Tag Archives: QR Codes

QR Codes Strike Again…Diapers This Time

I just don’t know what to make of QR codes popping up everywhere, particularly in new, odd places. Like (smart) diapers.

I guess the one thing QR codes have going for them is they could be more novel to parents than the digirati, who no doubt scoff at them.

The idea here is good, but I can’t picture a world where we are scanning pee & poop-filled diapers. Can you?

When Technology is Too Much

An Austrian company is putting QR codes on gravestones so friends/family of the departed can view a digital catalogue of their lives.

Now, cemeteries will be another place to whip out your phone and start pointing & shooting & watching to gain an “experience.” Maybe I’m too cynical on this one, but the cemetery is no place for an emerging experience.

Neat(ish) idea. Just seems too insensitive for me.

“Let’s look at the memories” vs. “Let’s remember the memories.” This is how I interpret this move and I suppose, this is the crux of my uneasiness of this – technology makes things too easy, to the point of enabling laziness. We don’t put half of our brain to use because we can rely on technology to do it for us. This fundamental notion of storing things away in our brain to call back on in times of despair or joy – these memories – is being dulled by technology that enables us to store it and ignore it.

Who knows? This might be the way of the future, even in cemeteries. I wouldn’t be surprised. But it sure doesn’t make me feel good.

Maybe the Only Good Thing About QR Codes

Last night at the dinner table, my daughter pulls a sticker with a QR code on it off of a banana. She starts making jokes, doing what she can to make her little brothers laugh, and then says, “this is for your smartphone. And an app or something like that.”

Both me and my wife looked at each other like, “did you tell her that?”

And I said, “what do you mean?”

Daughter said, “you need your smartphone for this sticker.”

And I said, “what makes you think that?”

She said, “this little box is for your smartphone.”

“You’re exactly right,” I said.

Hmmm. Again, me and my wife look at each other, kind of amazed. Then, my wife says, to me, “I didn’t even know that until a few months ago.”

This teaches me a couple of things:

1. Children inherently get technology.

2. Children understand what technology, specifically mobile technology (in this case), is needed for. My daughter didn’t know it was a QR code or what necessarily happened with it, but she knew that you need your smartphone to do something with it.

3. There could easily be an expectation with younger generations that real-world stuff just won’t work without technology.

And that’s the point that I don’t think we can lose sight of. Are QR codes a useful enabling technology for marketers and consumers? Likely not. But this is a great case of the reverberation effect of technologies like this whereby the association of what they are and what they are used with has a great impact.

My daughter might not ever use a QR code, but she knows more and more that technology is needed to turn something physical (sticker) into something that makes it “work.”

QR Codes on a car? Maybe not such a bad idea…

Check this out:

QR code on car

A QR code on a car. Right on the back there. No context whatsoever. But if you know what it is, you don’t really need context. You know that you could probably scan that thing, just like all of the ones you can scan on posters or in magazines.

On the back of a car?

My first inclination was to put this into the category of “what in the world are you doing?” But after giving it some thought, maybe there’s something to it.

Before I get into that, I have said many things about QR codes and setting them up for success. They must be:

1. Accessible

2. Convenient

3. Valuable

All too often, none of these are addressed. Just because it’s simple to slap a QR code on anything, brands and marketers do it with the expectation that people are just going to do something with them.

Well, no.

Especially on the back of a car. What is accessible, convenient and valuable out of that whole scenario?

Not so fast, though. Maybe. This is where it got me thinking, for this “valuable” proposition. Now, I have no idea what is behind the code here, if anything. I would presume that it unlocks some sort of information about the vehicle. I don’t know how anyone would find that valuable, but given the way people throw these on anything, value has little to do with any sort of rhyme or reason.

What would be really interesting, however, is if the code unlocked something about the person behind the vehicle. Another dimension to your real self, as told through the lense of technology. I’m not necessarily talking about attaching a name, address, social – any personal information – to it. I’m talking about adding characteristics or traits that embody you. Think about it – someone wants to know more about the person who really is behind this vehicle and they can find things about their personality or passions just by scanning a code attached to the car. And for you, the car owner, it’s another form of self-expression.

Now, how this would really play out on a car, I don’t know. The car would have to be parked or not moving in order to scan it and even more, do something with the information it provides. To what extent that could actually connect people is not certain. But what is certain is this – technology is showing us every single day that real-world objects (like cars) can instantly be made interactive. This technology can bring these things to life.

This example here might not connect people to each other in this way. But if a car brand used a technique like this to show other consumers what characteristics (ie, laid back, analytical, fun-loving, etc.) and/or passions (ie, loves the outdoors, kids extracurricular activities, going to the gym, etc) belonged to people who drove a particular car, that could be a very intriguing insight. Particularly to a car shopper. It could be something that influences that kind of purchasing decision. Which, by the way, should be the whole point of any technology, much less QR codes.

