QR Code at 30,000 Feet

The page below comes from the January issue of Spirit Magazine, the in-flight magazine of Southwest Airlines. The article, “The Pleasure Principles,” is about raising happy kids and, as a means for the reader to be able to interact with the article and for Southwest to offer something of additional value to the reader, Spirit Magazine thought to include a Microsoft Tag and post it adjacent to the article (see lower right hand corner). 

If you cannot make out the copy next to the Tag it reads “Follow Up. Scan this tag with your smart phone (using a QR code reader) or go to the Web at spiritmag.com/happy for a chance to WIN a copy of Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage or Christine Carter’s Raising Happiness. We’re giving away a few dozen so get scan-happy!” When the Tag is scanned, readers of the article are linked to a mobile website where they can enter an email address and hope to win one of the two books being given away.  Sounds simple enough, right?

Did you read the copy closely though? Did you find the error? The company displays a Microsoft Tag and correctly names it in the opening line (tag), but then the reader of the article is instructed to use a QR Code reader to scan the code. What does Spirit Magazine know that the rest of us don’t know? Microsoft Tag is a proprietary 2D barcode platform and, as such, only the Microsoft Tag Reader can detect and scan a Microsoft Tag. All the QR Code readers in the world, as far as I know, won’t be able to detect and/or scan the Tag.

If this mistake was not enough then there are several other tactical aspects of the campaign that, in my opinion, would leave the reader of the article less than enamored with 2D technology. Suffice it to say that these other aspects are related to the placement and location of the Tag and the accessibility, or lack thereof, of the Internet.

Looking beyond these factors, it is commendable that Southwest Airlines wishes to enhance a passenger’s in-flight experience. And the idea to offer free books that tie in to the article’s subject matter makes perfect sense. It’s just a shame that the execution of the campaign was not thoroughly proofed. Simple errors like this will only serve to slow the adoption of 2D technology.

(Thank you Andrew)

2D Barcode Litmus Test: FAIL


6 thoughts on “QR Code at 30,000 Feet

  1. Yeah, I saw this last week and was disappointed they suggested a QR reader. Although, someone should be working on a reader that can scan both.

    When I came to this article I was hoping someone created a qr code in a corn field that one could scan from a plane. 🙂

  2. Salem and Allan: Thank you for the comments. What I did not get into with this post is that in-flight no one has the ability to scan a code and have it resolve. There's no Internet connection at 30K+ feet, at least I do not believe airlines have started to actually offer it. And, even if there was access to the web, not sure if airlines want to have mobile devices on during the flight. I thought that was a TSA no no. From this perspective the location/placement of the Tag does not seem to be the best (i.e., an in-flight magazine). Yes, a passenger can take the magazine with them, but to me it kind of defeats the whole purpose of using 2D in the first place, all immediacy is lost.

  3. Good call-out, as usual, Roger. Regarding the viability of in-flight wi-fi, it seems that airlines are in the early stages of offering wi-fi during at least some of their longer flights, which makes a lot of sense. Delta, I believe, seems to be charging for it (what don’t they charge for?) while others seem to be considering a more sensible free model. As far as TSA, I believe the prohibition of electronic devices applies primarily during takeoff and landing, but it’s ok to use them once you’ve reached altitude.
    Here are a couple of links you might find useful.



  4. Classic Microsoft Fail…”Microsoft Tag is a proprietary 2D barcode platform and, as such, only the Microsoft Tag Reader can detect and scan a Microsoft Tag. All the QR Code readers in the world, as far as I know, won't be able to detect and/or scan the Tag.” Nice dissection!

  5. SafeCycle: Thank you for the comment. You write “classic Microsoft fail,” but it really isn't. It's a failure on the part of Spirit Magazine for not proofing the copy and/or knowing about code readers.

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