They have become the standard violator appearing on advertising; in the corner of print ads, across billboards, on buses, or in pieces of direct mail -- even peppered throughout this article. You've seen them; that little block of even littler squares. Unfortunately the technology behind QR codes was not invented for advertising and marketing; we are just co-opting its usage, and it shows.
From the relative lack of public understanding of what they even are, to the dearth of creativity in their usage, the QR code is destined to become just the little box that geek built. But if it does go the way of CueCat, only we are to blame. Here's why.
The current use of QR codes in advertising is...
I could finish that statement with "stupid," "useless," "uncreative," or "uninspiring." Surprisingly, that is not news to anyone at advertising agencies or brands. QR codes seem to be a last ditch effort; an ignored piece of "Hey, throw a QR code on there that leads to our website." But why bother? The general public seems largely oblivious to what they are used for, and why they are on all those ads. In my informal "on the street" survey of 300 people last month, I held up a sign with a QR code on it and the phrase: "Free gift if you can tell me what this is."
I was not asking them to decipher it, just tell me what it actually was. Here are the results:
- 11 percent correctly answered QR code or quick response code
- 29 percent responded with "Some barcode thingy"
- Seven percent guessed some variant of "Those things you stare at that get 3D when you cross your eyes. What picture is it? I can't seem to get it"
- The remaining 53 percent tried everything from a secret military code, Korean (uh really?), to an aerial street map of San Francisco
My survey was conducted in San Francisco, the veritable Mecca of the planet for tech, so it only goes downhill from here. When I asked those who knew it was some type of "barcode" how they could decipher it, 35 percent answered "with their phone." When I asked them to actually "read" it with their phone? Only 45 percent of those were able to do it, and it took an average of 47 seconds for them to take out their phone and find the application to read the QR code -- not exactly a "quick response." Remember that agencies are putting these on moving buses and highway billboards.