Who knows. How much good would something like this ultimately be? Really? The more I think about this, the more I think it’s a crazy idea that provides little/no value.

But then again, so does an unmarked QR code on the back of a car.



If People Can’t See It, How Powerful Can It Be?

Pizza box with QR code

What’s wrong with this picture?

What if I told you that this is the back of a pizza box?

As in, typically not the side of the box you look at when deciding on what pizza to buy.

Can you guess?

Well, before I get into it, I do think this brand is on to something with a couple of compelling pieces of content that might affect someone’s decision when buying frozen pizza:

1. “Consumer” reviews

2. Access to more information about their fresh ingredients (through the QR code)

To what extent either of these are actually drivers in the frozen pizza decision making process, I have no idea. But what I do know is that people are much more likely to make that decision based on what they see on the front of the box. Maybe the little bitty side, too, where all of the healthy (or not) ingredients are. But not the back.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, if you want someone to use an enabling technology like QR codes, then they have to be accessible. Especially in this instance, they must be in a convenient place where it’s not hard – much less not visible – to interact with. This is a simple rule.

But I think the biggest thing, beyond enabling technology or QR codes, is hiding what could be powerful word-of-mouth recommendations, which could definitely change purchase behavior. If no one reads them, how good/effective are they? (Nevermind that these aren’t particularly glowing recommendations.)

What this box teaches me is that despite how good your ideas are, if you’re not doing everything you can to make them visible and easy to interact with, then they will likely have 0 impact.


(Not) The Year of the QR Code

Last year around this time, I wrote a post about the Holidays saving QR Codes. At the time, I noticed them in about every print piece/holiday circular we received in the mail, and from that standpoint, I was interested in how it would affect these codes – being introduced into homes via these circulars that everyone, especially the “average” consumer is likely to look at. Would it make them (us) familiar with them to know what they were and what they did? Including them and distributing them in holiday circulars seemed like a pretty good idea to accomplish this. So, while I don’t believe that the holidays “saved” QR codes by any stretch of the imagination (more on that below), I do think they were appropriate to include in those pieces and I do think they were on the forefront of QR code mania that has ensued this past year, and from that standpoint, I think they created a level of awareness. Even if it was, “what in the world is that?”

Since then, it’s been interesting to see how QR codes have played out. All throughout the year, I think everyone can agree that QR codes have popped up everywhere. Not only in the mail, but on posters and signs and sides of buildings and everything else. It is certainly not uncommon to see QR codes plastered on many things – big and small – out in the real world.

And now, a year after circulars, as I unpack our Christmas gifts and groceries, I see them making their way into our homes via the products we buy. My son got a guitar for Christmas and look what’s right on front:

QR code on guitar box

And then, switching to groceries, before I put the Granola Bars box up in the pantry, what do I see:

QR code on granola box

All this to say, I don’t think QR codes have an awareness problem anymore.

I think QR codes have a usage problem.

That’s the long and short of it.

A good solid year after being introduced into our everyday lives, in many ways, QR codes are more value-less now than they were a year ago when hardly anyone knew what they were (or that they even existed).

Comscore did a study around QR code usage that they published in August 2011. In it, they found that “6.2% of the total mobile audience scanned a QR code on their mobile device” in a 1-month period. To put this into perspective, a recent Pew study found that 28% use mobile/social location based services (including, but not limited to Foursquare and the like). The net – not a lot of people are scanning/using QR codes.

We could probably talk for days and days about why this is so, but in the end, it boils down to value. No matter what the technology-of-the-day is, if it doesn’t provide value – and now more than ever, immense value – it’s going to be hard to garner mass adoption. Sure, there’s value in learning more about a product with the scan of a code (equivalent to a click of a button), or being able to easily LIKE a brand, or even getting a coupon on the spot, but there’s hardly consistency. And, in the case of QR codes, so much inconsistency and non-value, I believe the perception is that, by and large, they are just “weird looking codes that send you to a website.” So, the intrigue and potential has already lost its intrigue due to a year of poor executions.

Maybe this year, we’ll see that change. And this year, we’ll actually see an evolution of QR code usage. Maybe people will come around. Maybe brands will come around and figure out great ways to use this technology. I still believe it’s one with lots of potential, but if we go through another year of circulars and posters and sides of buildings and product boxes delivering a normal website upon a scan, that will be the time that we can perhaps call them dead.

They’re barely alive as it is.


