What’s Missing from the QR Code?

In mid-July, the New York City Department of Sanitation started to display QR codes on the sides of their 2,200 sanitation trucks and, since the story first broke, a number of people have written about it in marketing/technology blogs and on-line magazine articles, as well as on Twitter. While a story like this certainly helps to raise awareness and inform individuals about QR code technology, I still have not seen or read any one’s comments on how poorly the campaign was executed.

When you look at the QR code poster on the side of a sanitation truck, you will see a line of copy which points people to the city’s Green Apple Recycling website. Nothing more, nothing less. There is no explanation of what the code is, and there are no instructions on how to scan the code, let alone how and where to download a reader app.

To know that there is enough space on the poster to include this type of copy, I wonder why the Department’s marketing team or outside agency decided to make the NYC media logo as big as it is and the QR code that much smaller (see lower right-hand corner of poster). Why not do the opposite? If the Department really wanted to attract people’s attention (to the side of a moving object!), why not help them see the code that much easier by printing it larger and or in different colors, which QR codes can handle.

From a strategic perspective, I can understand the Department’s wanting to make use of technology to promote its recycling programs, etc., but I just question whether or not this was the best use and application of 2D barcode technology. Instead of scanning the code and resolving to a video on recycling, why not enable New Yorkers to scan the code and earn a chance to win something. Maybe have a contest to see who has the best recycling story in the city and the winner gets a free weekend at the Waldorf=Astoria Hotel. Crazy, maybe, but I believe a campaign like this offers a greater chance to promote what the Department does and enhance the customer experience, which is really what a 2D barcode campaign is, or should be, all about.


5 thoughts on “What’s Missing from the QR Code?

  1. All of your points are 100% valid and correct.

    – the “weight” of the QR tag in the ad is terrible

    – the failure to bring in a larger group of possible users is forgivable, but, dumb

    – the lack of a real, personal and immediate value/incentive to the User is, like most QR campaigns, the possible downfall of the entire business model. If users are not excited about each new QR tag they see right now (if a few attempts result in meaningless content), people will simply cease to engage with them.

    The failure of Agencies to consider User Experience, content and creating campaigns that will excite users about future QR applications is discouraging. I really believe that if we see the next 6 months go by with more of these kind of garbage campaigns (pun intended), people will ignore QR tags and they will cease to become as mainstream as many of us hope.

    If you look at the WaPo/Nielsen posts over the weekend about “how do people use their mobile phones,” text continues to increase and voice continues to decline.

    So, where are the really creative text-based campaigns coming off a QR Tag? If that's how people use their phones, why are campaigns so hell-bent on video or other experiences that do not sync with how Users actually use their phones?

    I hate to say it, but, QR Tags are seeming more and more like a gimmick that won't take off.

  2. Thank you for your comment. Strange how a week or so ago you thought Microsoft was very clever on targeting women (Allure magazine), and now you believe codes won't take off. While I agree with your comments about structuring campaigns around the way people use their mobile phones, my readers and I simply don't get your perspective. Perhaps if you clued us in on your connection to the industry we could better understand.

  3. Ah, there's quite a difference between Microsoft “buying” Reader downloads (by, maybe, just maybe, adding to incentives in a magazine campaign) and the overall success of QR/2D codes.

    I do believe that Microsoft Tags will become more of a standard than anyone thought. And, frankly, Microsoft Tags resolve at a percentage far higher than any QR (where between the Tag and the Reader the twain doesn't always meet). But, their introduction to consumers also causes confusion in the market (“why won't my Beetagg Reader read a Microsoft Tag?”)…

    I'm increasingly pessimistic about the whole enchilada.

    Part of that is due to technical reasons and confusion in the marketplace and part of that is due to generally terrible content experiences that Tags are leading to.

    The Garbage truck is a fine example of everything going wrong.

    My real point is that if too many of these early campaigns are failures, then users will simply cease to engage.

    Broadly, I believe we are all failing if we are not helping agencies and clients create great consumer experiences and we're just putting it out there to get a pay check and claim we did some fanciful campaign that works against the industry and technology as a whole.

    Remember a couple of years ago, the term “banner blindness?”


    If we are not careful, “QR blindness” will happen even faster. Your Garbage Truck post may be the beginning of QR blindness. I hope not. But, if we don't consider the consequences, we are in denial.

    My perspective is where I am Tag technology agnostic, agency friendly and try to never forget about the consumer whose time and attention we are taking from them – do we provide an equal or greater value in return?

  4. I have to agree, the balance in the ad on the sanitation trucks is just poorly done. How would anyone be able to capture the code on the moving truck?

    This seems like a novelty instead of a well-thought-out campaign.

    I do believe that QR codes are valuable tools, which, when used correctly, can have some neat results.

    One such use is for fundraising for non-profits – linking to a donation page by using codes on T-Shirts, posters, even tattoos.

    Another use is for information at retail destinations. Product information, sale information… with the ability to change the web info on the fly!

    Contests are another cool use of QR.

    But with each application, it's important to consider who the audience is. I am not sure who the audience is for the sanitation department program. My impression is that QR code users tend younger and more web and tech savvy than the general population. Does this campaign assume that this younger population will make more garbage?

    And what are the analytics they are measuring?

    Just my two cents.

  5. Jody:
    Thank you for the comment. You are right on all points. Unfortunately what I see happening is that companies and organizations are trying the codes once, maybe twice, and then not using them ever again. This is no way to build awareness and recognition, let alone a strategic competitive advantage.

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