QR Codes Hold Huge Possibilities in Marketing

Filed Under (Marketing, Technology) by Rajesh Kumar on 29-09-2010

In some of the recent print ads, you may have noticed a rectangular object in the body, something like the one shown here.Chances are that you may have also noticed such undecipherable messages in posters, travel documents such as tickets, in wall banners and so on. Let’s try a closer look.

Greetings from Rajesh Kumar. Should you be in getting in touch with me(sic), please leave a comment behind.  You are right, the image retains an encoded message inside that is not intended for the human eye. In fact, these Quick Response encoded message is intended to be read by apps running on commonly available smartphones such as those running on Android, Apple, Blackberry or Symbian (Nokia) phones.

For purposes of this example, the encoded message can be seen by taking the mouse over the image.

It appears on the phone screen as shown here.


QR codes were invented by a Japanese Company (Denso), who hold the patent, but believed to have chosen not exercise it for common good. QR codes can be created by specialized software, which are also available as a service over the web.

What’s the big deal really?!

Because of its versatility, it has huge application potential in real life.

Hyundai i10 ad leveraging QR CodeIf you happen to see the Hyundai car ad in yesterday’s newspapers in India, chances are that you noticed this kind of graphic sitting inside the ad. In this case, the encoded message is a telephone number.  The hint to the reader is, go ahead and connect  with the advertiser on the phone number.


 Roger’s post talks about his discovery of a QR code in on a banner at the San Diego zoo next to a turtle enclosure.  It contains a URL to a page having more information on the exhibited species, the Galapagos tortoise. Roger has posted a nice picture of the banner he found there.

To read this code, one can install an app such as ZXing (pronounced ‘Zebra Crossing’) for Android phones available free at Android Market, or i-nigma reader (no cost),which claims to work across Blackberry, Symbian, Android and iPhone platforms. Once installed, the app uses the device on board camera to scan the graphic and decode the message, and even suggest the next course of action. Read on.

Some examples of potential applications of QR Codes in Marketing

The purpose of any ad is to get the target segment get attracted by its promise and take the next steps in the direction of purchase decision. Based on the level of involvement in different product categories, an ad may result in information requests, purchase enquiries or actual purchases. This is the ‘call-for-action’ of the ad and remains vital to the marketers. This is what arguably makes an ad successful or failure. QR codes aid the ‘call for action’ process.

Case 1: Call me

Call me - Phone Number Scanning this image by a QR capable application leads to a phone number.It not just reads the numeric value, but suggests options such as whether you would want to dial that number or add that to your contact book. Useful.

Case II: SMS me

Preformatted sms In such a case, you can make the job of a prospective customer easier by precreating a text message and enclosing the number as part of one image. Like we have done in the image here. Once scanned, the application asks for the user’s permission to send that message out. Somewhat like the message encoded on the right graphic that  says, “Hello there, can I test drive the car”. A mere concurrence will send the message out.


Case III: Email me: The fun gets better

Email Message Most of these smartphones have inbuilt email apps. It is possible to make the job of a prospect to get in touch with you even more easier, since people prefer to share their email ids more than their phone numbers. Once the phone acquires the data, it understands it as an email draft, and saves the prospect the task of typing out an email and the email id. An Android device, for example, could even give the sending the option of sending the email from his/her personal account or official account. Talk about choice!

In the above example, the message is :


Notice that a tap on send email will send this message out.

Case IV: Come to this location

Suppose you are conducting a fun event or a conference and issuing passes/tickets/invites for the event. It would be so much fun, if the participant just has to scan the image to open the map of that location so that it takes the pain of figuring out the driving directions by manually typing in the details on the browser.

CW-JLN Stadium

For example, in the image on the right, we have captured the location of Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Delhi, which would come so handy for the spectators holding the Commonwealth games tickets.



