FirstBank uses QR codes in a ‘novel’ giveaway

Travelers passing through the Denver International Airport with time to kill and a digital device on their hands will be provided with electronic books, crosswords or Sudoku for free, courtesy of FirstBank.

Backlit posters inside the airport, headlined “Free Books,” “Free Crosswords,” and “Free Sudoku” show QR codes linked to a URL where travelers can download 12 classic novels. Crosswords and Sudoku puzzles are also available at the novice, intermediate and expert levels. Those without a QR-enabled smartphone can go online to download the same offerings from their computer.

The campaign has only been running a couple of weeks, but in that time, there have been over 750 downloads. 9% of the downloads have been via QR codes. Downloads take under 30 seconds.

Based on the first week’s results, the most popular books, in order, are Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, and James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans. Least popular are Walden, Emma and Don Quixote.

The bank estimates that 7,000 classic novels and puzzles will be given out during the five-month promotion, the latest effort in the bank’s ongoing “helpfulness” campaign, created by TDA Advertising & Design.

Other “helpful” FirstBank campaigns have included free mock holiday gifts, free thumbless gloves for mobile banking skiers, an airport treadmill to tire out traveling children, and oversized bank furniture displays for online banking customers nostalgic for the bank lobbies.

What are ‘QR codes?’

If you haven’t yet heard of QR codes, it’s time to start paying attention as they are rapidly gaining popularity. QR codes are two-dimensional barcodes that are readable by smartphones and other mobile devices equipped with a camera. The information encoded in a QR code can be text, data or, most commonly, a URL. All you need to do is point your camera-capable phone at the QR block, take a picture, and a website will automatically pop up on your screen.

You can see a typical-looking QR code above. It should point to this article. Take a picture with your phone and give it a whirl.

Experts in the tech sector are confident QR codes are the breakthrough needed in order for mobile marketing to deliver on its promise of opportunity. It’s surely a step in the right direction, but it’s really no different than asking someone to type your URL into a browser, it’s just easier…and a bit geekier.

Key Takeaways: The novelty of QR code campaigns will not make them successful. While the technology may be slicker, strategically speaking, nothing has really changed. You still need to deliver a relevant and engaging experience (e.g., a killer microsite) to have any impact. The Golden Rule of the Web still applies: “It’s all about quality content.” If someone loads the URL you’ve linked to your QR code and finds a lame, silly website, your campaign will be a big dud, no matter how snazzy your QR codes may be.

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  1. I’m glad to see that Sun Tzu’s Art of War is the top choice. Thanks FirstBank for making it available!


  2. Cyrus Shah says:

    I believe you need a third party to actually program these QR codes that eventually take customers to the desired website. Can you recommend some Companies in UAE offering such solution. I am a marketing consultant and needs to evaluate few things before I can offer this to my clients.


  3. Yes, you’re right Cyrus. But the good news is that there are many free places to get QR codes instantly online.

  4. If you want to create vector QR codes beside bitmap QR codes you can do this using free online tool at: You can choose between various data types, we support also geolocation.

  5. You can go to and you can generate your own QR codes that will go to URL’s, or send text message coupons. Its a really great site for managing a QR code campaign. It also allows yo to track how manytimes the codes have been hit. Nice system.

  6. mark zmarzly says:


    I’m late to this discussion but can you comment on the effectiveness of using QR codes on direct mail? I understand the novelty of using them at an airport (people will have time and the technology with them) but don’t know about the validity of using them in a direct mail piece. Will I take out my camera phone at home and take a picture of my mail? I suppose it would depend on the offer…but can you toss out some thoughts on this? Thanks! – mz

  7. Hi Mark,

    I can’t comment on the effectiveness of QR codes, but I wouldn’t think venue or channel makes much difference. If someone is inclined to tinker around with marketing-based QR codes, they’ll probably do it if the QR code is in the airport or on a direct mail piece, either way.

  8. mark zmarzly says:

    Thanks for the response. Perhaps my question is really about how many people are inclined to tinker with QR codes. I haven’t read much about the use of QR codes so am not sure how prevalent or known they really are. If anyone has a good source for more info, I’d love to hear more.

  9. These are really cool, but when I tried to scan the codes a couple of weeks ago I had success for only one code of six (a sudoku). That could be an issue with my code reader, but what the pictures in this article do NOT show is the high degree of red and green light reflection from nearby signs that flare brightly on the codes. The usability work on QR codes we have been doing at our company suggest the reflection of the code surface is important, and this real-life experience supports that. I wonder how many downloads the bank might have gotten with a different surface.

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