Four Ways Political Campaigns Can Use QR Codes

New guest post! This one comes in from Ben Donahower and covers a topic we haven’t addressed here before: how campaigns can use QR codes, those cellphone-friendly rectangular descendents of barcodes that have been appearing lately on signs and hand-outs. Ben writes about campaign yard signs for Campaign Trail Yard Signs (appropriately enough) and has worked professionally on campaigns from state representative to president. You can follow Ben at @iapprovethismsg.

Four Ways Political Campaigns Can Use QR Codes

By Ben Donahower

QR code of Bit.ly shortlink for this article

Political campaigns are quickly picking up on the power of QR codes for good reason. A third of smartphone users scan QR codes and by Christmas 2011 1 in 2 Americans will have a smartphone. The growth rate is even more impressive! In the summer of 2008, only 10% of the population had a smartphone. In two and half years the number of people using smartphones has quintupled.

QR code scanning rates are also skyrocketing. Between these two trends, a majority of the population could be scanning QR codes by the presidential election.

In addition to the compelling numbers, this technology is just so simple to implement there is no excuse not to try it. I recommend creating QR codes with XZING (pronounced Zebra Crossing), which is an open source QR code generator. Anyone can create a QR code that encodes a:

  • Calendar event
  • Contact information
  • Email address
  • Geo location
  • Phone number
  • SMS / text message
  • Text
  • URL
  • Wifi network

Scanning the code will send the encoded item to the user’s phone instantly, making them a powerful tool for following up on a print piece — or even a television commercial.

QR codes are versatile. Political campaigns can use QR codes to engage voters through diverse channels including direct mail, yard signs, television ads, and campaign websites.

Political Direct Mail

This is the most common way that campaigns are using QR codes. Chances are if you haven’t already gotten political mail with a QR code on it, you’ve at least received some form of commercial direct mail with a code. Often, commercial direct mail will link the QR code to a coupon or sweepstakes.

While a political campaign won’t have a coupon, campaigns will get a far better response if they give a voter a good reason to scan the QR code. Perhaps the campaign is running a sweepstakes to meet the candidate or to win a free ticket to an upcoming fundraiser. More likely, however, the campaign might offer exclusive information about the campaign or promise the voter that they will be the first to know about important developments in the race [Ed. note: the same way the 2008 Obama campaign used the promise of early news of his V.P. announcement to build a text-message list].

Campaign Yard Signs and Other Signs

This doesn’t work for every race, but campaigns that expect a lot of foot traffic passing by their campaign yard signs should consider putting a QR code on them. A great call to action on a campaign sign is for the voter to like your campaign Facebook page, follow you on Twitter, or connect on other social networks. You can also use the QR code as a way for supporters to request a yard sign for their own lawn!

Political campaigns that flyer for events or table should test using QR codes on their campaign posters. Finally, campaigns can test putting QR codes on signs at their campaign headquarters asking supporters to do anything from sign up for campaign updates or to schedule themselves for a volunteer shift.

Campaign Television Ads

All the same innovative use cases for QR codes apply when using them on TV spots. There are, however, a couple cautions with television. First, it’s really important to test to see how big your QR code needs to be for viewers to scan it. Since you can’t control for the resolution of the screen of the viewer, you can either size the QR code with poor screen quality in mind knowing that the code will take up a substantial portion of the screen or use a smaller QR code that some viewers won’t be able to scan.

Another factor to consider is how long you will have the QR code up on the screen. You’d be surprised how many QR codes on TV ads are only on the screen for a split second. Viewers who are interested in scanning a QR code need a lot more time. It takes at the very least five or ten seconds for a viewer to decide to scan the code, get their cell phone, open the application, and then scan the QR code.

On the Candidate Website

It might seem counterintuitive for a campaign to use a QR code on their website since the voter is already in a digital space, but it can work. If a campaign has a mobile app or other content that is optimized for mobile, a QR code on the campaign website will make it easy for voters who are viewing the website on a desktop, laptop, or tablet to scan the code and consume the content as the campaign intended.

Give QR Codes a Try

The secret sauce to QR codes or any other marketing tactic, for that matter, is to test. Unlike so many other marketing techniques, you can try QR codes without addition cost to the campaign. Try QR codes on your campaign materials and be sure to test the results. If it doesn’t work, stop or go back to the drawing board and try again. If it works, then you know that the campaign should be using QR codes more regularly.

Thanks Ben! I bet those little suckers are going to start popping up on campaign signs all over the place. Yay, a new online-offline connection to have fun with. – cpd

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