QR Codes in Public Transit: The Good

Experts may not be able to agree on how many ads a person sees, but we are potentially exposed to hundreds of marketing campaigns and messages everyday. For the average commuter, you probably see a few dozen ads waiting for and sitting on the bus or train before your day even “starts”. I’ve seen some good and many more bad transit ads that help teach the dos and don’ts of reaching transit audiences.

The Good: Vodafone Digital Library in Bucharest, Romania

Vodafone, a multinational telecommunications provider, collaborated with Humanitas, an Romanian publishing house, for a guerilla marketing campaign in Bucharest’s metro system. Together, they covered the walls of Piata Victoriei metro station to create a digital library. This digital library consisted of 49 ebooks and 10 audiobooks that could be downloaded onto smartphones and tablets by scanning QR codes on the spines of the “books”. A full version of Under the Seal of Mystery by Mateiu I. Caragiale was made free for all users and the remaining titles were available for purchase through the Humanitas mobile website (in Romanian). Users were given a free preview of the books they scanned before being asked to pay for the full version. This campaign launched in May and ran through October, according to Romania’s Business Review and is still generating buzz in the online world.

I’d be very interested to see how many scans and purchases the digital library generated, but Vodafone and Humanitas certainly gained positive recognition from local and online communities.

So what can we learn from this exemplar?

+ Give your audience something worth scanning

People need motivation to change their behaviour. If they aren’t scanning your transit ads now, give them a reason to. In the digital library example, the reward for scanning was access to a book – a book that provides entertainment, education, and something to make for a more interesting commute.

+ Make it mobile friendly

This should be a no-brainer, but from my observations, the majority of QR codes do not lead to mobile-optimized content. Obviously digital books and audiobooks are perfect for mobile devices, but the webpage where users could purchase books was also easy to use on smartphones and tablets.

+ Ensure users can connect to your content

The thing about transit vehicles is that they are always on the move. That means that people may be getting and losing internet connection from one minute to another. Some underground routes may not even have any reception. Transit advertisers need to keep that in mind before giving their audiences a call-to-action that requires internet access. Vodafone was sure to make the digital library accessible in the metro station and also allowed non-Vodafone mobiles to connect to the bookstore. That may already be more commonplace in Europe and Asia, but North America is far behind when it comes to having public internet access.

What do you think of the digital library idea? Would you scan and read if this was in your city’s transit?

Later, we’ll look at some of the “bad” in transit advertisements and add some guidelines for what NOT to do.


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