It’s alright to admit that you’re annoyed by the amount of QR codes used in advertising; we’re all tired of seeing them. Those two dimensional barcodes, or quick response codes (QR Codes), were originally invented to help Toyota track auto parts, but with the advent of high-resolution mobile cameras and the intent of providing consumers with an easy way of accessing information on the go, QR codes are placed on everything from bank ads to cigarette boxes. But, like any fad, they are blindingly too common and implemented too improperly to add any sort of uniqueness to a digital strategy.
QR codes should present unique, context-sensitive data that could not be otherwise delivered via traditional media. An example of such implementation can be found in the heart of DC at the various Smithsonian institutions. Walking through the Natural History Museum’s evolution exhibit with visiting family this past weekend, I came across a QR code at an exhibit highlighting the changes in our bone structure throughout history. The code pointed my phone to an app that takes a photo of a person and alters his or her face to illustrate evolutionary changes in the skull’s shape. The QR code delivered a method of engaging visitors in a unique way that was dependent upon the context of the exhibit and the specific user of the app. It encouraged me to scan the code, spend more time in the museum, and add to the download count of the app.
While I found that use of a QR code to be a positive experience, there are sadly more inappropriate implementations of QR codes than appropriate ones. We see the most prominent example of bad QR code use every day while riding the DC Metro. Walking through the tunnels or riding aboard the trains, the black and white cubes seen everywhere are excessive to the point of dizziness. Daily commuters are moving too quickly in the curved-edge tunnels of the DC Metro to stop and scan a code, and – ignoring the fact that it is a bumpy and crowded train car – there is barely enough 3G signal deep underground in the Red Line tracks to try and see what interest rate Jerry Stiller is hiding behind the code on his palm. My irritation might be showing too much here, but it would be far more effective to print a short, memorable URL such as metroforward.com in place of the code to encourage site visits.
Rather than take advantage of a consumer’s captivity in a subway car, QR codes should be used to encourage the public’s continued engagement with your product or campaign. Cigarette company Ronhill thought of an ingenious way to use QR codes to aid their customers’ habits. By scanning the code printed on Ronhill cigarette packaging, smokers are delivered to a location-aware mobile web app that directs them to a community-curated list of the closest smoking-friendly establishments. While I am not a fan of the ends, the means is creative; the solution is a personal instant-gratification to the user and is context sensitive because of its location-awareness and community management.
Unfortunately, data reflecting the success rates of QR code usage is difficult to find. My guess would be that because of the overwhelming appearance of poorly minded implementations, the statistics of QR code performance are not pleasing. If we had the ability to look solely at the performance statistics of QR codes implemented in the positive ways I outlined above, the outcome, I suspect, would be overwhelmingly positive. Good technology is only as good as creative minds that implement it.
Recent Posts By John E. Jones
- Mobile Strategy Doesn't End with Your Website - April 29th, 2013
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- Watch Your Websites Carefully - December 13th, 2012
- Washington Post Unveils API - September 6th, 2012
- The New Frontier of Mobile Apps with Mitt Romney’s VP Announcement - August 13th, 2012