Case V: Save my card for later use

Would you like to give the contact details of a representative in an ad and let the prospect decide whether he/she would like to connect back to the advertiser – by email, phone, in person or by post? In such case a business card could come in handy. We created a business card based on the below data:

Tom Kumar

Example Inc,

Street1, Northbound Cheercity

Mod, 99112, Xanadu




Tom's Contact Card

This is how the phone reads the data.


In our example here, the device understands that it is a business card, and offers the following choices

  • Add Contact ( To phone book)
  • Show map (of the store location, for example)
  • Dial the number right away
  • Send email on the id specified in his/her own words.

Case V: Come visit my site or my social media page

URL Imagine you want the customers to come visit a page to know more about the product, or read reviews of your restaurant in the popular restaurant review magazine for fill in a response form. Customers may feel more disposed to act  if the action required minimum effort. Embedding the URL in the image may help do the trick of getting better response rate. The image below, which if scanned using a reader, will take you to my this blog. Upon reading the URL, the device asks whether the site should be loaded on the browser. Just click yes!

Case V: This is fun!

Greetings from Rajesh Kumar The QR code adoption is rising with the increase in the number of smartphones. It might surprise you to know that it can capture over 4000 alphanumeric characters. That is more than an A4 page typed in font 10. While you may not want to use the whole 4K characters, decoding a punchline message an on a desktop gift item or a print ad can be a great fun by itself. I am concluding this post with an image for you to have a got at it!

And nothing stops you from creating a cap or a T-Shirt with a QR Code on it, just to convey that you are ahead of the curve!!

Volkswagen Audio Ad in Newspaper – Thoughtless

Filed Under (Marketing) by Rajesh Kumar on 21-09-2010

Volkswagen was audacious enough to attach an audio device to their full page print ad in the Times of India and the Hindu (Chennai edition). When it came in, I first felt a sense of curiosity followed by disgust, both as a marketer and as an private citizen.

DSC_0184 Lot of people told me since the morning about the ad. Tonnes of blogging has happened raving about the ‘buzz’ created by this crazy device. I asked several people what they thought of it and there was unanimity about this being unconventional ( or more dreadfully, the new conventional). However, I asked several people to tell me which specific model of Volkswagen was the ad for, and no one could answer. Some people could merely say it was some car company, and not even (unaided)recall the brand, forget the model ( it is ‘Vento’, just in case you need this assistance).

The second thing appalling is despite the money blown, the message is the same staid message (in content and delivery both). Imagine the signature BMW roar coming from the device and it would possibly become a collectors item, at least for a few.Look at the message payload itself – Best in class German Engineering..So, what is the call for action? Danke.

Jessie Paul points out the standalone nature of this campaign, due to which effectiveness could be questionable.

The third appalling aspect is the lack of a shut off button. After a few seconds the device is a nuisance on the table. How are they supposed to be shut off? The device batteries are supposed to die down? If that’s the case, that’s quite crazy indeed. I could not find any instruction on how to shut it off. The damn device kept repeating the same one line ad-nauseum till I had to do this to it.


Would it have exploded if I had put this in water ? – I did not take a chance.

The last concern is quite serious – environmental. I looked all through, there is no safe disposal instruction included. No talk of collection centers that would take these devices back. Also, there is no mention of the radiation coming out of the device. I would consider both these as hygiene factors in today’s environment. It was bad enough to cut so many trees to print full page ad, and it was much worse to add plastic, batteries, circuit board, IC Chip, magnet, wires and so on to the whole mix.  Wish they had spent a few more pennies and made a reprogrammable device, that for example, it could work as a media player. That would have made sure tomorrow morning garbage bins in many houses do not have this chirpy piece of hardware, as I suspect would happen in large numbers.

Volkswagen Vento, thanks for coming over, but your folks let you down!

Why iPhone 4 is a Great Opportunity for Sonyericsson and HTC

Filed Under (Marketing) by Rajesh Kumar on 09-06-2010

Tagged Under : , , ,

About 2 years back, I had argued in my blog post that the about to be launched iPhone would fail in the Indian market . While I leave it to your judgment to decide how my audacious argument performed on the time scale, here I am back with another set of observations for the Indian market, this time on iPhone 4.

