In My Opinion: Scott Douglas: The Edinburgh festivals, social media and QR codes

THE Festival in Edinburgh is delivering a colourful spectacle that is a feast for the eyes and ears – especially on social media.

In fact, a foray into the fire hose of information – Tweets, posts, shares, likes, audio and video – is an assault on the eyes and ears that would leave even the most-seasoned show reviewer reeling.

The new media platforms have really come of age in 2013, with acts, promoters and venues now using Twitter and Facebook absolutely as standard as they try to sell, sell, sell their shows.

There are so many Fringe and Festival podcasts that I could easily find new material to drown out the endless hours of Ladyboys numbers drifting into my front room from the nearby show in the Meadows.

And should I ever tire of TV in terrestrial, cable or Netflix form, then there’s enough show taster videos on YouTube to keep me square-eyed for years to come.

For attention deficit sufferers out there, the new short form video services are also proving popular. Festival-goers – and the occasional act or venue – are using the Vine service to share seven-second looping videos via Twitter or posting 15-second films via Instagram.

Instagram also remains popular in its original guise, as a way for mobile phone users to share their photos. Meanwhile, photo pinning platform, Pinterest, is also chock-a-block with Fringe-related images.

Many of these services didn’t exist just a few short years ago, while others were the preserve of the social media savvy.

Now, the likes of Twitter and Facebook are almost drearily mainstream – all driven by the relentless rise of the smart phone. Anybody with a phone can share thoughts as soon as they enter their heads or upload photos of what’s in front of them in real time.

Which makes it all the more surprising that one digital marketing tool is conspicuous by its absence: in Festival Edinburgh, the QR code seems to be an endangered species.

The wee black and white squares can be scanned by a smart phone and will take the user to a dedicated webpage – making them the perfect addition to any poster or fliers which turn old media paper promotions into an interactive experience.

Since the centre of Edinburgh is afloat on a rising tide of bill posters and leaflets (not to mention entertainment-hungry festival-goers armed with smart phones), the QR code should be coming into its own.

But earlier this week I counted more than 100 show posters across the south side of Edinburgh – and not a single, scannable QR code among them. I collected armfuls of flier and leaflets. The story was the same, nary a thumbnail-sized black and white code to be found.

It seems baffling verging on the bizarre. Many phones come with code scanners built in and there are loads of super-quick and accurate scanning apps for both Android and Apple phones. Most are free.

Which means a user can spy a show flier or poster for a show they are interested in, flip out their phone out and scan a code in little more than a second.

Where the scan leads to is entirely up to the promoter but obvious options would be to the show home page, a ticket booking page, an online review or maybe even a two-for-one ticket voucher. Anything that might give an extra chance of luring in those all important audience members.

At the very, very least, most of the scanning apps will let the user bookmark a page so they can revisit it later. How many busy festival goers can rely on memory alone to recall the name of a show they fancied the sound of hours earlier? Not many, but still more than the tiny number who can recall web URLs, Twitter user names or Facebook page details.

Acts and venues must have spent thousands of pounds on fliers and posters which are effectively instantly forgettable. Even with the most memorable posters, there’s no effective way of knowing how many people reacted to them or acted on the information included in them.

Another bonus of QR codes is that they are trackable, giving at least some idea of how many people may have been interested in what a poster or flier had to say. They are also cheap, adding very little (if anything) to the cost of printing.

I’ve got no idea why the QR code seems to have suffered the fate of unfunny comedians – and died on their arse. But I’d love to hear any theories.

Maybe for something as colourful as the Festival they’re simply too black and white?

Scott Douglas is a director of Holyrood PR. He is also the founder of Deadline News Agency and a former reporter with the Daily Record, The Journal and the Edinburgh Evening News.