The Case of the QR Code Cutesies

As soon as I write a post on focusing on the basics– like setting clear expectations – when implementing QR Code (or other code-based) initiatives, it’s only natural that would find clear examples supporting the problem.

Take a look at these, all from the same publication:


QR Code example


Microsoft Tag example


QR Code example

Do you know what they have in common? The case of the cutesies. Like so many of the code-based implementations I’ve seen over the last year, they forget about one of the simplest best practices of getting a user to take action: provide a clear AND compelling call-to-action.

It’s like this is sacrificed for the (seemlingly) sake of being cute. Cute design. Colorful. Mysterious. Shapely.


As a consumer, I’m less likely to take action just by the “look” of the code. I want to know what I’m going to get, and more than that, I want to know if there’s anything unique in it for me once I do scan it. These calls-to-action are uninspiring, at best.

“Get Access & Info.”

“Info on Activities.”

And the kicker – absolutely nothing.

Intriguing, guys. Really.

Clear instructions are essential in a call-to-action, especially with emerging technologies. But consumer expectations are to the point where that, alone, is hardly effective. They don’t just want to know “how,” they want to know “why.”

I bet if you got 5 people together who best represent the “average consumer,” showed them these ads, and asked them if they knew what “it” (the code) was, at least half of them would say no. Then, once explained, they might say something like, “why would I do that?” And in this case, the answer would be for “more information” or “our activities” or “just because.” Sounds compelling right?

Does that compel you to take action?

As I said the other day, I think this question is a great filter when implementing any code-based campaign. And it’s simple. If the answer to that question – would this call-to-action compel me to take action? – is no, I’d highly recommend re-thinking a) the actual call-to-action and/or probably most importantly, b) the content “behind the code” (the content you offer up after scanning the code).

Consumers don’t just want to know “how,” they want to know, “why.” Answer them both, and make it clear to the consumer, and you’ll have cracked half of the nut.

4 thoughts on “The Case of the QR Code Cutesies

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention The Case of the QR Code Cutesies | 11th Screen --

  2. arthurbarbato

    Fascinating article! I just d/l’d the QR code for droid and I’m trying to figure out what to do with it.

  3. Katie Rottner

    oh snap! Thanks for the great article. I’ve been seeing a lot of “the case of the cutesies,” as well as “the case of everyone-else-is-doing-it.” I’m trying to love QR codes but there are so many obstacles.

  4. Mike Cearley Post author

    Katie – thanks for stopping by. I really like your blog. :-) Your angle, your tone, and your subjects. Good luck as you get it going. Re: the QR cutesies – personally, I’m seeing them more and more from small, mid, large brands so I don’t know that we have much of an awareness problem. I do think that most examples show brands’ shortsighted approach to this technology. In general, they’re not using them to drive the consumer down the path. They don’t seem to focus on the content behind the code – a critical component in the entire experience – rather, they focus on just slapping the code wherever. I’ll check it out because I’m naturally interested and a nerd like that, but not the average consumer. If they’re going to achieve mass appeal, they’ve got to stop being so cute and start being smart and effective. Thanks, again, for reading!

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