The fact remains is that Apple has created the worst possible marketing mix, when it comes to the Indian market. The price of an iPhone is prohibitive in the market. While it sells under USD 200 in the US (with operator lock and under a long term plan), it costs over Rs 30,000 in India. Translated into dollars, that costs over 640 dollars at today’s rate. That is expensive even by purchasing ability of customers in the United States. For Indian customers, that’s even more in terms of impact. Besides, there’s barely any marketing campaign and even the operators such as Airtel and Vodafone who supposedly offer iPhone, remain lukewarm about the promotions.

The distribution of iPods has taken a slightly mass route, with even bookstores keeping it for sale. However, how does one see iPad? Where does one go for it? I am not sure, apart from the mental recall that there is an Apple iStore on R.K.Salai in Chennai. Moreover, in the US, the launch on the device is an event by itself, and that itself is the biggest promotion, that is widely covered by the media. No such thing in India. We’ve to get contented by watching Steve Jobs launch videos in USA.


That kind of impact is not available in Indian market, where its launch mix is much weaker than a Nokia phone that costs Rs 2000/-.

Moreover, where’s 3G in India? The frequency auction for 3G is on as of now, and the networks are ages to go. So, no video calls, as Steve Jobs demonstrated at WWDC.

This presents a great opportunity for Sonyericsson and other smartphone manufacturers. In short, Apple is leading the innovation threshold, but it is way behind the expectation threshold in market approach to markets such as India, where others such as Sonyericsson, HTC, Nokia continue to lead.

According to me, the best estimate could be of an Indian market of less than 100 pieces, if and when the model gets launched. That does not mean only 100 iPhone 4s will be used in India. In fact, there would be much more than that, despite the restrictions.

Till then Apple will only be news in India. If wants to be taken seriously in India, it needs to have a clear market strategy, which seems to be lacking at this point.

Dr. Airtel Surgery: Operation Successful, Patient Dead

Filed Under (Marketing) by Rajesh Kumar on 21-03-2010

This post is largely an outcome of my real life experiences as a nouveau Airtel mobile service customer. Sorry, a short lived customer and an ex-customer at present.

It just so happened that after relocating back to Chennai recently ( and having heard the very impressive group CIO of Bharti group, Jai Menon in Delhi recently), I decided to take a mobile connection from Airtel this time. I filled out an application form and handed over to a dealer’s representative, who had paid me a visit to my office to collect the documentation.

Sure enough, the connection started working in a day’s time. I logged into the Airtel portal out of curiosity, and found my name written as ‘Rajesh Kumar S’. I thought I should point out the typo and called them on March 6th, which they promised by an SMS to revert by March 9th. In the next couple of days or so, I happened to receive a ‘welcome letter’ from someone called Aidtya Chile, (GM KTN – go figure out) that had exactly the same error in my name.

Few days later, a representative of Airtel, dropped in at my residence for address verification, and was about to leave after asking me my name, when I saw that the copy of the application form carried by him did not have my signature. I took it in my hand, and then found out it was some other handwriting, and interestingly, instead of my photo, it had someone else’s picture. My name as written as Rajesh Kumar S. On my own insistence on noting this down on the form, he handed me the form. I recorded that the picture & signature were not mine, and mine and my father’s name were only partially correct. Happy that I have set the ball rolling for a correction to happen and waiting to hear back from Airtel, I got on. About a week down on a Saturday evening, I received an sms saying my connection may be cut and I should talk to my dealer. Worried that the line would be disconnected, I frantically looked for the dealer’s number, I realized I had left it in the office. I decided to approach the Airtel outlet in Shastri Nagar with a copy of the id and address proofs. I was told that I must approach the dealer only and they cannot do anything to help me. Finally, when I spoke to the dealer, he promised to take care of ‘everything’ on Monday and call back by Monday evening to confirm.  To be sure, I also called 121 customer care to ask them the matter and they said they need to reverify my address, which they would do in the next two working days and then everything would be alright. I was relieved mentally.

