Guest Post on CenterNetworks: Google Introduces Physical World Hyperlinks to USA


Guest post I wrote for CenterNetworks — reprinted below:

QR CodeGoogle has announced that 2D barcodes (called a “QR code“) can be included in their Google Print Ads program. Here’s how it works — you’re reading a magazine and there’s an advertisement for something you’re actually interested in. Most times you’d just turn the page and forget about it, because you’re not near your computer and don’t feel like stopping what you’re doing to go find out more information on the product/service in the ad by logging onto the Internet. But now, the print advertiser can put a 2D barcode in the ad, and you can simply whip out your cell phone, take a picture of the 2D barcode (using specific software installed on your cell phone that recognizes/decodes the 2D barcode) and then your phone’s web browser opens and automatically takes you to a corresponding website with more information on the product/service that you’re interested in.

It’s quite an interesting proposition for advertisers, because it allows them to use unique barcodes for all of their advertisements and thus track which ads are providing the highest ROI (or at least the highest engagement). An advertiser could have a different tracking code for one magazine (Fortune) vs another magazine (Forbes) and determine which publication to purchase ads in again; one newspaper vs another in the same city; etc.

As we all are aware, the USA lags in the mobile sector — we’re years behind Europe and Asia. QR Codes have been used for awhile in Japan, enabling these “physical world hyperlinks“. In fact, if an advertisement catches the interest of someone in Japan while they are out and about, 41.7% say they engage with the ad by scanning the QR code to find out more information.

In previous years, I had done a lot of research on this topic — how do you connect consumers from an “offline environment” (no computer access nearby, such as in a car, living room, etc) to an online environment to learn more about a product/service they see in an advertisement (whether it’s in a newspaper, magazine, billboard, TV commercial, or on the radio)? Basically, how do you eliminate needing your ad to be seen a frequency of 7 times before they can even think of making a purchase.

I even started a business (Aboutcodesdefunct now) that used VXML to allow a consumer to dial a toll-free number and input a code listed in an advertisement. This code/ad was then added to their Aboutcodes online account and the next time they logged into their account, the consumer would see links to further information on any products/services they had interest in (that they saw in ads).

A company that has been doing similar by using text messages is Houston-based QTags. The user sends an ad code via SMS, which then saves that ad to their online QTags account for viewing when they log online next. QTags charges advertisers for this service, which has been an uphill battle for them.

Seeing that the QR code has gained large adoption in Japan, it’s only sensible to assume this “technology” will gain adoption in the USA in the years to come. However, the standard in the USA right now is SMS text messages and thus I am curious whether a free SMS-based service could take off — whereby advertisers can register tracking codes for their ads (free via a website), use the codes in their ads, then consumers see an ad, send an SMS with a code, then an SMS is shot back with a hyperlink in it, which the user can then bring up in their mobile web browser — but also the code/hyperlink is saved to the user’s online account for this free service. This service I speak of would need the support of major advertisers to embrace the technology and utilize it in their ads. In the meantime, we’ll see if Google’s support of QR Codes can help them gain traction in the USA.