Why the QR Code is Failing – A Reply

Last week, Sean X Cummings, founder of SXC Marketing, published an article titled, “Why the QR code is failing.” When I read the title, I thought, here we go again, another article bashing QR Codes and the interactive experience they offer but, as I read through the article, this was not the case. Actually, in the article, Mr. Cummings stands up for QR Codes, but takes to task and finds fault with the marketers and creatives, the brands and the agencies, who use QR Codes in a less than ideal and/or creative way in their advertising. To that, I am in full agreement with Mr Cummings, and would like to reiterate a few things that he mentions.

QR Code technology works. Period. What does not work, as Mr. Cummings points out, and I do as well on this blog, are advertising and/or promotional campaigns that use QR Codes in a very uncreative way (e.g., scans to a desktop website, offers no value, scans to non relevant information, etc.) or in a way that does not allow for the technology to function as it could or should (e.g., placing a code where there is no Internet service, creating a code that is too dense or small, not optimizing the code scan resolve for mobile, etc.). Here, marketers and advertisers only have themselves to blame for poor scan rates and overall response rates, not the QR Code or the technology. Instead of placing a QR Code on an advertisement at the last minute, marketers and creatives need to incorporate codes into a campaign during the early stages of development, and they must do so from the consumer’s perspective, not their own. Just these few best practices alone can help boost consumer interaction and response rates. But, as much as I agree with Mr. Cummings, there are some points mentioned in the article that I question.

In the article, Mr. Cummings states that he surveyed 300 people on the streets of San Francisco, and asked if they knew what the symbol was on the sheet of paper that he was holding (the symbol was a QR Code). Of the 300 people, 40% knew that it was a QR Code or some sort of barcode. While Mr. Cummings may find this number to be low or poor, I believe it’s quite strong given the relative newness of the technology here in the U.S. Also, if the majority of U.S. consumers still use feature phones then chances are more people would pay less attention to QR Codes and know what they are, because they can’t and don’t make use of them. So, in that regard, the number looks pretty impressive. Mr. Cummings could have qualified the respondents by asking the type of mobile phone they own, and this would have added another dimension on the results he obtained.

Of the people that said they knew what the code was, Mr. Cummings writes that “it took an average of 47 seconds for them to take out their phone and find the application to read the QR code — not exactly a ‘quick response.'” Perhaps this is not a ‘quick response,’ but Mr. Cummings takes the term out of context. The term ‘quick response’ really has more to do with the time it takes for the code to resolve once scanned, not the amount of time it takes to take out a phone, turn it on, find a code reader app, launch the app, scan the code and wait for the resolve. But, even if it did take several seconds to scan the code, it’s still quite a feat to be able to transport a consumer from the print world to the digital world in such a short amount of time.  Here too, Mr. Cummings could have asked another question to qualify the responses. He could have asked how many times each respondent has previously scanned a code. For a novice, perhaps it takes more than a  minute, for someone more experienced, it could take less than 20 seconds. Big difference. Also, from a best practice perspective, if the code is fully optimized this should help to reduce actual scan time.

Overall, I agree with much of what Mr. Cummings writes about, but I wonder, instead of querying consumers about QR Codes, perhaps we should query marketers and creatives, since they are the ones that don’t seem to understand QR Codes and the interactive experience that the technology can offer. Based on my quick and dirty 2D Barcode Litmus Test, the ratio is about 2 to 1 in favor of failed attempts by marketers and creatives to develop a winning 2D-based advertising campaign. Seems to me these are the people that need to get schooled on the technology, not the consumer, if the technology is really going to take off and become more widely accepted.


3 thoughts on “Why the QR Code is Failing – A Reply

  1. “…for someone more experienced, it could take less than 20 seconds. Big difference….”

    Studies indicate that you have 3 seconds to load your mobile web page before losing consumers (http://gigaom.com/mobile/consumers-losing-patience-with-the-slow-mobile-web/).

    Will anyone take 20 seconds, never mind 60, in advance of that to get to the URL?

    QR codes came into being before people had keyboards on their mobile devices. Now, it's probably faster to simply type a short, memorable URL than to open up a QR reader.

    For anyone who's tapped an NFC tag on a smart poster (a mindless gesture requiring no dedicated user attention), and then gets the URL in under 1 second, that time-factor is why NFC will largely replace QR. We all know that NFC costs more and can't be incorporated into magazines (except inserts), that isn't the issue. That is insignificant to how the market is going to evolve. We can keep thinking QR is still growing, but I am more inclined to think it peaked and failed.

    The article is correct, it is the marketers and even QR companies, who killed their own golden goose. They allowed too many absolutely terrible campaigns to flood the market.

    Consumers do not care about QR based engagement. It is not likely they ever will.

    Has there been one dollar/pound of Venture Capital investment in QR companies in the past year? That should tell you something right there.

  2. Anonymous:

    Thank you for the comments.

    In regard to NFC vs. QR, you say, “We all know that NFC costs more and can't be incorporated into magazines (except inserts), that isn't the issue.” and I ask, how can that not be the issue? Cost is cost, if NFC costs too much why would brands flock to it, how and why then would the technology take over QR Codes? And, if NFC can't be used in a regular print ad, distant billboards, etc., then how and why does it replace QR Codes? NFC like QR Codes has its time and place within a marketer's strategy and play book. Why must it be thought of as a zero sum game?

    In regard to venture money, I know of several QR Code based firms that have received funding, and decent amounts at that. Just because it's not reported in the WSJ or FT doesn't mean its not happening. These companies are private and keep affairs to themselves.

  3. Anonymous:

    Also, with respect to the time it takes to scan a code…let's get real…not everyone has the most recent mobile phone and capabilities to instantly download a page, so they wait. Additionally, not everyone and not everywhere has access to the fastest network on the market, so people wait. What's not clear in the research you point to is the type of websites people are visiting and why. This research does not talk about time expectations in relation to scanning a code. And let's look at who was conducting the research and why…Compuware was out pushing its own products and services.

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