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An Argument Against the Usefulness of QR Codes

March 27, 2012  
We've been talking about QR codes—those slightly out-of-focus, black-and-white squares—for several years now. "Conceptually, this is neat," writes Alexis Madrigal at The Atlantic. "People who are looking at paper but connected to the Internet via their phones can combine the two in one seamless experience." We see QR Codes everywhere—but do we use them? Not really.

According to comScore, 14 million people—a scant 6.2% of mobile users—scanned a QR code in June. Forrester research found an even slighter number of Americans—5%—use QR codes. And it's a situation that's unlikely to change. "[T]here is widespread confusion about how precisely these things are supposed to work," he notes, "despite years of marketers telling us about them, even among tech-friendly groups like college students."

One reason might be that there's little incentive to figure them out. By the time you open the app that scans the QR code, wait for it to focus, and reach the desired content, you could have tapped a keyword into a browser and found an even broader base of information without the narrow focus of a marketing campaign.

This is why the QR code strikes Madrigal as an intermediate technology. "I think print magazine ads work and I think digital campaigns work," he says. "But when I look at a QR code, I don't see the future."


The Po!nt: There's no harm in a QR code, according to Alexis Madrigal's viewpoint, but it might not be an effective—or lasting—part of your marketing plan.

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  • by Isobelle Tue Mar 27, 2012 via web

    I was attracted to these graphic devices because of their apparent neatness and coded secret, I used one recently on my CV as it was a hard copy as the recipient could not tap a link to my website. BUT would they download the QR code reader on their phone and then try scanning? Unlikely but for a first impression it appears I know about cool technology, I’m using it as my avatar as my work moniker.It only works if the recipient understands they need the software on their phone to interpret it. So it is short lived, an attention seeking device that most viewers don’t understand and it could alienate them with feeling the technology bars them from joining in. Reading QR codes has a fun appeal on the first few connections but the slow download in a store is tedious.

  • by MikeR Tue Mar 27, 2012 via web

    Thank you for this article. I'm pretty tired of being asked why we don't use QR codes. My response has always been that A) We're not going to just use a technology just because it exists B) People aren't using them. I think there are small, niche uses that make sense (for instance, real estate offices adding them to the listings they post in the window) but unless there's a large, well-funded QR Awareness campaign I believe they will eventually disappear.

  • by LizR Tue Mar 27, 2012 via web

    As with any new format, these things take time to go viral. There has not yet been a compelling reason to download an app to read QR codes other than curiosity. But this may change. Everyday more uses for QR codes are being shared, as is the case with http://tinyurl.com/qrpeople. A VERY clever and tidy use of the technology. As this use deploys, you'll be able to spend days getting to know your loved one's neighbors!

  • by M. English Tue Mar 27, 2012 via web

    6% is a great response rate if you compare it to online campaigns in general but the problem for QR code is poor execution.
    You've got people using QR codes in their campaigns that aren't optimized for scanning (ex: paper is too glossy, doesn't support all devices), some using them in places where people won't have access to the internet ( ex:airplane, subway) and some that don't point to a mobile optimized landing page.
    Add to this the fact that most advertisers don't offer an incentive to scan - who could blame mobile users for not wanting to be bothered with them ?

    If you are able to differentiate your messaging and what you are offering from the rest of the quacks out there trying to use QR codes, then I'd say you are in good standing to get a higher response.

  • by Ust Oldfield Wed Mar 28, 2012 via web

    I've found that QR codes are a useful, free, real time monitor feedback for a marketing campaign.

  • by Vince Wed Mar 28, 2012 via web

    I think this article hits the nail on the head -- the unfortunate catch 22 with QR codes is that they require a smart phone to be utilized, yet it is generally easier for most people to simply type a keyword into their phone's web browser or to simply navigate to the web site. I do think there are ways to utilize them more effectively but the QR code needs to be better integrated into the campaign theme rather than an afterthought or de facto call to action.

  • by Leslie Nolen | The Radial Group Wed Mar 28, 2012 via web

    Well, you can't drive a nail with a screwdriver, and QR codes aren't one-size-fits-all marketing tools either.

    That said, we've used QR codes to good effect w/ several of our health and wellness clients.

    Have you actually tested the amount of time it takes to enter an URL - even a simple one - into a browser on a smartphone?

    We have.

    Remember, autocorrect can't help you here, and it often gets in the way. QR codes are much faster unless you're lucky enough to have a very short domain name.

    Obviously, they need to be tied to a clear CTA that's matched to the setting where potential customers are most likely to encounter your QR code (walking past a storefront? sitting at a restaurant table? looking at a brochure passed on by a colleague? sitting in a restroom stall?).

    And it only makes sense to use them if your target is responsive to that particular tactic.

    But those same considerations apply to the selection of any marketing tool.

  • by Bob Bentz Wed Mar 28, 2012 via web

    No technology lasts forever and eventually the QR Code will be replaced by something newer and shinier. That being said, there are ways to get more people to scan a QR Code.

    First, tell them what they'll get when they scan it! It may seem obvious, but I see ads all the time that just have a "naked QR Code" sitting there.

    Second, when they do scan it, give them something of real value for doing so, not just a trip to your URL!

    Third, use a custom QR Code which is one with a graphic of the brand represented within the code itself. Our studies show that custom QR Codes get 2.3x greater scans than ordinary black and white QR Codes.

    Check out this study for more information about Custom QR Codes:

    http://www.advancedtele.com/super-jam-2-qr-code.php

  • by Quentin Aisbett Wed Mar 28, 2012 via web

    I really wanted QR Codes to go beserk..I've been using them in marketing material for a good 2 years and I am yet to see any considerable results, no matter the client or campaign.

    How long should it take to go mainstream really? I think it should have by now. It may just be the couple of seconds it takes to open your scanning app, then taken to another screen to click to browse. Would it be different, if we could take a quick photo and be taken immediately to the page?

    Before too soon AR uses will supersede the QR Code in my belief.

  • by Tom Egelhoff Sun Apr 1, 2012 via web

    There is an endless list of innovations that took time to develop. QR codes is one of those innovations. How long did it take to put VCR's in every household? Now we all have DVD players. Or even easier we can dial up movies online on our big screens. I don't think Alexander Graham Bell said, "OK Watson, phone is done let's move to texting next." The QR code as we know it today will probably not be the QR code 5 years from now but I think some variation will always be with us. Just like it's almost impossible to buy a cell phone without a camera it will just be a matter of time till your phone automatically comes with readers for all sorts of QR type aps built in.

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