Understanding QR Codes and Their Place in Our Digital Future
In a way, QR codes are reminiscent of the secret decoder pins, badges and rings of the Golden Age of Radio and the early days of television.
The most enduring evocation of the era of the decoder ring is a scene in the yuletide classic A Christmas Story, where Ralphie Parker receives his Little Orphan Annie ring in the mail only to discover that the message he’d been waiting weeks to decrypt is merely some ad copy for Ovaltine. That was the marketing beauty of the decoder ring: It was a highly sought-after toy that was closely tied to a program’s advertiser.
There really is no limit to the ways QR codes can be employed.
Toys have grown a lot more complicated and wondrous since then. For example, so-called smartphones.
QR codes (QR stands for quick response) are those black and white squares that appear on packages and signs, looking like bar codes with hangovers. They can only be accessed using appropriately configured smartphones and tablets.
Once scanned, the code links the person who scanned to additional online information about a product or service — or rewards them with bonus materials and offers.
There really is no limit to the ways QR codes can be employed. They’re being used by real estate agents, educators, restaurateurs, HIV-AIDs activists, even funeral home directors.
Blogger Joel Buckland posted this fascinating look at the many surprising ways QR codes are being used. As Buckland pointed out, some savvy modern marketers are trying to create the same sort of fun with these codes that those clever marketers of the mid-20th century did with those decoder rings.
QR codes have been around for a while, but their use by consumers in this country is a recent phenomenon. In February 2011, mobile-oriented marketing and digital payments company Mobio Identity Systems, Inc. released a study concluding that QR code usage in North America had jumped 1,200 percent in the last half of 2010.
QR code usage is still such a novel concept in some quarters that none of several dozen marketing professors I contacted felt knowledgeable enough to comment.
Of course, some pundits have spent the last couple of years predicting the death of the QR code. You don’t get anywhere in the technology punditry biz if you don’t start predicting the death of something before most people have found out about it.
When a marketer tries to think too much like a company cheerleader and not enough like someone looking for practical information or entertainment, snafus can result.
Case in point: this blog post by Matthew Brown from April 2014 in which the author explores reasons why the days of QR codes might be numbered.
Brown’s wrap-up reads: “In conclusion, the QR code isn’t dead quite yet — in fact scans for QR codes have never been higher.”
Apparently QR codes are going out like James Cagney did in White Heat: “Top of the world, Ma!”
Blame the Messenger
One of the reasons that some pundits have relished touting the demise of QR codes is because they’ve had (or heard of) some bad experiences with QR codes, as Bryson Meunier pointed out in a post at the Marketing Land website.
“Everyone who has been the victim of a bad user experience at the hands of a marketer armed with a QR code understands where these critics are coming from,” he wrote. “Many marketers have nearly killed the QR code movement by using a code without optimizing the experience.