Cracking the QR Code

 In Digital Marketing, Mobile

Quick Response (QR) codes were initially designed by and for the automotive industry, specifically, Toyota, as a means of keeping track of various parts during the vehicle manufacturing process.

More recently, they’ve been adopted by the advertising and marketing industries as a means of allowing mobile users the ability to bridge information both quickly and efficiently from the real world through to their mobile device.

Unfortunately, there’s just one little problem: people either don’t know what they are and/or don’t care to use them.   A recent study found that whereas 72% of consumers have seen QR codes, roughly 30% have no idea what they are and of all mobile users polled, only 6.2% of them in June of 2011 actually utilized them.  Why?  A lack of understanding all across the board.

People will not adopt a technical solution that serves to replace a manual task, if that solution is less efficient than the manual task it replaces.  – Sean X. Cummings, iMediaConnections

qr-code-infographic-mixed-digitalQR codes can be found almost anywhere: in magazines, comics, and newspapers.  On billboards, posters, and windows.  They’ve been found on everything from packs of gum, bathroom stalls, and cupcakes.  They’ve even been used to incite flash mobs between complete and total strangers.

But what are they?  QR Codes are essentially just two-dimensional barcodes, that look like a screenshot from a black and white 80s arcade game, that represent a locked gateway to further information.  Where may you obtain a key to unlocking this gateway?  Your mobile device.

And what, you ask, lies behind these magical gateways to the unknown that can be seemingly placed on anything anywhere?  Well…not a whole lot, yet.

Upon scanning the code, most lead simply to product, service, or business home pages.  The more adventurous businesses attempt to varying degrees of success to use the QR codes on products or services as a means of showing off just what the product or service does.  Restaurants for instance could use codes to show customers just how their food is prepared or even to display entertaining or special kills that the staff may have in practicing the service like a cook at a Japanese restaurant or a bartender.
Whereas the latter examples show definitive promise and potential, the former option, directing the curious to a simple home page, has become the typical experience thrust upon consumers.  On the surface, this seems like the right and safe thing to do, but consider smart phones at this particular point in history.

Most have QWERTY keyboards that are either very tactile or very easily utilized on your touch screen of choice.  In addition, most if not all QR codes require a reader of some kind i.e. just because you have a camera does not necessarily mean you can just as easily snap a photo of the QR code and be on your way.  Though presumably, that technology is either already out there, or very hastily on its way depending on your phone and OS.

Consider also, that these QR codes sometimes find themselves on buses and other hastily moving targets or in areas where you yourself may be moving at 60 – 70mph and you can already sense the CNN ticker headline that makes the evening news; motorist causes X car pile up while trying to scan QR code off billboard next to highway.  In fact, in Maryland, scanning QR codes is actually just as illegal as texting while driving.

But, for all intents and purposes, we’ll presume you’re standing still and your target is something that moves intermittently.  Lets say it’s a bus that stops off in front of a crosswalk where you stand at a stoplight.  Though smart phones and their cameras are becoming increasingly more efficient and expedient in their launching, the simple and standard app still lags behind this standard with no real specific reason for prodding.  Granted, we may only be talking 10 or so seconds here, but anything that proves itself a chore will very quickly be ignored by the masses.

Further, in the time it might take you to make the decision to scan the code, retrieve the phone, unlock it, launch the app, and scan the code, your opportunity potentially has not only been missed, but your situation may have evolved into something quite dangerous as you may have stepped off the curb and into traffic to get an ideal scan.  Far fetched perhaps, but we already have issues with people walking and texting.

qrcode_infographic1So assuming our curiosity and our means are a non-issue and the reward sufficient, just who exactly are these 6.2% (14 million people) who these QR codes seem to be appealing to?  The young (18-34).  The rich (income greater than 100k).  The male (60.5% of the audience).  According to a study conducted by comScore, these 6.2% of individuals equate to roughly 14 million people.  This means that companies that may have luxury products to sell, need to take note and find creative ways to further entice this slice of the market because they have the money to spend and the curiosity to find something to spend it on.

Just imagine going to a car dealership and on the window sticker there is a QR code.  Upon scanning the code, you get to see the car in action or being built or maybe it’s a link to a web series featuring the car like Audi’s “Untitled Jersey City Project” or the BMW Films of years past.  Infinite possibilities if only they’d be put into practice.  Now imagine having access to all of that just by scanning a parked car’s QR code (carefully planted) embedded on the windshield and you have people who’ve not only approached the car, but essentially have taken a digital brochure with them for their trouble.

In the end, much like 3D technology in Hollywood, the QR Code is a tool that if used correctly, can really enhance the consumer’s overall experience.  If used creatively, it can go “viral”.  If used perfectly, it can be the next best thing.  In the meantime though, lets just work on making sure that, that 30% at least knows what it is because knowing, is half the battle.


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