Whenever I hear someone say that QR codes are marketing failures, I smile, shake my head and my first thought is how bad their marketing knowledge must be. If they are complaining on a group board on LinkedIn, I’ll try to engage them in conversation to find out why their plan didn’t work. 100% of the time, they’ve used QRs wrong.
In my years of experience with large corporations, I’ve had my share of head shaking when someone in marketing exclaims that some technology will be used for “WOW! factor” without knowing the possibilities of the technology and how fast they blame everyone else for the failure when it inevitably happens. I’ve seen corporate presidents and vice presidents burst into meetings, demanding some odd marketing idea, based on personal ideas and not reality, then run out with a look of self-satisfaction for saving a major initiative, only to return and point a finger when their idea fails and suddenly becomes someone else’s idea. This is the failing of the QR code. The loaded automatic weapon in the hands of Jerry Lewis as the Nutty NRA Intern.
Where are the Supposed QR Code Replacements?
Most of the QR code detractors mention Augmented Reality (AR) and Near Field Communications (NFC) as better and more functional technologies for print to web linking. AR and NFC are great technologies but they have different functions as well as expenses QR codes do not have.
A QR code can be generated for free whereas AR involves almost a movie production-like cost and effort. They can provide linking as well as the entertainment value of interactive imagery, yet, they have not been used very much and companies that have dabbled with AR content stopped, mostly due to the costs involved. AR also has, as people tout, image recognition that QR codes do not. Time has removed that argument as now QR codes are able to function on almost full image recognition, except people must know the image is tied to a function if they are expected to scan them.
Users have not, it seems, caught up with the technology in knowing images may contain links without some kind of notice. Once it becomes a regular occurrence, that might be a game changer, but for now, at least, the code or the frame of a code with an image is the technology users know and are willing to scan.
NFC holds certain challenges that have kept it to a minimum at this point in time. Applied mostly to credit cards and pass keys, the ability to swipe and register or call up information requires close proximity as opposed to being able to scan a code, both QR and AR, from a distance, as well as the cost of implanting an NFC device into each and every printed poster, ad, flyer or whatever. A QR code is just ink on paper or a digital image.
Limitations are the Fault of the Producer
Defenders of QR codes are quick to point out that QR codes do have limitations. All of them, however, involve the ability to scan the code. A code that is too small or too far away or on a moving object that won’t allow a user to get out their smart phone in time to scan the code. Placement has always been a consideration for any print piece and has long had the problem of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Who says marketers have always been at the top of their game? Is every advertisement successful?
Technology has always had the feet-draggers. Even in the mid to late 1990s, there were magazines that used paste-up methods to produce pages, forsaking the ease and speed of digital production. Eventually, it was the cost savings, as well as printers no longer being willing to produce from mechanical boards that forced the technology on publishers just as television and then the internet forced advertisers to reconsider using the new technology to reach consumers.
The proper use of any technology is dependent on the proper use of the tool, somewhat like my father who used the good kitchen knives as a screwdriver for small household jobs. All of our knives had broken tips and dulled blades, making it harder to cook and a life of dodging shelves that fell off the walls.
The reality is, that QR, AR and NFC all have their places in digital marketing and all must be used correctly. Eventually they, as well as other emerging technology, will shape marketing.
It’s All About the Content!
A big, repeated complaint nay-sayers have about QR codes is that they take the user to a web site when it’s faster to just enter a URL. Not necessarily, but it’s a point well-taken. With QR codes, as with any marketing, it’s interesting content that is needed to engage consumers. Can anyone argue that point?
An early example of unique QR use was the résumé of a young man who placed a code over a picture of his face with instructions to place the user’s phone over the mouth of the picture. The code revealed a video of his mouth, talking about himself. The content used the technology well.
Others took the idea and ran with it, such as this talking comic book cover.
A recent video for Audi, lovingly referred to as “Spock vs. Spock” missed a great opportunity to incorporate QR codes into the marketing. You’ve probably seen this viral video posted on Facebook.
A great use of viral marketing, but it missed the chance to take the marketing further for greater market penetration. It should
have started with a QR code on an ad for the car model in the video with copy that touted the futuristic technology and a reference to Star Trek and the video should have finished with a QR code to a web page for the car model, explaining all of the standard and option features available. Those who discovered the video through the ad would have posted it to social media channels and those who watched the viral video would have a link to see more about the product. THAT is the proper use for a QR code!
Speaking of cars, what do you do when you need to park at a street meter and don’t have any change? Some meters will allow you to use a credit card, which invites card fraud or, there’s the growing use of QR codes for paying parking.
A quirky advertising campaign in Japan would be perfect for QR codes.
Instead of just these quick look ads, a QR code would give men a chance to scan the young ladies’ leg and go to wherever the advertiser wanted the consumer to go (probably a used women’s underwear sales site, if I know male Japanese consumers).
QR code tattoos are risky, however. If you go that far, make sure the code is recyclable.
When there’s not a lot of room for information that is vital, use a QR code. This plant has special needs, so a QR code gives the consumer all they need to decide if they can actually keep the plant alive for more than a week.
And those medical bracelets people wear to identify allergies and medical conditions are uncomfortable and have limited space for what might be a long list of problems. With a neoprene QR code bracelet, the growing list of medical problems as one grows older, along with a name, address, emergency contact information, organ donor status and a last will and testament can all be found by medical personnel with a simple scan. This would also work for speed dating, allowing photos when you’re having a bad hair day, along with some personal information and lies dating men and women tell each other to form a strong relationship.
These bracelets are also being used in hospitals for patient identification bracelets for full, up-to-the minute information.
Do QR Codes Demand Different Thinking?
The basics of marketing will never change. Only the tools available will change and evolve, but basic principles of marketing will always be the same — make it easier for the customers to know and purchase the product. So, don’t blame the tool when it doesn’t work. It’s not the codes but how they are used.
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