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To scan or not to scan? QR codes put to the test at SXSW

This post was originally published to the Weber Shandwick Social Studies blog.

We see them everywhere.  On buildings, in magazines, on business cards and more.  QR codes are more and more emerging as an element of the marketers toolkit.  So it stands to reason that on the ground at SXSW Interactive, the QR could should reign supreme… shouldn’t it?

In reality, as 30,000 digerati descent on Austin the technology is being put to its ultimate test this week.  If an audience that prides itself on being on the leading and even bleeding edge of technology adoption doesn’t respond to an avalanche of opportunities to engage with QR codes, could it mean the end of the line for the argument that this is a viable marketing channel?

Everything is scannable in Austin

Luckily, SXSW marketers are more than happy to give these now highly recognizeable barcodes the ultimate opportunity to prove their worth.  Business cards, posters, t-shirts, stickers, human billboards, rain ponchos and more are all popular real estate on which to find a code in Austin.  In fact, it’s hard to look anywhere around the convention centre without catching a QR code out of the corner of your eye.  But in spite of all of this, there have been skeptics noting that in spite of the extreme visibility of the channel, what we’re not seeing a lot of at southby is people actually scanning them.  That said, this is a fairly subjective form of measurement on which to condemn the practice.

So I did some investigating and talked to a few marketers that were using the codes and found that of those who were willing to talk, the codes were actually meeting with relatively solid success.  One marketer who got specific noted that with an offer featuring both a QR code and a short URL, around 60% of their traffic was originating  from the codes.  Of course the actual number of visitors wasn’t a part of this discussion, but some would argue that the ratio is cause for some optimism.

So with 3 days of SXSW in the can and this highly unscientific study behind us, it’s hard to say the QR code debate is settled.  But following such a large and relevant use case, it will be the presence (or absence) of QR codes in marketing campaigns moving forward will speak for themselves.

The test is almost complete – now to wait and see if the QR code gets a “pass” from SXSW marketers.