QR Codes are a gift

Would you give this empty bag to your mom on her birthday?   photo: @lausier, Instagram)

Would you give this empty bag to your mom on her birthday?
photo: @lausier, Instagram)

Professionals who strategize, design, and code Websites and digital products for a living are befuddled by the popularity of QR codes. I hate them. Poor execution is frequently ridiculed. They are the perfect example of thoughtless, non-empathic marketing and service experiences. And marketers pay good money over bad to build experiences around a bad tactic.

Okay, correction. I don't dislike the tactic. They are useful in the right context. QR Codes are like guns. I don't hate the things completely but I almost always dislike what marketers (the gun owners) do with them.

We flip through magazines and stare blankly at ads that give so much real estate to QR codes. We run through airport terminals, experiencing QR codes out-of-home ads with near-Gatling freqency. Yet very few of us take out our phones and fire back.

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QR Codes require several steps of your user, assuming they have a smartphone to begin with, or are inclined to use it in an advertising context:

  1. Go to their mobile OS's application store
  2. Buy, download, and install a QR scanner
  3. Open the app
  4. Learn how to use it
  5. Take a picture (scan) of the QR image in your advertisement
  6. Wait for the app to launch a browser
  7. Wait for the browser to pull up your marketing content on a site or landing page
  8. Read or view the content
  9. Maybe engage with the content in some way
  10. Possibly register for an event or buy something

That's the best-case scenario. Ten steps. 

Now think of it another way. Imagine you've bought a birthday present for your mother. Instead of giving her the present, you've given her an empty bag with a QR code on it. Then you tell her everything she needs to get her really fantastic present is on the bag. 

Will she ever get her real present? Not likely. 

Will she become frustrated by an attempt? Will she ask you for help? Will you decline to assist tell her that she should figure it out on her own? Mom, come to think of it you aren't my intended gift target after all. Maybe you should share the gift bag with a more tech-savvy friend by clicking Like on our Facebook Page!

Marketers are often terrible at technology. They let a perceived next great thing substitute common sense. They don't think through what is required of a user. Don't be that marketer. They're jerks. Your mom would disapprove if you started hanging out with this crowd.

From time to time a technology optimist or advertising award organization will highlight a successful example of QR code executions. These are the exception and not the rule. Big investments are made, even though the technology supporting the experience is cheap. The intended target perhaps likes the gimmickry of a scan, but only if the payoff is there.

I personally don't believe QR codes will ever work, at least not until QR readers become packaged in a simple, native OS experience--and marketers get wise. It could happen. I guess.

Until then, stop what you're doing. Think. Then consider shelving the idea and investing in a simpler, more thoughtful way to reach your customers. Like a phone call or face-to-face conversation. Now that's cheap yet meaningful.

Your mother taught you good manners. Use them.