In the beginning somebody created an ad…

The picture below shows an advertisement from Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. It was published in the June 10th printed edition of Advertising Age (page 11). Johns Hopkins University is a private institution founded in 1876. It was ranked 13th in National Universities US News best colleges ranking. Johns Hopkins Carey Business School Ad - QR Codes in Advertising Age According to the 2012/13 QS 200 Global Business Schools Report, Johns Hopkins Carey Business School placed 22nd in the world and 12th in North America for CSR.

The interesting fact is that this ad was the only one in all 36 pages of Advertising Age to feature a QR Code. QR Codes can be excellent conduits to connect the printed media universe to the digital world. The ad promotes a Masters Degree in Marketing and promises to challenge students to use emerging trends and new technologies. As such, the expectation is to find an advertisement that is “Marketing Perfect.” Unfortunately, the way the QR Codes were implemented shows a complete lack of understanding on how to use such technology.

For starters, as in any other medium, you need to follow certain rules and best practices when using QR Codes. Rule number one is to know exactly what you want to achieve and how you’re going to do it. You need to define your objectives, tactics, and techniques. That is true for the usage of QR Codes in any type of advertising.

Then somebody said “let’s add a QR Code”…

Johns Hopkins Mobile Marketing advertising landing page from QR CodeWhen using emerging trends and new technologies, it is important to understand how the user will interact with that technology and what that interaction will result in. The first big disappointment comes after seeing that the only ad in the magazine that connected printed media with the digital world lead the reader to a non mobile optimized landing page. It is important to remember that the only way to scan a QR Code is with a mobile device. Hence the landing page must be mobile optimized.

Separating the good and needs improvement

Not everything in the ad was a miss and some credit should be given.

  1. The ad used a shortened URL service which made the QR Code simpler.
  2. The service used for shortening the URL offered analytics which provided them with a tool to measure scans.
  3. They also used analytics in the extended URL: http://carey.jhu.edu/more_info/ms-in-marketing.cfm?ad_id=msmktg0056&sourcecode=adadage
  4. The QR Code was the right size and had good color contrast.

Although all of the above shows good design and digital understanding, the ad failed in the implementation of the mobile marketing components. It is important to remember that what is done in print or digital media, should not be exported “as is” to the mobile medium.Johns Hopkins Ad landing form Mobile Marketing with QR Codes

What the ad should improve on and why it didn’t pass the test:

  1. The QR Code led to a non-mobile landing page. This is huge problem on its own and is enough to fail the mobile marketing test. First and foremost, make sure to create a mobile optimized landing page.
  2. There is no call to action in the ad and it is unclear why you should scan the QR Code. Make sure to invite the reader to scan the QR Code for a specific purpose.
  3. Because of the layout of the ad, the reader may infer that the QR Code would take them to the URL on its right side, while in fact the QR Code is pointing to a different address. If it is necessary to keep two different URLs in the ad, one in the QR Code and the other as a general URL it is important to physically separate them so there is no confusion on behalf of the reader.
  4. On top of not being mobile optimized, the landing page the QR Code led to didn’t provide any real value. It was simply a continuation of the sales pitch already seen in the ad. For more information, the reader would have to continue browsing on a non-mobile site or fill out a form. The landing page would have benefited from having a way to collect user information, given tangible information about the program, or large buttons to download more material.
  5. The form was impossible to fill out on a mobile device. It was very small and asked too much information to easily type. A simpler, mobile optimized site would have been much more successful.

Johns Hopkins Ad gets an F in Mobile Marketing

The aftermath of failing the Mobile Marketing ad test

The philosophy of Carey Business School is “Go to the toughest problems first. Timid doesn’t play well here…”
Well, the non-timid response to this ad is a big F in Mobile Marketing. Hopefully, as an educational institution, they can appreciate this criticism as it provided an excellent opportunity to learn how to do it right.