May 26, 2011

The Lemmings Are Back! (And This Time They've Got QR Codes With Them!)

Marketers and Bright Shiny Objects. You’d think at some point the attraction would fade. But it only seems to intensify over time. Having just abandoned their domain sites for Facebook, marketers are busy slapping QR codes on every square inch of white space in their offline arsenal – print, outdoor, DM, in-store handouts, kiosk screens-- you name it, it's got a QR code on it.

And once again, we are all left wondering just WTF they are thinking.

I have yet to see anyone “in the wild” actually using a QR code, and a quick (and decidedly unscientific) polling of Twitter reveals I am not alone. It’s not too hard to figure out why: it’s not an easy thing to do.

To begin with, you need a QR code reader app on your smartphone. Lots of people still don’t have smartphones. And of the people who do, I’d venture to say the majority have never heard of a QR reader or know that it’s needed to read that funny hieroglyphic thing in the ad.

But let’s take the small subset of people who actually do know that QR readers exist and the even smaller subset of people who have actually bothered to download one.

The apps are not particularly intuitive. And snapping the photo is not all that easy. QR codes are sort of square, smartphone screens are pretty rectangular. So there’s a whole lot of adjusting to do to make sure you have the hieroglyph properly in view and once you’ve nailed that part, you still have to make sure you’re holding the phone steady enough to snap a clear picture and that there aren’t shadows from the overhead lights or anything mucking it up.

Let’s just say you’ve managed to figure all that out and have the actual QR code on your phone. And that you have a working 3G or WiFi connection. And that you actually get to where the QR code is going to take you.

Cool! It’s the brand website! And you can watch their TV commercial on it! At full 3G download speed! Then you can download a PDF of their latest brochure and figure out what program on your phone you can open it with! Fun!

So there you have it: a whole lot of work for a seriously disappointing payoff.

And the ability to say “Yeah, we tested using QR codes back in ’11. They don’t work.” without ever questioning why.

NB: I get that QR codes have the potential to be a very successful tactic, and that there are already case studies on how well they’ve worked. It’s the “we need one of these QR things now” way they’re being implemented, without thinking through any of the implications, that’s the problem.   

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