QR Codes Are the Roller-Skating Horses of Advertising

From The Atlantic:

qr codeIn theory, you stumble across this code on a billboard on a magazine page and you point your smartphone at it. Feeding the picture into a special decoding application transforms the image into a URL to which you are directed. Maybe a movie plays or there is more product information. Conceptually, this is neat. People who are looking at paper but connected to the Internet via their phones can combine the two in one seamless experience.

But all this really tells us is that advertisers would love to gather data about people who click QR codes. It tells us precisely nothing about whether anyone is actually clicking — err, photographing — them. Comscore released data indicating that “14 million people, or 6.2% of mobile users, scanned QR codes in the month of June.” Forrester says that about 5 percent of Americans use QR codes. And there is widespread confusion about how precisely these things are supposed to work, despite years of marketers telling us about them, even among tech-friendly groups like college students.

These low adoption rates might be explained by the user-interaction problems that eCommerce-consultant Roman Zenner highlighted in a blog post earlier this week:

If you come across such a harbinger of modern mobility, you grab your smartphone, fire up one of the numerous iPhone Apps and Android Apps that are meant to decipher this code (QR Code Readers), hold your camera in the direction of the code like you were actually taking a picture, wait for the autofocus of your mobile camera to get a clear image and if all works well you are being redirected to some website.

If you really wanted to know about a product that you saw in an ad, wouldn’t you rather type its name into Google on your phone and see what comes up? Is it really faster and better to use a QR code that will direct you to part of a marketing campaign rather than getting a broader sweep of information by simply using the browser that you already use all the time on your phone? In the instant cost-benefit analysis I do every time I see a QR code, it has yet to make sense for me to fire up the decoder app I have installed on my phone.

QR codes strike me like they strike Zenner, as a bridge or intermediate technology that will ultimately be swamped by a better technological system down the line. Zenner again:

Rather than being the next big thing, QR codes are nothing more than a bridge technology such as the German BTX or the French Minitel in the eighties – before the Internet as we know it today arrived. They are just a means to an end and one of the few peculiarities our children and grandchildren will wonder about: “Grandpa, you must be joking – people took pictures of paper billboards – WTF?”

What will the full-fledged technology look like? Well, there are several possibilities. One is that paper magazines go away, replaced by fully digital magazines. But even if we assume paper magazines live long into the future, image recognition technologies are going to blow by QR codes. Think Google Image Search on steroids. You’ll see an ad for the new Mazda, take a photo of the Mazda in the ad, and that will connect you with information about the car. No code reader necessary. Your phone will act as a general-purpose connector between the real and digital worlds, just like it does now with geolocation

3 Responses to “QR Codes Are the Roller-Skating Horses of Advertising”

  1. Arar says:

    This really answered my problem, thank you!

  2. Qr codes need that little bit of white border to work correctly. So if its at the corner of your screen, then its most likely the edge of your monitor (not white) is messing it up.

  3. click says:

    Whilst I genuinely like this post, I think there was an punctuational error near towards the finish of your 3rd paragraph.

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