No marketer has ever met a technological innovation he couldn’t ruin. Perhaps the best example is the QR code. Used for years in auto manufacturing in Japan, QR codes exploded with the rise of smartphones. Intelligent marketers saw an opportunity to drive people toward unique and focused online experiences; not-so-intelligent marketers saw an opportunity to put a QR on something and look impressive in front of clients. It was the perfect storm: great design, cool tech, and a bandwagon; and it was this third element that quickly led to the dilution of the QR code’s purpose, which, in turn, led to user apathy.
And yet, the QR code has refused to die. In fact, Apple’s iOS 7 now comes with a built-in QR code reader. (It should be noted that this move is less an endorsement or adoption of the technology as much as it is an absorption of it. TechCrunch has a very insightful article about Apple’s motives. https://techcrunch.com/2013/06/12/apple-hate-loves-qr-codes/) The QR code has flourished in very specific environments such as virtual stores, which is proof that we have almost come full circle — back to focused online experiences. But we’re not there yet.
Some clients (and marketers) still insist on putting QR codes on anything and everything. One of the most egregious examples of this lack of focus is QR codes on New York subway posters where cellular service is largely nonexistent. And focus is really what we need more of. Because we can send consumers anywhere online to do anything, sometimes clients or marketers insist we send consumers everywhere online to do everything. This leads to ads containing multiple URLs, multiple social platform icons, two or more CTAs, a hashtag, and a QR code. The tragedy of this approach is that the logic is actually sound: the more options you give consumers, the more likely they are to choose one. This is why it’s all the more difficult to convince decision-makers that embrace the aforementioned sentiment that the opposite is closer to the truth: the more options you give consumers, the more likely they are to choose none.
If you’re considering using a QR code, you only need to ask yourself one question: does the use of a QR code help the user? More specifically, does it save them time or provide an avenue to an experience they couldn’t easily access otherwise? If the answer to the above is “no,” then don’t bother with it.