9Nov2011

QR Codes: Love Them or Hate Them?

Is it possible to sit on the fence when it comes to QR Codes? Or is it merely horses for courses? [I do love a good idiom]



A few months ago we proposed a number of poster campaign concepts to a client aimed at increasing student placement numbers within IT. One of which focused on a QR code turned into a character illustration. It provided a nice bit of theatre during the presentation when they all tried it out. The client chose a different route in the end, but it went down really well. Their reluctance was down to the prevalence and audience understanding of QR Codes, even for a young IT literate crowd. A fair point, not everyone has a smartphone.

A Gimmick? A Bandwagon?

There was also a fear of jumping on a bandwagon, despite them being around since 1994. We are certainly starting to see them creep into advertising campaigns in increasingly creative ways. But using them as the main focus has become a bit gimmicky. It seems far more sensible to simply use them as you would a URL, email address or secondary call to action. The only downside is, they’re pretty ugly.

Potential Rich Experience

The big positive however is the extended reach to digital. That’s where I’d like to invest some time and thought. A rich mobile experience targeted just for the customer interacting directly with your brand. Add to that the possibilities of geolocation and we’ve got an interesting mix. One that we can all exploit creatively.

So love them or hate them, I suspect the QR code is here to stay. And the more creative we are with them, the faster they’ll become ubiquitous.

But before we all rush off and plaster our campaigns with them, it’s worth noting and getting ready for Near Field Communication [NFC] and also Radio-Frequency Identification [RFID].  Interesting times ahead.

I’d be interested to hear some thoughts from those in our industry. Love or hate?

Article by

I am the Head of Design at Heehaw. Over the years I have worked with many household names including WH Smith, BBC and Whyte & Mackay. Whether working on brand strategy, print or digital, finding that big idea still gives me a kick today

7 Comments

Comments

  1. The biggest hurdle for QR adoption is, to my mind, the fact that even if people have a smart phone there is no certainty that phone has native QR capability… so now, there are 2 barriers to entry, firstly the phone and then an app that will read QR codes.

    • Ewan McCowen says:

      That’s a really good point. However, I personally feel that all the barriers (and as you point out there are many) can and will be overcome in time. The simple fact is that QR Codes save people time typing things into their phones and from that point of view, I think it is a technology that will prevail

  2. Ben Seven says:

    I think they’re great, but like many things where tech & marketing collide, they’re often used atrociously badly. This has lead to a lot of people writing them off as irrelevant, when in fact they’re immensely powerful if used right.

    It’s like the fools who stick just the Twitter icon on a poster. “Yeah, we’re all social media friendly now”. Think about the user – when they see that icon, they know you’re on Twitter. But 80% of the time no-one includes the username. How am I supposed to find you? Search on Twitter turns up content, so unless I can guess your username, you’ve failed to engage me.

    The use of the Facebook logo is less bad in this respect as Facebook’s search tool at least turns up brands, but with the removal of the 25-likes requirement before you can claim your fan page’s URL, it’s easy to set this up and actually point them directly there.

    QR codes tend to suffer from one, in my opinion key, usage problem. Context. There are two aspects to this:

    A recent study shows that 87% of people don’t know what a QR code is, so don’t miss the chance to explain. ‘Scan this to download our app’ – even including ‘Download Scanlife or QReader from the app store’ doesn’t hurt. People are still intrigued by the novelty of it, so help them get involved. Context like the one I used here helps understand what you’re doing if you scan the code: http://instagr.am/p/LYme7/

    The second aspect of context is not hiding the URL behind a link shortener (my example above does, but I designed the replacement badges on an iPad during the conference for a laugh, and hadn’t realised this yet). A number of scanning applications report the URL or content to the user rather than visiting it directly – if they see bit.ly/ishjdhf, how do they know what they’re about to visit or do? Putting it behind a relevant redirect on your own domain (e.g benseven.co.uk/follow) is much neater, and still allows you to update where the QR code points to at a later date.

    Lastly they have to remove steps for the user. Encoding just benseven.co.uk isn’t that helpful – I’d rather type that out myself. But a good example of this would be @mattmcarthur’s funk night flyer design I got to test – QR code in the bottom corner was a direct link to an MP3 mix promoting the music to be played on the night. You walk down the street and are handed a flyer – you scan the corner of it and can start listening to the tunes right away! Pretty futuristic stuff.

    Physical markers for digital assets – pretty exciting, but only really when used right. It’s up to us to use them better and prove their use!

    • Ewan McCowen says:

      Ben, you are absolutely correct about context (just one example: I saw loads of QR Codes in the NYC subway trains last month… like that was a worthwhile effort!). I feel that it is up to the design, marketing and webby community to try and use them often, intelligently and creatively. Your example of the funk night flier is an excellent point in case (and I’m planning to blog about a hypothetical case study quite soon on a similar use). Thanks for your thoughts!

  3. Larry says:

    The second aspect of context is not hiding the URL behind a link shortener (my example above does, but I designed the replacement badges on an iPad during the conference for a laugh, and hadn’t realised this yet). A number of scanning applications report the URL or content to the user rather than visiting it directly – if they see bit.ly/ishjdhf, how do they know what they’re about to visit or do? Putting it behind a relevant redirect on your own domain (e.g benseven.co.uk/follow) is much neater, and still allows you to update where the QR code points to at a later date.
    +1

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