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July 19th, 2010

Art museum quick to try new ad format



By Shannon Mortland, Crain’s

CLEVELAND—You might have seen the two-dimensional, black and white boxes around town and wondered what they were.

Located on kiosks and in newspaper ads, the boxes have lines running in all directions and are called quick response — or QR — codes. Though they’re popular in countries such as Japan and Canada, the Cleveland Museum of Art is among the first to adopt them in Northeast Ohio as part of its marketing strategy.

“It was a way to bridge traditional ads with digital communication,” said Cindy Fink, the museum’s director of marketing and communications. “You can create that bridge and take a person to a place on the web where multimedia kicks in.”

Using a smart phone, a consumer can download a free application to enable the phone to take a picture of the QR code, which then will immediately connect the person to a web site that provides more information on the topic advertised. The consumer can watch videos, read more about an exhibit or learn where and when to see it, Ms. Fink said.

“They’re going to land on the exact page we want them to land on,” Ms. Fink said. “We could really direct their (Internet) path.”

Posters with the quick response codes will be on 11 kiosks downtown and in Little Italy, Tremont and Ohio City until Aug. 2. Print ads are running in The

Plain Dealer and Scene, said Tim Brokaw, managing partner at Cleveland advertising agency Brokaw Inc., which helped the art museum create the ad campaign. Posters with the codes also will appear in bars and restaurants, Ms. Fink said.

The art museum chose to experiment with QR codes for the first time to become more attractive to those people who often are early adopters of technology and are willing to try new things, Mr. Brokaw said. The use of QR codes is one way to make the art museum more accessible and attractive to young audiences, he said.

The campaign coincides with the reopening of 17 galleries at the art museum that had been closed for construction, Ms. Fink said.

Though QR codes have been slow to catch on in the United States, their popularity is expected to rise now that 50 million Americans have smart phones, Mr. Brokaw said.

QR codes were tested on kiosks at Case Western Reserve University two years ago by Mobile Discovery Inc., a mobile marketing firm in Reston, Va. During a two-week campaign, thousands of people clicked on the QR codes to register for free prizes, said David Miller, CEO of Mobile Discovery.

Mr. Miller said Americans’ short attention span is precisely what will boost the use of QR codes in the near future.

“The fact that the U.S. has a little bit of (attention deficit disorder) is what makes them successful,” Mr. Miller said.

Ms. Fink said some museums are using QR codes in the galleries to provide audio tours of the artwork, and the Cleveland Museum of Art is considering following their lead.

“As more and more people adopt and use smart phones, it makes sense to use (QR codes) in museums,” she said.