5 Reasons You’re Probably Wasting Time with QR Codes – A Reply

The other day, Joe Gillespie, president of Zoove, wrote an article about QR Codes that was published on Gigaom. Whether or not Mr. Gillespie was purposely dumping on the competition or selflessly promoting his own company’s product, each and every point that Mr. Gillespie makes doesn’t add up or carry much weight. Let’s take a closer look.
Mr. Gillespie: “One thing these tiny 2D codes are big on is hype, with proponents touting them as the bridge between the offline and online world. But that offline to online bridge is structurally flawed for most and may be keeping many brands from reaching most of their audience effectively.”

2DBS: Mr. Gillespie, proponents tout 2D technology, because it does bridge the gap between the offline and online worlds. That’s the great advantage and/or capability of the technology. Whether or not the bridge is structurally flawed has more to do with how an advertiser chooses to develop and implement a 2D-based campaign and less to do with the technology itself. Because, for over a decade, the technology has been proven to work.

Listed below are Mr. Gillespie’s five reasons why QR Codes are a waste of time.

Mr. Gillespie:Not everybody has a smartphone. The simple fact is that most mobile phones cannot read a QR code. While smartphones are the fastest growing segment of the mobile handset market, the Nielsen estimates that 60 percent of cell phones in use today are not smartphones. Surprising, right? You wouldn’t advertise in a language most of your target audience doesn’t speak. Why are QR codes any different?”
2DBS: Yes, not everyone has a smartphone, but this is the fastest growing segment of the mobile phone market, and the trend will undoubtedly continue. I cannot recall where I read this but, if memory serves, more people will browse and access the Internet via a smartphone in the next year or two than a desktop PC so, what does this tell you? When the Internet was first thought of as another marketing channel or medium, did companies simply wait around until every consumer had a home PC before they started making use of it for marketing or advertising purposes? And, sure you would not advertise in an language that your target audience would not understand, but then the QR Code is not the advertisement. Instead, the QR Code is merely a mechanism within the advertisement itself.  

Mr. Gillespie:The process can be confusing. 2D bar codes are not monolithic. There are multiple types of incompatible codes and many different barcode readers, leaving users to figure out which reader is right for which code.  A quick search of “QR Code Reader” in the Android Marketplace or iTunes Store returns hundreds of free and paid apps.  It’s a bit much for a general consumer and can quickly turn the whole QR experiment from interesting to frustrating.  Why does this magazine ad prompt me to download a reader first before using it, while another just shows a QR code? Which bar code app do I choose?  Does this app work for my phone?  Will it work with the code I’m trying to scan? It’s a mess.  And, most codes don’t reinforce the brand image in anyway, unlike branded URLs or vanity numbers.

2DBS: Mr. Gillespie, you bore me with the statement and thoughts above. This argument has been played out before and it is absolutely ridiculous. First and foremost, let’s give the average U.S. consumer some credit and realize that they have a head on their shoulders and can make decisions and figure things out. Second, the 2D process or experience is only as confusing as an advertiser wishes to make it. If an advertiser is smart they will describe, inform and instruct consumers as to what type of code is being displayed, where to locate a code reader app, what to do with the code itself and where the scan will take them. Third, if it’s a matter of making sure a certain app or scan resolve content will work properly, regardless of the mobile device, all the advertiser has to do is some rigorous testing. Fourth, in regard to codes not reinforcing the brand image, you are way off base. Most 2D barcodes, and certainly QR Codes, can be customized with a logo, it’s only a matter of whether or not the advertiser wants to take this step.


Mr. Gillespie:They lack cross-media functionality. Advertisers want to maximize their marketing spends effectively, and many are willing to experiment. But QR codes have their place. Flashing a QR code on a TV screen for 3-5 seconds at the end of a commercial or using them on highway billboards probably aren’t the best ideas.  And of course, they are completely incompatible with a radio promotion.  The lack of cross-media functionality is a severe limitation on the QR code’s use as a direct response method across all kinds of ads or promotions.”