But, as one would expect, the call from the dealer did not materialize on Monday or Tuesday. Not even Wednesday. Nor did anyone come for re-verification. Thursday morning, my phone refused to pick up my emails or connect any calls. I could place the problem and approached 121, which is the customer care. I asked them the matter.

“Sir, we have a negative address and id verification. The signature and photos do not match, the name is a partial match only. Therefore we have decided to disconnect the outgoing line”. I explained that actually that is my issue against them, not vice versa. In my anger, I asked him the address of Mr. Aditya Chile to be able to share the details with him. I was refused. I took out the letter that came from Aditya Chile to locate his address and phone number. That masterpiece of a letter did not have one. So much for being a customer friendly organization. I asked the customer care what it took to cancel the connection. Pat came the reply,”Don’t bother sir, we are doing so from our side”. The phone outgoing is cut and probably anytime now, the incoming calls would stop too.


  1. I wrote a letter to Aditya Chile, and sent to Airtel’s office in T Nagar, which I could locate by chance. Not sure if the letter reached him or if he cared to think much over it.
  2. I asked Aircel to send their rep to my house and Tuesday onwards, expect me to be on Aircel, my 8 old trusted brand.

From Airtel perspective it was operation successful, patient dead. So much for a brand that paints the town read! RIP 80560 38888!!!

Indian Companies are Waking Upto Social Reality

Filed Under (Marketing) by Rajesh Kumar on 08-03-2010

It is not that Indian companies stay completely away from the reality of brand management in social media.  I even received a response from ICICI Bank one day, when I tweeted about some issues on their website.  It took them a day to come back-  in digital world, a day can be too late.


Vijay in this post has published a nice presentation on a particular incident that had the potential to hurt Cafe Coffee Day’s digital reputation. CCD reacted on the same platform and came up with quick remedies to the situation. The wonderful presentation tells you what happened, and how CCD came into the picture and then how it went about the whole issue.


The point is, it is currently easier for smaller companies to react quickly as CCD did, in this case. Multi division companies, even if they have all the right intentions, may not have the same speed of reaction, when there is an incident on the web like this one. Speed and decisiveness may remain the key to making or breaking a reputation.

Nevertheless, companies are taking the right baby steps in this direction. Daksh has compiled an excellent presentation on Indian companies on Twitter that is worth a serious look.

PS: Blogging will me more frequent now.

How haughty can one get about competition

Filed Under (Marketing) by Rajesh Kumar on 04-11-2009

It is daily that one finds car companies comparing their upcoming car and ‘any other thing on wheels’. It is also a common occurrence to find soap and shampoo manufacturers comparing their product and ‘any other ordinary’ product . People in my generation recall the ad with the line ‘adha kilo surf kisi aur sadharan powder ke ke ek kilo barabar hota hai’. Bike companies in India have long done feature-to-feature competition with competition products for ages.

It is one thing to call your competition as ‘any other’ or common (‘sadharan’ in Hindi). Basically the objective in such communications is three fold. One, to show product superiority. Two, to show that the competition as a commodity. Three, not to allow competition any visibility at your cost.

But to call your competition fake?! I find it rather strange that an purported original, which actually came into being (or purported prominence) after the purported original (rumoured or alleged), reportedly calls the purported fake as fake?! Leaves you clueless?

It is quite a known fact that Zoho is among the most promising and closely watched SAAS based service provider for desktop services(and elements of enterprise services, just a bit of it). It is also among those that came into being before even Google Docs was launched. But it is being called fake! The purported original, to the best of my understanding, largely existed in a much different form and shape, though at one level they do compete for the same space. How about calling the pizza fake because the corn exists! And Microsoft’s pizza, though fresh and nice smelling, came after Zoho’s office productivity suite had celebrated its birthdays. So it is what, a fake based on another fake’s success, or a fake based on the implied original?

