QR Code Obsession

QR Code Obsession

QR Codes are cool. I agree. I’ve been talking about them in digital media presentations for about three years now. I like them! I think they have a ton of possibilities. But, for the love of Pete, we’re becoming obsessed with QR codes. They’re the shiny new toy. Everybody wants to use them. But they are being used stupidly. Ignore the fact that smart phones only have about a 30% market penetration in the US. Ignore the fact that only like 10% of internet traffic comes from mobile phones. Ignore the fact that the people that do have smart phones do not all have scanners nor do they know how to get/use one. People are being just plain non-strategic and impractical. I think there are some cool ways and some lame ways to use QR Codes. Here goes:

  1. Cool Way: On food packaging. I think it’s great when a box of food has a QR Code on it and scanning brings you to a video of how to prepare a recipe, or a list of ingredients needed to make a recipe. That gives value. I’m going to tag “Recipe Book” on to this example. It’s too similar to make it its own. But a cookbook should be full of QR codes that download a tutorial video for preparing a dish.
  2. Lame Way: On your website. There is almost NO REASON you should ever have a QR Code on your website. It especially infuriates me when the QR code brings me to your homepage or another page in your site. I’m already there! Just give me a link. That’s ridiculous. Yet I see it time and time again. Stop putting QR Codes on your website!
  3. Cool Way: Selling a house. I like this idea. A QR Code next to an ad for a house, or on the sales sign out front. Scanning brings you to a virtual tour and/or information about the house (the MLS listing, etc), and the Realtor to contact to make arrangements to see the house in person. Let’s get rid of those crappy, water-soaked, black & white photocopies that sit in that plastic bin.
  4. Lame Way: In an email blast. OK, this is really similar to the website one, but it’s equally as lame. Do not make me scan something that I can just click. Don’t put me through all that effort when I could just click a link. These seem like ways to use QR Codes just to use them.
  5. Cool Way: Scavenger Hunts. I think this is actually kind of fun. QR Codes can be posted or hidden in various spots and finding one reveals a clue (video or photo or text or something more interactive) to the location of the next clue.
  6. Lame Way: On clothes and/or name badges. I know that some people think that printing these on shirts, scarves, hats or name badges at conferences is cool. I don’t. Yeah, people could scan and get your information. OR, they could talk to you like a human being if they’re going to be that close to you.
  7. Cool Way: Next to artwork or items in a museum. People can scan to get more information about the artist, the item the history behind it, etc. I think QR Codes are really applicable in these situations where it would be visually disturbing and impractically to have an enormous wealth of information on the wall. This could apply to art galleries, museums, zoos, theme park lines (God, they’re long and dull!). This provides people with curiosity a way to really dive into something they’re interested in.
  8. Lame Way: Tattoos. Really? That’s just stupid. What if this QR Code doesn’t last? What site or resource are you sending people to? Just a really bad idea to tattoo a QR Code on to your body. Get a tattoo of a unicorn playing checkers. It’s timeless.
  9. Cool Way:¬†Assembly directions. Now, I never need to look at assembly directions because I’m a man and therefore naturally apt at assembling things. But, some people may be very confused by the ridiculously complex directions that come with some products. A QR Code could be stickered on the product in case the directions aren’t included, or link to a video that gives a really good step-by-step assembly tutorial.
  10. Lame Way: Outdoor billboard. Especially those on the side of the road/freeways. Do you really expect people to whip out their phone, pull up their scanner app and get the QR Code snapped? Besides being extremely dangerous, you don’t have the time to make that happen. That’s why you typically get 7 words on a billboard. There’s no time for anything more. There’s certainly no point in putting a QR Code on a billboard.
  11. Cool Way: Conference mobile app. I actually just experienced this one not too long ago. Scanning the QR Code downloaded an app to my phone that was specific to the conference with a full schedule, options to add sessions to my personal calendar, maps, exhibitor information, etc. It was actually really valuable and a practical use since an application went to my phone.
  12. Cool or Lame (you decide): Tombstones. I actually kind of think this is cool. I was surprised at how many people have a QR Code on their tombstone. Scanning would bring you to a site about the person, maybe video, photos, etc. Thoughts on this one? Is putting a QR Code on a tombstone taking it too far?
Here’s the bottom line for me: use these strategically and don’t just use a QR Code to say you’ve used it. Give value to your clients and visitors. It’s enticing, I know, to want to slap a QR Code on everything because they seem so freaking cool! But, show some discipline before I need to schedule a QR Code intervention.
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5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Now I want a QR code on my tombstone. Brilliant!

