QR codes: totally super or totally un-super?

QR codes are a creating a buzz in marketing circles at the moment. You can see why…in the eyes of clients, these things make their advertising sexy and youthful. They probably come from Japan and the kids over there are mad for them. Toyota used them. They’re interactive. They’re super digital and blocky like something out of the 80s…and the 80s are cool. They look cool on posters. THEY’RE COOL! They’re putting the web into print!! THIS COULD BE THE NEXT TWITTER!!! I GOTTA HAVE ME THOSE QR CODES NOW!!!!

But lets get real for a moment. QR codes have a long way to go. If you’re considering using them for a campaign, I would say go for it…they’re easy to set up and they can be used creatively. However, I would also say that you have to make sure you match the medium to the message. If you’re using a QR code, make sure whatever you’re linking it to is telephone friendly…why reap the benefits of quick and easy telephone linking to websites that aren’t optimised for handheld viewing. How dumb is that?

SUPER DUMB that’s how dumb.

Let us also consider the mis-shapen, unloved cousins of the QR code: the text shortcode, the premium telephone number, and the spam email. Yes the spam email. If you give people a shitty experience when they click your QR code…you suck and you bring everybody down to the level of the Nigerian spam warlords.

In order to help you use QR codes effectively…here are my “Three Rs of QR”:

1) Readability – remember, if you make it smallĀ  your audience will have to get close to scan it…so if you have a 20 foot billboard 100 feet from the roadside make sure your code is BILLBOARD SIZED. Basically…in all cases, make sure your code is readable. Don’t make me stand on tip-toes at the edge of a subway track only to find that I can’t scan your damn code and I don’t even have any telephone reception.

2) Responsibility – the fact that you can offer an automatic link to a website, telephone number, download, email subscription list, or whatever might be cool, but it could equally be abused to link unsuspecting users to premium rate numbers or to sign them to subscriptions they don’t want. Make it clear what you get when you scan, or at least make sure to give them something COOL. That means a platform specific, usability tested, good looking web service that enables them to do something. If you’re a charity that means donate, support or promote. If you’re a business that probably means buy something.

3) Recognisability – you can look at a number, a URL, or a text shortcode…and you can remember it, and recognise it in the future. It builds brand awareness, loyalty, and trust. I challenge you to recognise a QR code. In order to ensure some degree of recogition happens, and so that users can be sure to trust in what they’re doing…apply enough comforting and reassuring branding in proximity to your code to make sure they recognise who created it.

In summary, at least at present, there’s more hype than substance…user behaviour hasn’t changed sufficiently to adopt these things wholeheartedly and there is still a question over whether they ever will. QR codes are not human readable, and that puts them in an entirely different category to the trusted URL or the ‘legally obliged to print your connection costs’ telephone number.

I like the technology, it’s cool for sure, but it doesn’t quite pass the ‘Do I use it myself?’ test and I feel that these boom days may well be stifled by inevitable legislation. Additionally, the technology is advancing to the point where the use of a code will soon be unnecessary and human legible instructions can be understood by your phone…so how long does it realistically have left?

Who knows…but while it’s hot, at least follow the three R’s and try and do it right.

Scan the QR codes below for some further reading:

This will take you to Wikipedia

This will take you to Wikipedia

This will Rick Roll you...don't say I didn't warn you that QR codes could be used for evil

Author: Jim O

Hi I'm Jim and I run SuperCreatives which is basically me tapping at a keyboard and sometimes talking to people and working on stuff that helps people sell, communicate or promote things online. If you need to sell, communicate or promote things online...get in touch!