Some someone invented a writing instrument, say, a pencil. And another one invented another, entirely different in concept and ideas, let’s say, a pen. So, by the above logic, the pen is a fake pencil. And the guy who invented the computer printer is an absolute thief!Wow!!

Sridhar Vembu of Zoho is understandably ballistic. And look at Zoho’s creative (and humorous response to Microsoft). FakeOffice.org.

Organised retail or disorganised retail?

Filed Under (Marketing) by Rajesh Kumar on 22-08-2009

I have been wondering how to pick up the threads on this blog and today I got spurred by my shopping experience in Gurgaon.

In search of tea-bags and butter, I found myself at a store called Reliance Super in one of the many giant market complexes that dot the central area of Gurgaon. In Gurgaon, the term is mall. And it has to be pronounced as moll, as in gangster’s moll!

Call me biased if you wish to, but the thambis of Chennai are far quicker, squirm less when you seek assistance and run an amazingly well coordinated operation, whether it is a restaurant or any other store. The chokras of Mumbai are fairly quick too. In contrast, I feel a general disarray when I step out for shopping in Gurgaon.

They run a metal detector on you if you walk in by the main entrance. However, expect no such things in quite a few of Gurgaon malls if you park in the basement and take the elevator. Yes, they peep inside the car when you are about to enter the basement parking. And, the metal detector keeps beeping as people get inside, but I could not figure what they are trying to detect. Are they serious about security or serious about PR?

Coming back to Reliance Super. A reasonably spread out store in the basement and I locate tea-bags and few other things and head out for billing. No, there is no counter for ‘six items or less’, so I join a general queue. The lady ahead of me has come to do her monthly shopping and so her trolley is full. The billing assistant goes billing like this. Ten Amul Masti packs are run into the scanner one after another. Likewise, all pieces are scanned separately, even if they customer bought x number of the same item. Why apply brain to count?! Then, after scanning, he piles up whole trolleyful of stuff on the small table and tells the customer to take it. I could not fully understand, and I saw her putting everything in the trolley and heading for the exit.

Then comes my turn. I find that on the exit side of the billing counter, a one nine inch radius table is all the space on which the billing assistant can keep stuff after scanning (And I had heard that big chains get stores designed by experts!).  Thankfully, my things do not fall off that limited space. Then he helpfully tells me the amount payable, settles the cash and says, ‘le jaiye’. I asked him why he did not put my stuff in a carry bag. He said I need to buy paper bags, else he cannot help. Imagine, after billing, he tells me I need to buy carry bags. I did not see any text or visual notice to this effect which would warn my of such a possibility. I asked the billing assistant to cancel my billing and return my money. Instead, he suggested I see a counter at the exit called customer assistance desk and ‘maybe they can’ give me a carry bag. I felt I was not in India but landed in an alien land. Upon reaching the customer assistance desk,  I demanded a carry bag and I was given one, but no assistance was provided in putting the stuff inside the bag. The lady who was ahead of me at the billing counter was busy putting her stuff in multiple carry bags, since she had purchased a trolley full of stuff. Imagine, she had to do this business of putting and removing things on and from the trolley thrice, first time when she was doing her item selection along the shelves, second time when the billing clerk ran the scanner and let her stuff be strewn at the billing counter and told her to put it in the trolley and head for the customer desk and third, when the customer assistance guy lobbed some carry bags at her! Everyone had to do this thrice!!If this format of organised retailing was called ‘convenience stores’, where was the convenience? And what is ‘organised’ here? On my way back I was reflecting on the shopping experience – I had spent about thirty minutes inside the store, out of which twenty in the billing queue and beyond. The overall experience was awful.

