I think the question actually can be broken out into a few parts.
First, we have to start with value exchange. Assume you use the correct verbiage to speak to the person you hope will scan your code. Establish a benefit that meets or exceeds the user’s time and trouble to make the scan in the first place. This is something across all marketing that needs some additional focus because information and effort are the currency that digital consumers have to trade for your brand message. Make it worth scanning or engaging with and you will get people participating.
Next, follow that up by making the code easy to scan. I highly recommend as explicit an instruction as your creative can figure out how to work in there- e.g. “To get XXX, scan this QR code/MSTag/Snaptag on your smartphone with X app. If you don’t have an app, find it here ___. If you don’t have a smartphone, text AWESOME to 5555555 (msg & data rates may apply).”
Make the code noticeable (not just an add-on in the bottom corner) and even supply a mobile friendly (or preferably device optimized) URL.
Think through the destination. Don’t send people to a general landing page- carry over the creative, the message, the branding and make it is contextually relevant to extend the ad experience to that user’s chosen means of connecting. Capture info and deliver the pay-off as quickly and effortlessly as you can imagine.
When referencing 2D code usage in Japan and some parts of Asia, don’t have too high an expectation for the US. Just based on sheer size alone, compared to the US, these populations make high % penetration for any behavior more attainable, There are huge cultural and infrastructure differences that make this an impressively uphill battle. You might make similar references to “why don’t more people buy their clothes and groceries from vending machines in the US? Everyone does in Japan…”. Is that realistic here?
That said, they do have QR codes as a standard and most of their phones (even their “feature” phones are smarter than ours) do have reader capabilities built right in. Here in the US, even on phones that do ship with usable standard readers, consumers are 11 times more likely to scan with a code reader app they have personally downloaded from their app store/market.
Our best bet here in the US is to think like smart marketers and build out experiences that are solid marketing interactions. Understand your audience and deliver relevant engagement based on your marketing team’s unique insights. Make it a part of your consistent brand experience and know that if a consumer does it once, has a good experience, they are exponentially more likely to scan your codes again. That is something that isn’t done nearly enough and consequently, it yields experiences that engender many of the previous comments.
These codes and other “connector” technologies are tools brands can use to capture the amazing things an “on the go” interaction can bring and to round out the reality of addressing the multi-channel, multi-touch nature of consumers today. This simply isn’t being done today. Once this becomes the general practice, we’ll begin to see the scaled results that will be possible across this highly diverse marketing jungle.