Bar Louie is a chain gastropub with several locations in my fair locale of the Denver-Metro area. In all, as best as my research could reveal, they have 133 restaurants nationwide, so it would be a fair assumption that they have this whole marketing and advertising thing pretty well locked down. By and large, I’d agree with that assessment. I’d say that they were almost perfect in a recent campaign… almost.

When I came across a light rail car with multiple ads for Bar Louie, they caught my eye. This isn’t that rare since I make it my job to assess the marketing and advertising that I’m exposed to, looking for both strengths and opportunities. To be honest, most ads don’t stick. I don’t love them or hate them – I just forget them. But Bar Louie’s ad was different. It required my attention.

Sitting in my light rail seat, the images below represent my view.

Would Bar Louie have demanded your awareness as it did mine?

Why did this Bar Louie ad stick with me?

If I could only choose one thing that made me “lean in” to this ad, I’d have to say that it was a giant QR code. Perhaps in the same way that a cassette boombox or any other recognizable relic of the past would jump out at you for seeming so out of place in the present, devoting that much real estate to a sign of what once was practically grabbed me.

Now, when it comes to QR codes, I think Bar Louie has it right and conventional thinking has it wrong. QR codes only went out of style, in my opinion, because they were inconvenient upon release. Yes, they were meant to create convenience, but between searching for a reader app, downloading it, launching it…. I’d have rather just been given a URL to type in at that point.

But, that was also prior to Apple’s iOS 11. The age of practical convenience for QR codes had arrived. It arrived late, but it arrived. Now, all you have to do is open your phone’s camera, point it at the QR code and your phone will ask if you’d like to visit the website. It’s extremely easy. Lest you think this is only for iPhone users, Android already had that feature before iOS did with Google Suggest turned on. It really couldn’t be easier for the wide majority of smartphone users to use a QR code. Just in case you weren’t aware of how easy it is, Bar Louis conveniently added instructions to the bottom of their ad:


A QR Reader is built in to your phones camera.

If I had to choose another reason that I believe this ad worked, it’s because they leased multiple prominent placements in the light rail car. I absolutely love this. I know clients (and account managers) who would say “We only have budget for four ads? Let’s put them in four different cars.” In this scenario that Bar Louie has created, while they’re reaching fewer people, they’re immersing those fewer people in your message, rather than reaching a larger audience who will more easily ignore them.

But, what about the messaging?

I am not Bar Louie’s target market. I know it and, almost certainly, Bar Louie knows it. So, the messaging about getting paid to party rolls off of me like beads of sweat off of a sangria glass (I tried).


I’m also a small business owner surrounded by a city of small business owners, some of who own gastropubs. If I intend to be loyal, I will be loyal to my fellow business owners who rely on that loyalty to maintain and grow. So, their second message of “Loyalty Always Pays Off” is again, a miss for my lifestyle.


That’s ok because I’d assume that with 133 locations, this brand knows their audience and the prospect of being rewarded for drinking a pineapple martini with their friends after work is a strong motivator.

The messaging doesn’t attract me and it’s not supposed to, which likely means that it speaks clearly to a person who’s not me, aka, the regular Bar Louie customer.

Alright, Tyler. Where’s the missed opportunity?

I’m on a train and there are two ads, each ad has its own color and its own message.

One of these colors is more attractive to my fellow light rail passengers than the other.

One of these messages is more attractive than the other.

One of these placements is better than the other.

Bar Louie still doesn’t know what’s working best for them on this campaign.

As you can see, these QR codes are identical.


Overlayed Bar Louie light rail ads to show that the QR codes are identical.

Identical QR codes mean that there’s no variation in what URL you’re going to be visiting, which means you can’t track which ad people are pointing their smartphone cameras at.

Phase one: Were I in charge of leading the strategy for this campaign, would be to create URLs with different UTM codes indicating which ad was being scanned. Is it the pink ad promising a payday? Or is it the olive-colored ad promising a reward for loyalty? With UTM codes, a review of my analytics would reveal this information.

Phase two: Once I’ve determined which ad is working best, I’d see if the locations could be swapped to determine if it’s still the messaging or color that’s prompting the scans or if it’s simply the ad placement.

If it was ad placement, I’d ask if we could remove the other ads in the non-producing placements to see if that affects the volume of scans I get on the placement that is producing scans.

If it wasn’t the placement that prompted the scan, I’d swap the messaging on the posters to determine if it was the color or the offer that prompted the scan….

The ideas of what could and should be tested continue on and on… with each test getting Bar Louie closer and closer to creating an optimal ad with optimal placement. When those optimizations are put into practice, they will find that they have more budget to reproduce these winning campaigns in city after city.

Marketing is nothing if it’s not testing and the reason we test is to make sure that we communicating as effectively as possible to our audience. If you’re not testing, you’re gambling. Sometimes you’ll win, sometimes you’ll lose, and sometimes you’ll break even. If your aim is to win, having a thoughtful marketing partner on your side can sway those odds in your favor. I can help you win and when you’re ready to see how, book some time with me.