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Heinz? once-and-done approach to QR codes backfires

Consumer packaged goods brand Heinz is recovering from some bad publicity over a QR code from an old campaign that now links to a porn site, underscoring how critical it is for marketers to provide ongoing support for mobile programs. 

While QR codes were a much more popular trend several years ago, CPG brands continue to place them on their packaging to activate campaigns or provide nutritional information. With the Heinz news going viral, it is clear that brands need to put in the extra effort to maintain any links or risk a wave of negative publicity. 

"People's lives are not made up of discrete campaigns, rather we live in a flow with no beginning and end," said Michael Becker, managing partner at mCordis. "Marketing must evolve to fit in to the daily journey of people?s lives.  

"There a few lessons that can be learned from this," he said. "Marketing campaigns come and go but physical packaging and products can last for months to years, marketers must plan for this, model what we call the owned media causeway.

"Marketing is now a technology driven endeavor, we can use technology to our advantage. In this case, rather than developing a one-off QR code where the interaction can not change once printed, marketers can leverage marketing automation platforms to manage the interaction on the packaging.

Mobile mess up 
It all started when a German consumers scanned a QR Code on a bottle of Heinz ketchup and found it took him to a porn site. The consumer then took to Facebook voicing his complaints, causing the brand?s mishap to go viral. In any and all marketing efforts, brands need to be careful to prevent any blunders, as it is easy to lose customers to negative brand sentiment, especially through newer technologies. 

The mistake stems from a campaign contest created by Heinz that used QR code technology and took place from 2012 to 2014. Once the contest expired, so did the domain rights of the Web address the code directed to, with a porn site taking over. 

The porn site taking over the address means that any customer scanning the old QR codes now will unknowingly be directed to the explicit Web site. For a product with a long shelf life and a strong appeal to families, this is a major problem. With the social media field giving consumers a much louder voice, this kind of mistake can cause a lot of pain and agony for these brands. 

With new technology emerging, it is important for marketers to know what they are getting into and do their research first. Jumping into a new platform because it seems as if it will be the next best thing is a severe short sight. 

Heinz should have given serious thought to the enduring nature of QR codes before launching the campaign. Ketchup bottles are kept around family homes for possibly years, but the QR code links have clearly outlived the domain name rights owned by Heinz. 

Social media is significant driver in conversation for scandals such as this. Social platforms are so informal and immediate, they offer a growing opportunity for brands to post content, but with this comes the chance that consumers may be turned off by, offended from or unhappy with the content. 

For instance, there are numerous examples of brand employees sending out posts meant for their personal accounts such as an American Red Cross employee, who accidentally tweeted an inappropriate post discussing drinking with friends. Another issue that has arose is through created hashtags, which can easily be hijacked by social media users. 

For instance, McDonald?s hashtag encouraging customers to post their stories regarding the fast food retailer, which users took to share horror stories regarding the brand.

Benefits of social blunders
Although these platforms and technology require an extra set of eyes to catch any pitfalls or possible blunders, they provide a huge range of benefits and options to connect to consumers with. Sometimes a brand?s reaction to these scandals can cause positive sentiment if correctly done. 

For instance a Gap executive at the 2015 Integrated Marketing Week explained that the brand received a flood of positive feedback from consumers and social media users after the brands reacted quickly to a defaced advertisement that went viral after it was vandalized with racist remarks (see more). 

Also, a Thunderhead executive at CXNYC 2015 cautioned marketers to listen to what their customers? demands are, as social media enables a new layer of transparency to highlight complaints (see more).

"In this case they could use a response code generation tool like Scanbuy or Neomedia to give them the ability to dynamically change the URL a user is directed to upon scanning a code," Mr. Becker said. "So, when a URL expires or a campaign ends the marketer can rest assured that they can continue to manage and own the conversation with their customers, days, months and years after a program ends."

Final take
Brielle Jaekel is editorial assistant at Mobile Marketer