Has the world gone QRazy?

A giant QR Code linking to a website, to be re...

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There’s been a common-sense bypass for many in the recent race to use QR Codes in marketing campaigns. Sadly, as is often the case in the profession I love, common business sense goes out of the window in the rush to implement the latest cool and shiny thing.

A recent article in Marketing Week revealed that only just over 1 in 10 consumers had used a QR code in the past, less than half of whom found them useful and would like to see them more widely available. Apathy was found to be a barrier to adoption, cited by 23% of respondents to the survey.

I know how they feel. In the right circumstances, for the right type of application, QR Codes have very interesting potential, but only if:

  1. The objective is to drive offline customers online for deeper brand engagement or to convert them (to sale, to registration, to download)
  2. There is a high penetration of smart phone owners amongst your target audience
  3. The placement of the code is conducive to easy/safe scanning and represents a better customer experience than responding via other channels

So, there are two recent examples that have left me scratching my head.

Firstly, my local authority  recently announced they are “trialling QR codes on our signs to keep people more informed about road works.” The facebook photo shows what appears to be a sheet of A4 paper sellotaped to a road sign.

I’d argue that the vast majority of people inconvenienced by road works are motorists. So how easy or safe is it to scan a QR code when driving, never mind how legal? A-ha, they’re one step ahead of me:

“The technology can only be used by pedestrians or cyclists, as users need to scan the code with their mobile phone, so it suits schemes like temporary pavement and cycleway closures.”

I’m not convinced.

Then I saw what appeared to be a poster ad for Investec Bank, who have for a number of years used a Zebra as part of their visual identity.

Closer inspection revealed that it was actually a poster for Intel under the “Visibly Smart” campaign, where a QR Code had been made to incorporate the Zebra’s eye. This would have made a great magazine ad creative…for Investec, but a roadside poster for Intel with an unscannable QR Code?

Do you have any examples of particularly good or bad practice in this area? Will we still be talking about QR Codes in 12 months time, or is this a fad for bored marketers with post-recession budget cuts and ‘free’ toys to play with?  I’d love to hear your thoughts.


5 thoughts on “Has the world gone QRazy?

  1. Henry

    Hi Steve!
    A thought provoking read there, for me QR codes have a huge amount of creative potential but to date I also have not seen them used in very inspiring ways. It sounds very lazy but I need a significant “carrot” to be dangled in front of me for me to get my phone out, load up my reader app, scan the code (multiple times in some cases) and then read whatever it is that comes up on the screen.
    If all the QR code has achieved is that it has loaded up a web site without me having to “google” it first then this is not a big enough incentive for me to use the technology.
    What could be interesting is making the most of the mystery element behind scanning the code… if I scan the code where will it take me? What will be my reward etc? If I was designing a marketing campaign with a QR code this is probably what I would focus on, or perhaps a campaign based around tracking down a hidden QR code hidden in a venue or place! A 21st century treasure hunt tool?
    Henry 🙂

    1. Steve Revill Post author

      Thanks for stopping by, Henry.

      I don’t think you sound lazy at all- ANY compelling marketing communication needs a strong and obvious call to action which clearly answers ‘what’s in it for me?’

      There are some good examples where the technology, device and purpose cross over brilliantly, for example “scan here to download the app” (Wired Magazine, Sep 2011), but most of the examples I see simply feel like they’re trying too hard to crowbar a code into an ad for no other purpose than to look cool.

  2. steveparks

    Hi Steve

    I’m also puzzled by marketing/advertising folk’s love for the QR code. I’m a self confessed geek – but have never bothered to scan a QR code on my phone.

    Partly it’s caution about what might happen – what site will it take me to, will a file be auto downloaded etc. Partly it’s that it’s clunky technology really. But also, there’s just not enough incentive.

    My view was also tarnished by an experience at a major tech industry conference. The organisers had printed a QR code on each delegate’s badge. Exhibitors and sponsors could scan these and were offering competition prizes if you entered by having yours scanned.

    It transpired that the data that was passed across to the exhibitors when scanned included the postal address of the delegate. This had been obtained from the credit card billing address used when purchasing the conference ticket. In many cases this was the delegate’s home address, including for some very senior people, central to the industry.

    This is a classic example of a breach of user trust then backfiring on the marketer. From then on everyone I know at these tech industry events vandalises the QR codes by colouring in some extra blocks with a black pen, or by sticking a sticker over it.

    Technology only contributes to good marketing if it’s:
    1. In the user’s interest rather than just the marketers
    2. Easy
    3. Based on mutual trust

    Enjoying your blog,

    1. Steve Revill Post author

      Thanks Steve, I’m glad you’re enjoying the blog.

      That sounds like a great (but shockingly bad) example of when marketing decisions are made without thinking of the customer experience.

      Your final three points should be stuck on a post-it note to every marketer’s computer screen. Make it better for me as a customer. Make it easy. Give me some payback for investing the extra effort in responding to your campaign. Don’t abuse the implied permission I have given you by engaging with your code.

      p.s. I love the idea of QR Code Vandals bringing a tech conference down with a felt tip! The pen is mightier than the sword…


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