However, I am not sure how much of it is Gurgaon issue and how much is by format design. The other day I was at Landmark outlet in Gurgaon where I wanted to buy Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘The Outliers’. The price is 399. The counter clerk wants me to tender exact change  since he has a change issue. I felt odd, how can I give an exact change of 99 when he cannot give me Re 1. Still, to  try to help, I search my wallet and tell him I did not have change either and ask him why he is running a store if he cannot does not have a one rupee coin with him ! A threat to cancel elicits the one rupee he had to give me!! And when he opens his secret stash of coins, I see he has plenty of coinage to take care of many customers such as me!!! Why, why????

A Google Operating System: Whaddaya mean?

Filed Under (Marketing) by Rajesh Kumar on 12-07-2009

Let’s face it. Bing has given it hard to Google. That’s why Google rush announced its OS initiative, though it still a year before the Google / Chrome OS becomes available. Quite unlike Google, which loves to do word-of-mouth and grapevine publicity of its products.

Recall the hype around Android, Chrome, Gmail and so on. Google has demonstrated that it knows how to use the crowd very successfully, and is a master of the grapevine mill. The best in the game, to put it one way. When it launched Gmail, it was by word-of-mouth and referral. It carried the beta tag for years for that added glamour of being an early user. In short, the Google style is to fire the grapevine, and then confirm it after a while, which could be months away. So it completely beat me why they chose to announce that they are working on an Operating System, that would be available a year from now. Simply put, this is not Google style of promotion. It appears quite knee jerk to be so.

Its quite surprising that they even chose to link it to a product (Chrome), which is perceived as less than resounding success. What’s more, Microsoft has given signs of delinking Internet Explorer with the O/S, at least in some geographies.

In my view, this could have something to do with the favourable reviews Windows 7 and its impending launch in the next few months. It could also be a sign that Bing continues to do well. So, is it a kick-for-a-kick? One only hopes this will have a downward impact on Windows 7 prices. Like Ratan Tata said while launching the Indica car – courtesy his company, people could now by a Maruti car cheaper!

Where’s creativity headed?

Filed Under (Marketing) by Rajesh Kumar on 28-04-2009

As with any other follower of IPL matches on TV, I have to pay the price of suffering the ads every few minutes. There are some ads that are barely recorded by the mind, they are neither great not so bad. There are others that are impactful, but you really worry whether the impact is positive or negative.

There are two ads that are particularly notable in this area. One is by Tata Indicom which seeks to pull customers to its fold by offering superior network quality. Sadly it ends up irritating you so much that Tata Indicom is out of my considered set, though I am suffering from dissonance with my existing cellphone service provider. Take a look:


The other ad is by rival Vodafone. Not sure what you make out of it, but I don’t feel gravitated enough to give them a call. Like Tata Indicom, they too have a series built around them.

Sometimes you wonder if ads are made for being raved by the admakers themselves.

Note: All IPs pertaining to the ads belong to their respective owners.

Nano Communique!

Filed Under (Marketing) by Rajesh Kumar on 17-04-2009

In a normal times I am used to getting and ignoring all sort of sms marketing messages, which includes selling services such as car wash, PAN cards application facilitation, and products such as laptops, typewriters, furniture sale, crockery, dresses, mobile phones, sunglasses and everything else that I don’t need. One even gets messages from politicians asking for votes.

But, a car?! Read the text message that I received this morning -typos included and telephone numbers masked.

Get Ur NANO booking form, NANO booking loan and NANO car loan, from STATE BANK OF INDIA – GUINDY, PayRs 2999 & book NANO Standard. Call 9XXXXXXXXX/9YYYYYYYYYY

The professor of marketing may scoff at such supposedly unsegmented marketing via text message blitzkrieg. But think of it, such a mass text messaging has a fairly good chance of succeeding in a product like the Tata Nano. The car is different, and perhaps the conventional wisdom of marketing can be kept aside for the moment? These are not normal times anyways!!

About Rajesh Kumar. Rajesh is based in Chennai, where he works for Defiance Technologies in Marketing. The views on this blog are his own. Rajesh Kumar