I really, really don't love QR codes. And I can't understand why magazines and marketers really do.
Yes, I see the sex-appeal. Quick-response (QR) codes let users actually do something with old media: They make packages, print ads and magazines clickable and linkable to websites or apps. They're big in Japan -- that's always good. They definitely look like they're from the future. This weekend, I saw a black-and-white dress that can only be described as QR-patterned. Yep, I bought it.
But I'm skeptical. Painfully skeptical. Do they even work? There are far too many steps: To scan a QR code, you have to carry the right phone with the right camera, be connected to the internet and have downloaded one of the many QR scanning apps out there. Then, you have to stumble across one of those boxes, which actually isn't hard because, like I said, marketers, especially retailers, are in love with them.
For a recent campaign we tested in the newsroom, one reporter couldn't get the QR code to work because her BlackBerry didn't have an advanced enough camera. My phone has the right camera and a couple reader apps downloaded and ready to go. But I see most QR campaigns in the New York City subway, where there is absolutely no internet -- meaning no way to get a QR scan to actually launch anything. At the bus stop near my apartment in Brooklyn, my husband found a code on a billboard in full range of 3G. To scan that code on the bottom corner of the poster, he'd have had to lie down on the wet sidewalk.
Obviously some people are cuckoo for QR codes: One reader app, Scanbuy, globally saw scans for QR and barcodes in the "double-digit millions" last year. Major marketers like Miller Lite, Home Depot, Macy's and Post Cereals have recently launched QR campaigns. But, with QR technology tripping over itself, I'm betting on other companies that can job done with tools that are actually easy to use.
Enter Zoove. Here's one mobile direct-response company I can actually get excited about. You can get the QR results -- a link to a website or app download, a coupon, a video -- but to get there, you there's no camera, app or smartphone required. All you do dial is a number on a mobile phone and make a call.
Here's how it works: Advertisers or media companies register a StarStar code with Zoove -- recent campaigns include **Suzuki, **GSCookies for the Girls Scouts and **GMA for Good Morning America -- and when consumers dial, they get a text message with a link or voice recording. I dialed **GSCookies, started to listen to a recording and received a text message with a link to the App Store to download a cookie locator. Then I tried **Suzuki and got a link to a video, which I didn't watch. Ad messaging aside, it worked! On the first try! Shouldn't technology be this easy?
By now, Zoove has partnered with all top-four U.S. wireless carriers so StarStar vanity numbers work on 95% of all phones, and not just the smart ones. TV shows like "Good Morning America" and "CBS Early Show" are testing StarStar codes for ad sponsorships or to collect viewers' votes. Now, imagine, instead of no-one-remembers short codes on "American Idol," you'd just have to **Lauren to vote for your girl.
But to back up, there's one hurdle even Zoove hasn't appeared to clear. Are advertisers or media companies actually giving us things we're willing to waste precious time or patience on? I'm doubtful there's a movie trailer or coupon a man could want bad enough to lay down on the street for. But dialing **Flowers to 1-800-Flowers to get my mom a little something for Mothers Day, I could buy that.
Location: Palo Alto, Calif.
Funding: $40.5 million
Major investors: Cardinal Venture Capital, Highland Capital Partners and Worldview Technology Partners
Key execs: Joe Gillespie, CEO; Tim Jemison, founder and chief operations officer
In short: It's like QR codes, but the app is making a phone call.