2DBS: Mr. Gillespie, at this point, I really wonder if you were even aware of what you were writing at the time. The act of moving a consumer from a print advertisement to digital content is, in and of itself, cross media. The act of moving a consumer from an out-of-home billboard to digital content is, in and of itself, cross media. The act of moving a consumer from a television commercial/program to digital content is, in and of itself, cross media. The act of moving a consumer from the Internet to a mobile device is, in and of itself, cross media. The act of moving a consumer from in-store point-of-sale to digital content is, in and of itself, cross media. Yes, television, certain types of billboards and other locales might not make the most sense for a QR Code to be displayed but, once again, this has more to do with the advertiser and less to do with the technology. With regard to radio, okay, so codes are not compatible with radio. Last I heard, you can’t show a radio audience your brand logo or icon. 

Mr. Gillespie:They may be too much trouble for the consumer. Consumers are notoriously unreceptive to learning new, complicated behaviors without an obvious, substantial benefit. And the QR code is nothing if not a behavior change. Consider that before a user can scan a code she must:

  1. Plan ahead and download a QR reader app, hoping that it is the right app for the code she will download.
  2. Find a QR code of interest.
  3. Check the lighting or disable the camera’s flash to reduce glare which can muck up the scan.
  4. Frame the code in the reader’s phone camera lens just right.
  5. Hold the phone very still.
  6. Scan the image.
  7. Wait while the image uploads (using a portion of her limited data allotment)
  8. Finally click the mobile URL or whatever the software sends her to activate the content or get the promotion.
For most people, you’ve lost them at the first step because they don’t have a QR reader to begin with, don’t understand how to use it, or simply don’t want to bother. And lest you think it’s just us older folks who aren’t clamoring all over QR codes like today’s tech-savvy youth — think again.  It seems many of them don’t get QR codes either. A survey of high school and college students by marketing firm Ypulse found that 64 percent of respondents didn’t know what a QR code was. Of the 36 percent who did, less than one in five had ever bothered to scan one.”
2DBS: I love when people make this argument, because it all goes out the window after a consumer downloads a code reader app and scans their first code. Once those initial two steps are made, a consumer has learned the process by which a code gets scanned and it’s all downhill from there. The only trouble that could be encountered while scanning a code is the trouble that’s created by an advertiser who designs a poor 2D/mobile experience. Also, you mention that there are eight steps which a consumer has to take in order to scan a code but, what if we compare that to the eight, nine, ten or more characters of a URL address that need to be entered in order for a consumer to link to a web page? For each character entered a misstep might take place. That’s one of the wonderful advantages of 2D barcodes, they free up consumers from having to manually enter URL addresses, especially long ones. In regard to the research you site, here too, it all goes back to the advertiser. If the advertiser does not provide a good enough reason for a consumer to scan and respond to the advertisement then shame on them. It’s not the technology’s fault.
Mr. Gillespie:A bad experience could be prohibitive. A poor or failed QR code experience could leave a frustrated user with a negative experience with the brand and the promotion itself. In a recent survey conducted by Lab24, only 13 percent of those polled were able to successfully scan the survey’s QR code that was provided to them.  In other words, nearly 9 of 10 attempts failed.  That’s an astounding failure rate for something that’s supposed to let people engage with your brand on the go.” 
2DBS: You are absolutely right, a bad experience could be prohibitive but, again, this plays to the advertiser, not to the technology itself. With respect to Lab24’s research, did they test how well the code could be read by multiple types of mobile devices? What description, instructions or explanation was provided with the code in the survey to help people scan? Was the survey online or offline and how was the code printed or displayed?    
Mr. Gillespie: “Consumers deserve better than this. They deserve simplicity. They deserve value. They deserve respect for the time they spend interacting with a product, a business or a brand. Marketers must heed this call or risk building a wall between themselves and the consumer increasingly wary of the value we can deliver to their mobile phone. We can do better.”
2DBS: Mr. Gillespie, at the end, you forgot to mention that your company claims to offer a better way, but that’s besides the point. You are right, consumers do deserve better and they do deserve value, but, fill in the blank, it’s up to the advertiser to do all of this via a 2D code, not the technology in and of itself.
Whether or not Mr. Gillespie reads this article and chooses to learn from it, I appreciate your taking the time and I hope you have learned something about the use of 2D technology. The technology works, there are known best practices and there are people such as myself, who are more than willing to help companies craft effective and meaningful 2D campaigns.   
Lastly, I was curious to see a Zoove-based (i.e., an ad with Zoove’s STAR-STAR technology) print advertisement and the disclaimer/instructions that goes along with it, so I emailed Zoove’s public relations company for a sample and I am still waiting to receive it several days later. Stay tuned.

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