How Not to Make a Digital Sign Interactive

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – if you’re going to make a sign (digital or not) interactive, it must be accessible. That is to say, if it could do something like cause someone to get in an accident while driving, it’s probably not the best thing to do.

Imagine a huge sign marking the presence of an Outlet Mall. One of those signs that run all of the different advertisements from all of the different stores and can be seen from a good ½ mile away. It might as well be the mall’s personal billboard.

Well, now imagine a QR code on that sign. Even better, imagine trying to interact with that sign via the QR code and your mobile phone while driving by.

Needless to say, I was surprised to see it as we passed it. In fact, I don’t know that *surprise* accurately describes my reaction. It was more like, WTF?

While this is not the best picture, it’s all I could take. You’ll just have to believe me that there is a huge QR code taking up that sign.

QR code on digital sign

It seemed to be on screen for ~10 seconds, which is another important lesson.  Since people are clamoring to snap this QR code on this huge screen outside of an Outlet Mall, why don’t you hurry the process up a little bit more by giving them a short 10 seconds – at the most – to get their phone out, take over driving with their knee, launch their QR code reader, put the phone up in the right position so the QR code is centered in the screen, snap the code, realize what it is it’s taking them to, and resume driving. Oh yeah, if the content behind the code is valuable enough, why not exit from the freeway, too.

I don’t know what part of this whole experience is a good idea.

See, just because you can make something interactive doesn’t mean you should. Context – in the form of placement – is everything. In this case, if they wanted to deepen the experience in any way via mobile, why not put a short code on the sign? At least that’s an action that doesn’t require immediacy.

Better yet, why not put, “we’ve got great deals here and we want you to be safe, so why don’t you just stop on by and we’ll show you.” I guarantee you that that will be more effective than the QR code that they have running now.

Awareness Only Spaces for Interactive Everything Potential?

Maybe one of the problems with all spaces and things becoming interactive is the fact that the actual spaces and things are not set up to be interactive. That is, there are many accessibility issues that need to considered and worked through. As an example, this was an ad hanging above an escalator.

Non-accessible QR Code

The only access to the ad and the code was riding the escalator. And even though escalators escalate at a nice, slow pace, they’re moving way too fast to take an action like scanning a QR code. It was a mad scramble to do what I could to take a picture of this, much less launch an app and then scan the code.

I understand that many times, decisions for any OOH campaign at scale can’t alleviate all accessibility issues. This ad might be hanging in an extremely appropriate and accessible place in another environment. When dealing with environments and buying ad space in those varied environments, I imagine there’s a percentage of “dead” ads because of all of the spaces that they’re going to be put in. For every bad placement (one that is not accessible), perhaps there are ten good placements (with no accessibility issues.) As someone who is responsible for budgets, however, that sort of thing makes my head want to explode. I want all of them to be accessible. That’s what I’m paying for.

This is one of the challenges of all things having the ability to become interactive. This problem of accessibility is of no concern if this is a standard ad. Or a standard digital screen. Or a standard billboard. Anything that is just push messaging – it’s all about eyeballs and an ad hanging right above an escalator generates a lot of eyeballs.

But when you try to make that placement work for interactivity, it fails miserably.

So, I guess what I would say is this – if you’re going to spend money to create an interactive “thing,” be it a print ad or a digital screen or a kiosk, do a little bit of digging into the entire media buy. Do what you can to really understand all of the placements. Making something interactive nowadays can’t just be, “let’s plop a code on this or a touchscreen on this and make it interactive.” The spaces that you’re buying could be great for eyeballs, but for anything beyond that, for any action, they’re no good.

It becomes a waste of money and expectations. No way people are going to scan the QR code in this particular ad. If that is a key metric, this advertiser will have a hard time believing in this particular form of interactive, enabling technology, despite its potential. They’ll just go back to the boring ol’ awareness-only, push-messaging, let’s-get-as-many-eyeballs-on-this-as-possible mentality.

And that is not the future.

A Simple Guide for QR Codes (and Other “New” Technology)

Let’s pretend, for a moment, that there is value in QR codes. Everyone has their own definition of value, be it to get a coupon or to see product information or to become connected on Facebook. For today, we’ll just presume that the value proposition is met in order for someone to scan a QR code.

Beyond value, I think there are two key drivers or barriers (however you want to look at it) to scanning a QR code:

  1. Convenience
  2. Awkwardness


It must be convenient. This means that it really needs to be right in front of you and the proper size to scan within an arm’s length. I don’t think there’s a scientific formula that defines either; rather, I think you have to use good ol’ common sense. When printing a QR code, test it first. Put yourself in the position of the average person. If it’s not convenient for you, it’s not going to be convenient for anyone else.

