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Did Barneys miss the mark with its bar code campaign?

September 1, 2011

Barneys QR code ad in the New York Times


Department store Barneys New York had good intentions with the placement of QR  codes in the New York Times newspaper, but since the landing page was not mobile-optimized, the retailer may have missed an opportunity to connect with consumers.

Bar codes are a simple way for luxury brands to engage consumers via out-of-home and print ads, but some experts believe that not having an optimized site negates the point of QR codes. The absence of a mobile-optimized site is the main mistake that many luxury brands make when trying this mobile marketing tactic.

“Mobile-optimized landing pages are as important as ensuring your QR codes are easily scannable by the consumer,” said Laura Marriott, Victoria, British Columbia-based CEO of NeoMedia.

“What happens after the scan -- the information delivered -- is what helps to ensure the consumer experience is seamless, easy and offers clear value,” she said. “The entire experience is what the consumer will remember.”

Ms. Marriott is not affiliated with Barneys, but agreed to comment as an industry expert on bar codes.

Barneys did not respond before press deadline.

Missing the bar

Barneys took out a half-page ad in the New York Times style section Aug. 28.

The ad consists of a Manolo Blahnik shoe taking up three-fourths of the ad with a white background.


Barneys New York Times ad with QR code

One quarter of the ad was black and read “Barneys New York” in the brand’s iconic white font and lettering.

Below the name was the bar code and the address of the retailer’s flagship location on Madison Avenue and 61st Street in New York.

The ad also encouraged online traffic by listing the Barneys ecommerce site at and its blog, The Window, at

When consumers scan the code with their mobile phones, they are brought to the designer shoe section on Barneys’ site.

However, the print is too small to read and the thumbnail images are tiny.

Tapping on a thumbnail brings consumers to another page with more products, but shoppers will still have to pinch-and-zoom to read the letters or adequately view an image.

Barneys does have a mobile-optimized site, but it is not used during this campaign.

“Not having an optimized mobile landing page will simply frustrate customers trying to engage with the brand, and possibly turn them away from future interactions with that brand or with QR codes, in general,” Ms. Marriott said.

Cracking the code

When used properly, bar codes are a great opportunity for luxury brands to engage with brand loyalists and aspirational consumers.

Younger consumers are more likely to own smartphones and know how to use and scan bar codes.

Luxury brands that place QR codes in newspapers and magazines are relying on consumers being familiar with new mobile technology, which allows them to interact with shoppers in real-time.

“Newspapers are seeing less utilization by brands than ever before as the movement to digital media continues,” Ms. Marriott said.

“As such, brands want to ensure that the ads they place in newspapers get optimum value from the consumer and from their placement," she said. “This means, by adding QR codes, they are able to bring the advertisement to life and engage with the consumer with information beyond what is simply included in the ad."

Barneys is no novice when using QR codes. It took out another ad in the New York Times to promote the retailer’s collaboration with Daphne Guinness in preparation for the Met Gala (see story).


Barneys' Daphne Guinness ad with QR codes

However, to keep consumers scanning bar codes in ads, Barneys could try to make the after-scan experience simpler.

Furthermore, if Barneys connects its mobile site to its QR code campaign, it may increase mobile transactions.

“By scanning the QR code, the consumer is able to immediately interact with the brand, instantly learn more about the company or product and possibly sign up for more facts about the brand that is advertised,” Ms. Marriott said.

“It is another great way for the luxury brand to attract customers, as well as track, in real time, who has shown interest in their offer,” she said.

Final Take

Rachel Lamb, associate reporter on Luxury Daily, New York