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QSRs' appetite for QR codes shows no signs of waning

Even though the newer-technology augmented reality is also up-and-coming, quick-service restaurants such as McDonald?s, Taco Bell and Wendy?s are sticking with mobile bar codes to add shelf life to their packaging.

Quick-service restaurants continue to rely on QR codes because it is easy to test different types of content to see what consumers respond to most. One of the brands currently experimenting with this is McDonald?s, which made a big investment in QR codes earlier this year.

?McDonald's has an ongoing commitment to provide customers with information about the products they are eating and to help them make informed choices,? said Dirk Rients, senior vice president and director of mobile at DDB Chicago, Chicago.

?Adding QR codes on the packaging allows McDonald's to directly connect with their customers and deliver relevant content, including things like nutritional information,? he said.

DDB Chicago is McDonald?s agency.

QR education
At the beginning of this year, McDonald?s rolled out a massive campaign that plasters QR codes on bags and cups to provide consumers with nutritional information.

When consumers scan the mobile bar codes, they are directed to a page on McDonald?s mobile site where they can view all menu items with nutrition information.

QR codes are rolling out to McDonald?s locations worldwide with content translated into 18 languages.

McDonald?s is also using QR codes as digital extensions to promotions.

For example, the chain?s famous Monopoly campaign is currently running nationwide. The campaign lets consumers collect game pieces on products for a chance at winning prizes.

One side of takeout bags features a QR code that is linked with the Monopoly game and directs consumers to an online game board set up for the campaign. A mobile bar code on the other side of the bag is connected with the nutritional information with which the QR code initiative was launched.

According to Mr. Rients, the content of the QR code has also changed based on new product launches, such as the McCafe Blueberry Pomegranate Smoothie or the McWrap.

?We do know that our customers are engaging with the QR codes on packaging,? Mr. Rients said.

?We're consistently looking at testing and delivering new content via QR codes on packaging and elsewhere,? he said.

The QR codes on McDonald's packaging

Snack on mobile
Simplifying a sweepstakes entry process is another big draw for fast food chains with QR codes.

For example, KFC cited 90 percent of its customers as mobile phone owners, leading the brand to mobilize the packaging on kids meals in April as part of a sweepstakes with GoGo SqueeZ (see story).

It is no surprise that the packaging space on bags, cups and wrappers are valuable for quick-service restaurants. 

With consumers glued to their smartphones while they have a few minutes to kill inside restaurants, smart chains are capitalizing on mobile to further hammer a marketing message into consumers.

?We have seen some early experimentation the past few years, with mild adoption of QR codes by QSRs,? said Matthew Witt, executive vice president and director of digital integration at TRIS3CT, Chicago.

?These are typically related to an incentive-based promotion, such as an instant-win sweepstakes,? he said. ?However, we have also seen some QSR and casual dining brands develop more engaging experiences and content, such as the reveal of hidden menus, though QR triggers.?

Some fast food chains are also layering in location and social media on top of their QR codes with packaging to increase the time spent inside restaurants.

Take Wendy?s, for example.

Last year the restaurant chain placed QR codes on bags that were connected to a mobile check-in sweepstakes. The contest only worked if consumers were in a geofenced area around a Wendy?s location (see story).

By limiting the reach of the sweepstakes, Wendy?s was able to target consumers within a set area and could help the chain not only drive more consumers into stores but also keep them in-store for longer periods of time.

Multichannel approach
QR codes might be viewed as old news to some marketers since adoption of the technology has been slow over the years and is now often pitted against augmented reality as the newest way to bring static products to life.

Therefore, marketers looking to get the most reach out of their QR code campaigns should consider tying QR codes, augmented reality and SMS together.

For example, Taco Bell has continuously relied on QR codes for promotions in the past, but what makes the fast food chain?s efforts stand out is how mobile bar codes are integrated with other mobile channels on packaging.

In 2011, Taco Bell placed both QR codes and SMS calls-to-action on 12-pack products as part of a partnership with ESPN (see story).

Then last year, Taco Bell combined QR codes with augmented reality as part of a multichannel product launch for the Doritos Locos Tacos (see story).

According to Ritesh Bhavnani, chairman of Snipp Interactive, Washington, QR codes are better suited for loyalty-based programs that would let consumers earn points by scanning codes, while augmented reality is better suited for promotional efforts.

Despite QR codes still being new for some marketers, the Snipp executive believes that augmented reality remains the next big thing to watch.

?For promotions, not rewards, I actually think augmented reality is probably going to see a lot more attention than QR codes,? Mr. Bhavnani said.

?Of late, we have seen a lot more interest and have done a lot more campaigns around AR than QR,? he said.

?AR provides a richer environment for more immersive and imaginative promotional experiences.?

Final Take
Lauren Johnson is associate reporter on Mobile Marketer, New York