I already knew where this was going to go, but being the "mobile guinea pig" that I have become, there was no alternative but to chase yet another misguided campaign down its marketing rabbit hole. For the record, we got to the theater on this Baby Boomer hegira to see "Taking Woodstock" too early, so there was loads of time to kill.

As soon as I saw this 2D-coded movie poster I knew I might need every minute of the time cushion. While I fussed with the phone, I asked my partner to keep an eye on the movie poster to see if anyone else took the bait.

No worries there. In 20 minutes of throngs pouring past the poster in this enormous multiplex, not a single taker emerged. A few people got close enough to see the smaller prompt on the poster to text "reader" to 436287, but then they sensibly shook their heads and moved on.

Apparently a crappy-looking block of black and white squares is not enough of a call to action in this country. Stupid consumers. They don't know what they're missing. They could be as hip and edgy as me, sitting in the food court, waiting for the next generation of mobile marketing to wrap them in its warm embrace.

"Who is calling you?"

"The movie poster. It is sending me a link to download a reader so I can take a snapshot of the poster and send it in and get a link to a mobile Web site for the movie."

"You're kidding me."

Indeed. So the SMS pushes me to, where I see that we are on the trail of promotions for the upcoming Tim Burton-produced flick "9." Fine. But the landing page is so dark, and the text so imperceptible even on my iPhone, that I miss the "download" text link to the NeoReader app. I end up downloading an alternative QR reader, which actually does effectively link me up to the

Now, I don't mean to be petty, but did this movie poster just make me send an SMS to get a text link to open a WAP site to download a reader, to take a snapshot of a 2D code to link me back up to the same domain I was at three steps ago? More to the point, wouldn't I have been better off typing the mobile URL directly into my browser at the start? The URL was just a few characters longer than the keyword + shortcode number, wasn't it? Anyone want to talk me down?

No, wait. I get it. Now that I have the reader installed, "9" will be able to hit me with other 2D codes as they march me towards that "9-9-09" opening. And I will be privy to a bevy of worthwhile goodies and exclusives, right? I say this only half in jest, because QR codes can be an effective shortcut to complex URLs and they can pay off the curious user with fun and clever assets. But it is the payoff that matters, not the technology. There is no getting around their sheer ugliness and the way they intrude on fine creative. But that is another argument. In this case, from beginning to end, it really was more about the technology than any discernible message -- let alone a consumer benefit.

"After all of that, it's a one-minute trailer?" she asks. "Ooh, Tim Burton got fat. What is this movie about? It's too dark. I can't see anything. What is the point? What does this have to do with the ugly movie poster thingie?"

My family asks me these things as if I am perennial defender of all things mobile and the keeper of the code that explains all of these weird marketing excursions that underwhelm them every time. After all, even she can see that this entire exercise just landed me at the URL I could have started on fifteen minutes ago and gotten the same unimpressive promo materials. Add to that the fact that the mobile Web site uses microscopic greenish letters on a black background, making almost all of the text nigh-invisible. Even the videos (which are too dim even for the iPhone LCD) are labeled with titles that presume the viewer already knows something about the film. "The Shane Timur Intro Plus Winged Beast Clip." Huh? After all of this I still know nothing about the film except that it is animated, by Tim Burton, and that I should dilate my pupils before seeing it.

Maybe my love was right in the first place. That fugly movie poster really was an optical illusion. Stare into the QR code long enough and you can see the outlines of a mystery message: "Sucker!"

9 comments about "Nyah! Nyah! Made Ya Look! ".
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  1. Anne Gallagher from Catapult Marketing, September 1, 2009 at 12:52 p.m.

    You are absolutely correct that incorporating the SMS back-and-forth aspect into the experience slowed it down, and seemed like a lot of bother. Pretty clunky. But it doesn't have to be that way. It's my personal opinion that 2D code marketing only gets bogged down by incorporating texting at all, and defeats the purpose and coolness of the technology.

