Mobile phone and wireless

Mobile phone advertising: will datamatrix codes work?

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In a recent talk with Johan Vakidis, creative director at OgilvyOne Shanghai, I learned that Ogilvy is preparing to incorporate datamatrix (dm) codes in their advertising campaigns in China.

Put simply, these are barcodes that you snap with your camera phone, and then special software in your mobile interprets the code. The software automatically opens a corresponding URL in your mobile's web browser, or does whatever else the dm code told it to do.

Marketers imagine Chinese consumers spotting a code on a print or billboard advertisement, taking its picture and getting connected to a web page with more commercial information. As Vakidis puts it "we can concentrate our creative focus on the ad, making it a teaser that makes them curious enough to use the code. The information about the product, service, event, or promotion can be put in the web page, rather than the ad itself." In other words, the dm code is the offline, real world version of "click here if you want to know more".

There are reasons to suspect that this ad model will run into social barriers in China. Consumers in China may find it to embarrassing to be seen taking a picture of a billboard advertisement, as survey respondents in Japan have indicated. Moreover, years of dealing with SMS spam and mobile phone scams have made people sensitive to commercial messages coming through their mobiles.

Curious to gain further insight into how people will react once dm codes become more common in China, I printed out an online survey probing people's experience with QR codes, a newer Japanese dm code standard that China Mobile plans to include in its portfolio of 3G services. The survey was designed by Ogilvy Taiwan on behalf of Motorola. I handed out copies (after editing out Motorola's logo) to thirty twenty-somethings in Nanjing's Shiziqiao downtown center.

Signs were good as far as use of camera and mobile web browsers, which is prerequisite experience for using the codes. 22 had used their camera within the last week, and half had indicated they used their mobile device to go online at least once before.

6 people indicated they had heard of QR codes, and 4 said they had used them before. They used them to download pictures and ring tones, as well as request information on films. Respondents also indicated they would be interested in using codes to automatically place a call or send a text message.

In the end however, only a few people expressed more than mild interest in QR codes. It makes sense then that China Mobile and China Unicom intend to make it easy for users. They are working with device makers to pre-install the software in certain handsets, and will market the codes directly to advertisers and WVAS providers.

Granted, you can't trust people to predict how they will react to a new media before its becomes mainstream. However, according to the results of a survey administered in highly questionable conditions, people do not seem that interested. It will be up to those at Ogilvy and other firms to come up with applications creative and compelling enough to get people to use this new mobile media.


Articles from Kaiser of digitalwatch.olgivy and Business Week show how more startups have entered the industry and more instances of use have emerged since this article was first published. However, the industry has still yet to take off, despite the attractiveness of the massive mobile market in China.

Links and Sources

  • QR Code Survey (Chinese Traditional): here

  • Taiwanese news report on QR Codes (Chinese): Youtube Link

  • Video demonstration of QR Codes (Chinese): Youtube Link

There are currently 2 Comments for Mobile phone advertising: will datamatrix codes work?.

Comments on Mobile phone advertising: will datamatrix codes work?

Don't forget that most stores prohibit photography of any kind including quick snaps with a cellphone, so you probably won't see QR codes in stores. I imagine it will be limited to print ads and ads in buses or bus stops.

I know there were a few local companies who developed a proprietary code that could be used for anti-counterfeit/certification as well as ads but none have really gotten anywhere

Mobile Internet marketing is the future. SMS and 2D Barcodes have been supeceded by image matching. This enables direct access to WAP sites, rather than the message being encoded in the bar code and this allows the advertiser to use existing graphics and creative. One example in Hong Kong and China is MyClick. Check out, and

The other system to look at is MMS, but that does not seem to have been a successful technology in Europe.

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