Brands love QR codes. Consumers? Not so much

We’ve seen QR Codes splashed all over Billboard Advertising, in Newspaper magazines and on Business Cards. Recently we’ve seen and include them in their short URL’s and today Techcrunch are telling us QR Codes are being used to map to Facebook like buttons for businesses.

When announcing bit.lys move into QR codes (and the convoluted method of creating them) Mashable’s Lauren Indvik made clear that not only was the creation of QR codes via URL shortening services ‘not revolutionary in any sense‘ there appeared to be only one group clearly interested:

…(QR Codes) continue to grow in popularity among marketers in the U.S

Many Industries are grappling with the way they can use new technology to better grow their businesses, and marketers are always there to help. There’s nothing wrong with that per se especially when, as identified in a recent “Real Estate Technology Blog“:

One of the major perks is that all of the scans are tracked and thus the ROI is fairly easy to detect, critical to any high level marketer.

Most importantly the marketer should be able to show to their customer the work they have done was successful in a way which Print Advertising and Marketing has always struggled to display. And then the customer – in this case the advertiser, should see a benefit from that, as long as their customer is using the technology.

But will customers use them? Do potential customers need them? And more importantly do customers even know what they are?

This evening, I asked my wife if she knew what a QR Code was. She thought it might be something to do with Quality Processes. A quick Twitter poll of my followers brought a reasonably large response.

Quick Twitter Poll. How many of you have seen a QR Code and used it to get to a site or information, this month? this year? ever? pls RTTue Oct 19 11:45:37 via web

Less than 10% of respondents have used one recently. About 25% have created their own but never used any, 20% never heard of them, and a number have tried them to see if they worked or seen them, but couldn’t be bothered.

Okay it’s a small sample, but the reality is I’ve had them on my business cards for over two years and I can’t recall anyone pulling out their smartphone to take a photo of the Code in order to have my contact details quickly on their phone. That’s because it’s easier for me to mail them my vcf from my phone to theirs. Hell it’s even easier to just use Bump on my iPhone. And in any case they probably didn’t have the software required to convert the code to the data required.

And here’s the problem as identified by Techcrunch:

…even if they do (know what they are), it’s too much of a hassle to power up your QR scanning app on your phone (assuming you have one) just to get a marketing message…Until QR code scanners become a default feature of most smartphones and they start to become actually useful enough for people to go through the trouble to scan them, they will remain a gee-whiz feature nobody uses.

While some of us want to take the time to think about the how and why, most people just want stuff that works. The marketers and mobile application developers, many of whom the marketers hire, can continue to spend a whole lot of effort to continue to evangelise the technology and it’s benefits. As long as each use case that I’ve seen for them can be easily replicated using other simpler methods, those other methods will be the ones which people will continue to use in preference.

My thoughts on this subject were prompted by a tweet from Swedish Art Director @dabitch

There were JC Decaux bilboards with art & mobile codes on them in the city. With 2 phones in my pocket, I still couldn’t be arsed. #deadtechWed Oct 13 11:53:37 via web

which sums it up really.

What then for technology like QR Codes whose usefulness is limited because of its reliance not just on other technology like smartphones and related software but also by appearing to have no one standout use case in the Consumer market.

Technology has given us many of the greatest ideas over the years, many of which when created seemed like great solutions to peoples needs. However, the quality of ideas must be measured in their usefulness and therefore their use.

xkcd put it in another way (HT @Mrflungabunga)


What happens when it isn't easy


Sometimes good ideas should be left to what they were invented to do. QR Code’s initial use, and barcodes in general are a great example of that. Perhaps it is just a slow burner, but I don’t see anyone interested in using QR codes in the consumer space but marketers. And if your customer isn’t interested, it’s time to try something else.


10 thoughts on “Brands love QR codes. Consumers? Not so much

  1. I’ve put them on posters and been asked what they were. I’m still a couple of years away from getting a phone that is capable of QR as I like the idea but see no must-use as yet. It killer app is some augmented reality app which can filter QR codes by source, sink and tags.

  2. Nice article – whilst I love the idea of QR codes (especially for packing in text rather than URLs), they do seem to ask quite a lot of the consumer with very little benefit.

    If you want to really annoy me, print a QR code, if you want to annoy me even more, don’t bother putting underneath it what URL you’re actually going to take people to.

    Seems to me like a technology that’s way passed its time, and that bluetooth push (eugh), NFR, RFID readers, or plain old Google Goggles will prove to be more useful ways of pointing people to information.

    In most cases, a QR Code could be more usefully replaced with ‘type XYZ into your favourite search engine to find out more’ or ‘visit’.

  3. interesting enough I think they would be infinately more useful if providers had appropriate data plans. I would be very interested in reading an ad and scanning it then going to the website, but my data plan is so low and so expensive that I have to turn data off for general browsing. This is with Australian providers so not sure if this is the same elsewhere globally.

  4. Neil, yes. I think it would be infinitely more logical to have shortlinks like for most applications.
    Janene, I’m not sure if the data plan is the problem, the way to consume the codes however is.
    IN both cases, this may change now that Android phones (or at least many of them) are appearing with QR Code reader capability built into the device.
    Saying that however, it isn’t hard to get special apps for the iPhone and they’ve existed for a couple of years. THe problem is usable services like Foursquare or Facebook apps for example haven’t integrated QR Reading capabilities.
    Maybe if that happened, things may change.

  5. way to burst my bubble Gav, I’ve been singing them up in work for a bit now, they’re just catching on here, I even put one on our ad in the Film Festival Catalogue. And then my go-to-peer on everything geeky but cool shoots them out of the sky like Johnny Red finishing off a few errant Stukas. I cry, I cry with a copy of the Fleabag in front of me and wonder where it all went so crazzziiieeee

    • They may have some success, but I just find the use case too hard, as I indicate.
      Are consumers in Ireland demanding them despite having cameras on their phones for years?
      Because they sure aren’t here. Or at least no-one is sharing stats on their usage.
      And that usually means just one thing.

  6. Nah, you’re right. Most people don’t even know what they are to be totally honest. Just us smug, know-all types. Saying that, it can be hard to get ROI info off people and the response rate some customers are looking for is tiny. Example, I designed a flier/response card for a major car manufacture recently, nice design but a bit flawed I thought, (won’t go into the reason). I was a bit worried they’d not get a great response rate and I tentatively asked the marketing guy what the response rate was. He told me they got 10 back out of 10,000, I shuddered a bit and said something like “oh well” and his response was, “are you kidding? They were delighted, they only got 1 back on the last campaign and that went to 250,000 households” This QR thing is all about getting the individual interested but like you say if they’re not, then its not really working is it? Marketing people are always looking for the next big thing….

  7. For me, the big problem with QR codes is that they aren’t human readable so the information they may give access to is completely lost on anyone who doesn’t have the appropriate software or an inclination to pursue it at that precise moment. The value of hiding your extra content behind an undecipherable squiggle only provides a barrier to access.

    A short link, on the other hand, is easily entered into a browser, or written down/photographed for later. It’s purpose is clear – people know what a url is – and requires no specialised software to access.

    In short, if your content is good, expose it (or the means of accessing it) to the broadest possible audience you can. If it’s rubbish, don’t waste people’s time by publishing it.

    • Absolutely. Soon URL’s may be as dead as the Phone Number is (at least if Google gets their way then). Entering a brandname and a campaign code into a browser search field has got to be a quicker and more valuable way of getting results than “squiggles”
      Not to mention the brand association quality of that!

  8. Pingback: The Battle for Robot Puke | Making Hay

What do you think about what I wrote?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s