    How much different would your experience have been if only the poster had directed you to an App store to get a specific reader? It would have taken you 1 minute to get the app, and in another minute you could follow the directions to take a picture, interpret the code, and launch the website. No texting required. Pretty cool. Then next time you see a code you know what to do, you already have the reader and get a chance to use your app. (Rather than recalling a painful, pointless SMS experience.)

    2D codes (and marketing programs that utilize them) do not need to involve SMS at all, and when marketers ask people to go through that process they only slow down adoption. The beauty of 2D codes are that they take you directly to a specific place - creating a real point-to-point link between the physical world and the digital world. No middleman. If marketers would realize that and start directly telling people to get reader apps instead of texting for a link, it would be a much better way to introduce the technology. Leave the SMS out of it completely for a cleaner and cooler experience.

    Thank you for bringing up a very great point about both the process and the need for a worthwhile (and visible) payoff when people do get to the destination. Cheers to a better future for 2D codes!

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, September 1, 2009 at 1 p.m.

    Gessuntite !!!!

  3. Reuben Segelbaum from Syncapse, September 1, 2009 at 1:46 p.m.

    it all goes back to keep it simple. If the last ten years of the web has taught us anything, its that the user wants as little effort as possible to have to deal. Tim Ash and landing page simplicity not withstanding, the designer of this program really needs to give their heads a shake when it comes to utilization. Granted, Steve is drawn to all things mobile, but better to brand wide than brand narrow and annoy people in the process.

  4. Reid Williams, September 1, 2009 at 2:36 p.m.

    I agree with Anne — seems like the error in execution was combining some SMS marketing with 2D barcodes, and that's what added to the time and confusion of your experience.

    Have to point out, however, that that poster-with-bar-code got your attention, while the ad on this page for the speaker's panel appearance at a conference interrupted the flow of my reading; maybe it should have just been a bar code.

  5. Steve Smith from Mediapost, September 1, 2009 at 3:39 p.m.

    I think the 2D code does work well as a transportation device when it is seamless. I aimed the same QR Reader at the code on Wikipedia's Web site entry for QR codes and I got taken to the mobile Wiki's entry of the day in a flash. I really am a big believer in the future of a mobile device as a kind of interactive mouse with which we click on the real world and get digital information or benefits. Getting there is going to be a bear unless the hardware and carrier segments step in, embed a standard on all phones and create a marketing/monetization model around it.

  6. Jim Dugan from PipPops LLC, September 2, 2009 at 2:57 p.m.

    Going to one mobile site with barcoded local deals redeemable at the point of purchase (in your case maybe a two for one special to the Tim Burton movie or the Woodstock one) would have taken you less than a minute and been more useful and provided instant savings and gratification.

    Course then you'd have to come up with another topic for the article. Good one, Steve ~

  7. Kim Dushinski from Mobile Marketing Profits, September 4, 2009 at 5:27 p.m.

    Love this article. It is exactly why I worry about the future of 2D codes. Until it is completely easy and works intuitively, it will not ramp up here.

  8. Andrea Hill, September 6, 2009 at 10:40 a.m.

    QR codes remind me of RSS - they (theoretically) lower the barrier of accessing information. But for the majority of people who aren't rapid consumers of mass digital media, the learning curve isn't worth it.

    For one thing, as you noted, most people didn't even stop to inquire about what to do with the poster. It's tough to offer a solution to a problem people aren't even aware they have.

  9. Benny Forsberg from Squace, September 28, 2009 at 2:08 p.m.

    The whole mobile marketing arena is slowly maturing and for a while short code texting will be the stepping stone to great mobile web experience - especially on normal 3G/web ready featured phones.

    With the arrival of UMI (Universal Mobile Interface), NFC (near filed communication devices / RFID-ships), WLAN-instore-systems, Local Based Systems and so forth the creative possibilitys will be gigantic for mobile commerce to grow!

    The key is to make the access to web content on a "small screen"-mobile as smoooooth as possible and with the same experience on all mobile platforms. At we´re commited to make web access on mobile hones as simple as possible! Give it a try on a "old" feature phone and You will get the potential of all the marketing opportunitys waiting out there for you...

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