The second driver/barrier is awkwardness. I have never seen anyone scan a QR code out in the public. Have you? I think, by and large, there is a sense of awkwardness that the average person doesn’t want to experience/let everyone see out in the open. I think people feel more comfortable exposing themselves to new technology in public places in as private of an environment as they can have.

If it’s convenient, it stands to reason that it won’t be too awkward. Problem is, most QR codes out in the open are not convenient, therefore extremely awkward.

So it was last night. When I was at the fast food drive-in, Sonic. There I was just sitting in my car, waiting, listening to the World Series, not much to do but look directly at this:

Sonic Menu Board without QR Code

This is what everyone sees when they’re waiting for their order at Sonic. Directly in front of them. Windows typically down, no more than a foot away. For at least two minutes.

It is the perfect scenario for a QR code.

I have time (this trumps the value prop to me) and don’t mind doing something like scanning a QR code. It’s convenient. And, given that I’m confined to my car, in my own little stall, I don’t feel awkward doing something like this out in the open.

Lucky for me there was a QR code in the vicinity. Unlucky for me, it was not right in front of me.

It was on the back of the menu board, only visible if you’re looking across your car, and only convenient for a passenger, and extremely awkward for anyone to scan, even and most importantly, the passenger.

Sonic Menu Board with QR Code

Let’s just pretend that there is value in this QR code and I really wanted to scan it. I walked away from this experience not taking that action.


Simple. Because it’s not convenient and, even more, it’s awkward.

If these are your two guides as you’re introducing any new technology out into the open, into public places, you’ll be just fine.

What the Average Consumer Taught Me About Technology

11th Screen | The Interactive Out-of-Home Blog

I was hanging out with my step-dad this morning and he shed a little light on the “average” person’s familiarity and expectations with new technology, specifically with mobile technology. He’s a new owner of an iPhone, thanks to AT&T’s $49 deal that came out a few months ago and his computer usage is really centered around email, Facebook, and surfing to camping or backpacking sites via Google. He doesn’t know a lot, but he knows enough to get the information he needs on these devices. The iPhone and its power make him want to explore and expand the way he uses it, but he needs a little bit of guidance. Without that guidance, he falls into what I call, “overload paralysis.” There’s just too much out there, too much to process, to0 much to decide between, too much to search, too much to find out – it’s easy to just shut down and become paralyzed when faced with too much. I feel like this is a common state for the average consumer, and my step-dad reaffirmed my belief.

These types of consumers have different expectations from technology than those of us who are immersed in it day in and day out. And this is what my conversation really shed some light on.

Here’s how our conversation went:

Step-dad (SD): Mike, I’d like to pick your brain a little bit about what apps to download.

Mike: OK, what do you want to do, from the apps?

SD: Well, I just downloaded Pandora the other day and I really enjoy it.

Mike: So, you want music and movies, multimedia-stuff like that?

SD: No, not really. I don’t need to watch movies. But I’d love to know what good apps are out there.

Mike: Are you looking for games? Or productivity things? Like scheduling, notes, reminders – things like that?

SD: That might be interesting.

Mike: What about your bank? Do you have your bank’s app?

SD: Oh, that would be good.

Mike: Facebook?

SD: Yeah, that would be good, too. What about that Twitter? How does that work?

I’ll spare you the conversation there. It picked up a little bit later….

SD: I just downloaded a barcode scanner and I love that.

Mike: What do you scan?

SD: There are these square codes in my camping magazines that I scan.

Mike: You actually scan them?

SD: Yeah.

Mike: What does it take you to?

SD: Like this one here (pointing out one regarding a GPS), it takes me to a website where I get to see more information about this GPS unit.

And then, I let him show me the experience. He knew what to do and actually thought he was really cool, doing this high-tech thing on his iPhone.

I was enlightened. From this one encounter, I learned:

1. There is an awareness of QR codes and what they do, to the average consumer. My step-dad was genuinely interested in them and used them.

2. The expectation that the average consumer has about the content behind a QR code is not in line with mine. My step-dad was fine that he was simply directed to a website (non-mobile-optimized at that). He was able to learn more about this GPS system that he wasn’t able to from an ad in the magazine.

3. A mobile-optimized website was of no concern to him. He knows that he can expand any part of the mobile screen with his two fingers so it doesn’t annoy him that there aren’t any special versions of links or simplification of the experience. In fact, he was able to manipulate the screen – expand and scroll – with (relative) speed and precision.

Overall, there is a belief out there that in this little grey computer box and the little phone in your pocket, there is a treasure to be unlocked. The average consumer just doesn’t know how to unlock it. They’re less concerned about instructions and context and optimization. They’re more concerned about having what everyone else has.

To me, that’s a far different problem to solve than perfecting the experience.