The humble QR code was seen by many (including the search marketing collective) as the perfect way for brands to interact with customers through print advertisements in the midst of the digital revolution. The hope was to connect the offline world with the online marketplace using smartphones to scan Quick Response Codes. These maze-like bar codes were heralded as the future of marketing when a number of high profile brands including Best Buy and Macey’s in the USA were early adopters of the concept.
Designed in 1994 by Denso Wave, a Toyota employee, QR codes were used to track automobile parts in manufacturing plants. Whilst Denso still holds the patent for the technology he granted free licence and specifications for those who wanted to use it, including marketers. However as Paul Dunay of Social Media Today highlights ‘free doesn’t always mean good… QR Codes take that assertion to a whole new level’. This leads many analysts to argue that it the overall retrofitting of QR into marketing campaigns is flawed.
However this negativity comes amongst research showing a rise in the use of such codes; 11.4% of UK Smartphone users scanned QR codes in 2012 (eMarketer, 2013). Many argue that the fault lies with the way in which Quick Response codes have been used and not with the technology itself. Not only can QR codes ruin the aesthetic of a marketing campaign they are also often unreadable on billboards and advertisements; even if the codes were readable would you stop, open your scanner and wait for a response?
Unfortunately, in this sense, QR codes are not as convenient as first thought and with the main Smartphone operating systems Android and iOS (accounting for a staggering 92.5% of worldwide smartphone operating system market share) not preloaded with appropriate scanning software it’s down to the consumer to download an application to read the links.
The problems also fall at the marketer’s door. Matthew Szerencse, market development manager of Digimarc, explains that “Advertisers just slap a QR code on their creative and pay no attention to the post-scan experience,” leading to a host of broken links, poor consumer feedback and a lack of trust in the concept. This is often down to being linked to poorly optimised websites and clunky mobile sites which deplete a brands reputation. Often such advertisements also end up in areas where there inadequate Wi-Fi or 3G such as underground stations and airports and strangely on TV advertisements which allow minimal time to scan the code! Advertisers also forget that not everyone is accustom to the premise behind QR codes and forget to include instructions in QR campaigns.
With the rise of the smartphone application, QR Codes look outdated and no-longer fit for purpose. B.L. Ochman of AdAge highlighted that a number of smartphone applications such as Blipplar, which delivers Augmented Reality content from markers placed on printed media, Touchcode which scans invisible digital code to bring print ‘to life’ and Layar deliver a much richer brand experience to the consumer. Therefore your much better off sticking to traditional and profitable forms of digital marketing such as Search Engine Optimisation and PPC than ruining your brand identity with a QR code.