Coding & marking

Coding & marking

Stuart Kellock, Managing Director of award winning self-adhesive label printers Label Apeel says keep your eyes on the ball when using variable data and stop getting carried away with the creativity

QR Codes are everywhere; From beverages on the supermarket shelves to bus stops to help travellers plan their journey better. First designed in 1994 by Toyota, they were created to track cars during production; Quick Response Code is the trademark for this two-dimensional bar code.

Orchestrated well and they offer a fast and innovative approach to engaging with customers on a one2one basis, at any time of day. But for some the jury is still out on the true effectiveness and lifespan of this tool. Research carried out earlier in 2012 by global market research Skopos, showed that only 12 per cent of mobile phone users in the UK have accessed QR Codes compared to over 24 per cent in Germany. The reasons for the slow up take in the UK is that 30 per cent of the research participants admitted they ‘didn’t know how to use them’ and 39 per cent don’t have a ‘phone with the capability. So, for the less techy consumers amongst us the jury is out on just how great they are.

For the industry, again, it seems it’s a mixed opinion. Many marketing bigwigs believe that mobile technology is developing at such an exponential rate that QR Codes will be rendered redundant within a matter of years.

For those that do choose to use QR Codes and other types of variable data they need to remember to do so for the right reasons. We’re constantly being told that no-one has any time, so busy consumers are only going to be tempted with your marketing campaign if they know they’ll get something worthwhile at the end of it.

Think about every aspect of the campaign. By using variable data you are distinguishing an item as something special. There is no room for ambiguity, don’t let your target audience down.

Security is important when dealing with all coding and marking by its very nature we are coding and marking for a reason. Be that reason for security or for promotional reasons people need the data to be accurate, complete and difficult to copy. That means that the printer must have secure systems in place to ensure the integrity of the data, that is, it is in the correct format; none of it is missing; the mark is unique and not replicated in any way, such as printed twice by mistake; and that it works. Nobody wants to be scanning QR Codes that do not go anywhere. On top of this the printer must be able to demonstrate systems that are secure. Staff should be vetted and all-material, be it fully finished or only part finished, should be managed thoroughly. This should go through to the point of destruction of overs and scrap in such away as to leave the labels unusable. Any printer worth their weight in paper will tell you this.


1.    Integrity of the data is paramount. There is no room for ambiguity;
2.    Be clear on the purpose of your campaign, your marketing goals and how your audience will interact with your campaign;
3.    What’s in it for the consumer? Offer only quality content the end users will really enjoy;
4.    Everything has to be mobile friendly and data has to load quickly;
5.    Consumers want real content: e.g. the tasting notes and provenance of the beer they are drinking or what exact region of France that great wine came from.


At Label Apeel we regularly supply one of our customer’s with over 12,000,000 labels each with its own unique coding. The labels are used to monitor stock movements of individual items. Any ambiguity in the data could easily lead to a significant breakdown in the customer’s warehousing and logistics system. A system that processes tens of thousands of items each day. The system in place has to be rigorous enough to withstand a very tight turnaround with the added complications of each store receiving a certain data set.

These labels are an intrinsic part of the business and there is no room for screw-ups. So it’s a good job we don’t! Our work with this company isn’t the sexy stuff that gets banded around, but it’s an example of how sequential numbers can become a nuts and bolt part of a business, not just a one hit marketing stunt.



Variable data is also a way of adding a certain level of status to a product. We recently played an instrumental part in branding a high-end spirit, which now adorns the shelves of the classiest hotels across London. Part of the campaign for Gilpin’s Gin, required us to create codes for every bottle produced.

Each bottle was given a unique number, and with so few of this high quality product produced this feature added a lot of kudos to the brand. The drink is deemed as exclusive as the establishments it is served in.



I’m not saying shy away from creativity completely when using variable data, just give all elements equal attention. Earlier this year we worked with Morphy Richards on a campaign that allowed us to mix the logical systematic approach of variable data with the more creative side. We created a label for a promotion where the label on the product packaging was being used to drive customers to the brand’s website. Once there, a variable data code that was printed on the third page of a peel and reveal label was entered into the brand’s website, to reveal the prize. A simple, yet effective way of using variable data to drive sales through the brand’s website.


Bottled beer giant Heineken ran some clever digital marketing campaigns in 2012. It gave drinkers the chance to customize their own six-pack, by adding text and images onto 42 different bottle designs via their website. But it didn’t stop there. The beer makers used QR Codes at a music festival. The idea was straightforward – everyone attending got their own QR Code printed and stuck to them, which when scanned gave information about them and what they like doing. The campaign turned out to be a great icebreaker for the music-fans, and turned them all into walking billboards for the brand.

You don’t have to just look at the big brands for inspiration. It’s simple ideas that many small businesses do that are just as powerful. Like the bar that has a QR code on a poster on the front door advertising a local taxi firm. A quick scan of the code and it saves the number to your phone and even gives you the option to call and order a lift home.


There was poor use of a QR Code in a recent cooking programme. The Code flashed-up on the screen so quickly that viewers didn’t have the chance to scan it. If they were quick off the draw the viewers would have been taken to a website and the recipe.  A great idea, but as yet TV isn’t the best format for QR Codes.

Betfair the online gambling site struck up a deal with Bromley FC for all the players to have QR Codes shaved into the back of their heads. Football fans were promised, scan your favourite players head and you’d be taken to the online sportsbook site. Great in theory, but it turned out the smart phones found it hard to read the codes, the result frustrated footy fans.

Stephanie Cornwall
Stephanie Cornwall