  2. 2

    Some people (yourself included, Mike) may think it is irresponsible to post it as your avatar photo on Facebook, but I have mine set to that and it is actually driving traffic to my site.

    Another cool way it a cause marketing promotion like I devised for Turner’s Outdoor here in California for the American Sportfishing Association that drove traffic to http://www.keepamericafishing.org/mlpa and gave the person a reason for making a donation.

    What do you think about cause marketing ploys?

  3. 3

    Mike McDowell said,

    Will – I don’t think that “irresponsible” is the word. Here’s the very simple point I’m trying to make: a QR code is not needed when a simple URL will do. It doesn’t matter the industry or the cause. But there’s got to be a reason that you access the content via QR code rather than simply entering a URL on your phone’s browser.

    Yes, I think it’s unnecessary for you to have a QR code online to send people to willhull.com. It’s just as much effort to simply type that into my phone. Plus, it’s not necessary to have QR code when I’m already online. Now I’m supposed to switch browsing over to my mobile? The URL is simple enough and it’s not driving somebody to specific content, plus it doesn’t tell me what scanning it is going to bring me to.

    I’ll admit that I think some use of QR codes at this stage has to do with curiosity of QR codes. But if that’s the motivation, and not to get to specific content, then that will quickly fade.

    Sorry, Will, for the criticisms of your approach. But I think you fell victim to a QR code obsession. Again, I think the bottom line is that there needs to be a reason to use a QR code instead of simply providing the URL. Cause marketing or not, a QR code should provide valuable content that is necessary or valuable for the mobile phone. There should be a reason I consume the content on my mobile, and there should be a reason for scanning and not just entering a URL.

  4. 4

    Thanks for the feedback. I see where you are going about online content (driven from a desktop to a mobile phone). What about an iPad to a mobile? It is a little bit of a different scenario. Perhaps someone is casually browsing their Facebook app on the iPad. Perhaps typing in a URL is quirky on the iPad (at least I think so). A QR code there may be the answer (whip out the phone and quickly scan).

    As to the cause marketing. I am not assuming, but did you visit http://www.keepamericafishing.org/mlpa to view what a QR code would take you to if you were standing in line and waiting to check out at Turner’s Outdoor (it’s a place like Bass Pro Shops or Cabela’s)? It would fill a person in on what the MLPA is while the sign is asking for a donation. It’s a print forum where the QR code resides, so it may be quickly becoming a rule to use QR codes with print rather than digital media (e.g. online, billboards, scoreboards and television commercials).

    What do you think about bit.ly and other URL shorteners given the QR code craze? Is bit.ly just as bad because it doesn’t reveal to the person where the link is taking them? I am just interested in your thoughts on the matter.

    • 5

      Mike McDowell said,

      Will, the major detractor for having a QR code on any sort of website is that you can simply provide a clickable link rather than forcing somebody to take a scan and switch browsing devices. Not worth it.

      I think your example of having a code in a check out line could potentially have value, though, since people are obviously far more likely to be browsing on a mobile device than a laptop or desktop. So, a QR code could be interesting. However, if the signage displaying the QR code could just have easily sent somebody to a website by displaying the URL, then there’s not a point to using a QR code. In fact, you’ll rule out more visits by having a QR code instead of a URL. Not everybody knows what a QR code is or have the software to use one. So, don’t use a QR code when a URL will do.

      As far as URL shorteners like bitly, I think they make sense in social media in which you’ve got a limited character space. If we’re talking about printed materials, I think it makes more sense to just simply have a smarter/shorter URL. If you have a URL that’s 100 characters long or more, you may consider a link shortener. But, again, it’d be smarter to just use a URL that’s not so long.

      As for revealing where a link takes you, I think that’s not the responsibility of the URL or the QR Code even. That’s the responsibility of the communication. For example, the direction should be “visit http://www.blahblah.com/blah for 10 recipes” or “scan this QR code to download the coupon app.” You’ll increase the likelihood of visits if people know what they’re getting into.


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