Recently I headed down the road with my colleagues and we found three brand new Aston Martins parked up on the street. Crowds were clustering around these shiny new beasts – but not us us: we were too fixated on the QR codes stamped on the car doors.
In this moment of excitement, a colleague scanned the codes with their iPhones, only to find a website that didn’t work.
QR codes are appearing everywhere – posters, shops, and anywhere a marketer sniffs an opportunity. However as the Aston Martin debacle can attest, this rush to market by marketing agencies is often as poorly executed as it is naive.
QR codes are not half the magic they seem to be. They simply contain data encapsulated in a 2D bit representation – not any secret code, just basic data – usually text or a URL. In fact, the only difference between a QR code and a URL is that one of them can’t be read by a human. So all too often their deployment is misguided.
It brings to mind the time, way back at the turn of the century, when I worked on one of the very first “integrated” marketing campaigns. Integrated back then meant a web address on the posters and TV ad, along with a microsite. Only, a couple of weeks before launch, they realised that not only did they have no microsite, but they hadn’t even secured the domain name. Cue lengthy, disastrous negotiations with the (perfectly legitimate) owner of the domain name – who eventually decided not to sell it, and linked off from his site to a number of competitors websites.
This is where we are with QR codes right now. Marketers are jumping all over them, and plaster them on every flat surface they can find – but with little thought to use or usability.
In my brief survey of QR codes in the wild I’ve found two consistent themes, both of which are critical. Both come from the same incomprehensible failure to realise that QR codes will be scanned via mobile devices.
The first problem: of all the QR codes I have scanned, the majority do not open a mobile optimised website. Some, like the Aston Martin stamps, open a website that doesn’t even work on mobile (and I mean iPhone mobile, not an obscure device) at all. This is feeble, clumsy and should never happen.
The second problem: QR codes are regularly stamped in places without wireless connectivity – especially on the Tube. This offers nothing to the average consumer – they’ll be presented with a URL they can’t access.
Some, well integrated and executed QR campaigns actually work – being deployed in appropriate (wired) locations, providing genuinely contextual information, or working closely with an app the user already has. These are still in the minority. The majority, sadly, have nothing but failure stamped all over them.