Another QR Code "Expert" Gets It Wrong

It’s been a while since I’ve seen an article such as this, one from an author who claims to know what they are talking about with respect to QR Codes, when, in actuality, they have absolutely no clue. The article, written by B.L.Ochman, internet marketing strategist and blogger, is titled “QR Codes Are Dead, Trampled by Easier-to-Use Apps,” and appears in its entirety below. My comments/analysis/questions are in bold. 

QR Codes Are Dead, Trampled by Easier-to-Use Apps 
New Technology Can Make Almost Any Product Interactive, No Download Needed 
By B.L Ochman
March 26, 2013

I was an early proponent of QR Codes, but now I have to admit that they are history. Invisible ink and augmented-reality apps are replacing the clunky codes. The new technology is superior in that you don’t have to take a picture of the code, which then records your contact information and sends you to a website, video or document, or sends you a text message giving a web address. With the new apps, you just run your smartphone over the content and get the enhanced features immediately. Here’s a sampling of the new technologies that will surely supplant QR Codes, permanently.

2DBS: First, Ms. Ochman’s headline. Because any app, easy-to-use or not, needs to be downloaded, I’m not certain as to which ‘new’ technology Ms. Ochman might be referring to. If it happens to be any of the ‘new’ technologies mentioned in the article, as best as I can tell, some sort of app needs to be downloaded.

Second, Ms. Ochman can you please reference your research which proves that “invisible ink and augmented-reality apps are replacing clunky codes.” Based on my assessment, QR Codes remain the dominant print-to-mobile technology which is being used for advertising and promotion purposes. Also, to help our viewers playing at home, when you write “invisible ink” I assume you are referring to digital watermarks, intelligent print technology and the like, as opposed to the James Bond 007-type of invisible ink. Yes? No? 

Third, Ms. Ochman, when you write “The new technology is superior in that you don’t have to take a picture of the code,” may I ask, when was the last time, or even the first time, you ever interacted with a QR Code? QR Codes are scanned, not photographed. Period. Never, ever, does a consumer have to take a picture of a QR Code in order for the code to work. All a consumer has to do is scan the code. If, by chance, you are referring to proprietary 2D bar codes, which operate differently than the open-source QR Code, then, yes, those codes might require the taking of a picture. Let’s get the terminology, as well as the technology, correct. 

Fourth, when you mention “enhanced features” via the use of the “new apps,” to what enhanced features are you referring? QR Codes can go from directing a consumer to a simple web page to delivering a truly interactive experience. Also, when you write “you just run your smartphone over the content and get the enhanced features immediately” let’s remember that ‘immediate’ only comes after 1) the app is already installed, 2) the app is launched and 3) the content/image to be scanned needs to be in range and within focus of the smartphone camera. (Gee, sounds just like what’s done with a QR Code.)     
As Springwise reports, the Japanese newspaper Tokyo Shimbu has launched the AR News app, which enables kids to scan specially marked articles with smartphones to reveal more kid-friendly versions of the stories.

The app was developed by Dentsu, which was challenged to make newspapers appealing to younger readers. Articles suitable for children are printed with blue borders. Using AR News app, readers who place tablets or smartphones over those articles will see a simplified Japanese alphabet for those still learning to read, along with animated characters and graphics, pop-up headlines and explanations that make the topics easier for kids to understand.

Blippar is a mobile app that lets users pull information, entertainment, offers and augmented-reality 3D experiences from markers placed on newspapers, magazines, products and posters. No clicks, no delays, no codes, says Crunchbase: just instant gratification.

2DBS: Ms. Ochman, ‘blue borders’ and ‘markers’ sound a bit like a QR Code. Sure, different shapes and different scan resolve content, but the interactive process is much the same–scan a boarder, scan a marker, scan a QR Code.

You write “No clicks, no delays…” and the same can be said for QR Codes. Consumers don’t click a code, they scan a code. There might not be a delay in viewing the scan resolve content if the code is generated and displayed according to best practice. So, with that, Ms. Ochman, what’s your point here? 

Another new technology, Touchcode, is an invisible electronic code printed on paper, cardboard, film or labels. When you touch your smartphone or tablet to it, tickets sing, toys come to life, or you can confirm the authenticity of a brand, just to give a few examples. Items imprinted with Touchcode’s invisible ink look no different from standard print products, until you touch them with your smartphone.

The QR codes did have some brilliant and successful applications, like the mobile-code campaign for an independent music store in Hong Kong that sold music by allowing users to listen to and buy the tunes of 14 bands, half of which sold out their inventory. But more often, the codes were deployed poorly in spots where they couldn’t be scanned, like billboards, or — perhaps lamest ever — on license plates. Some QR Codes require a proprietary scanner good only for that code, which few people are likely to want to download. And, while many people still have no idea what a QR Code is or how to use one, instructions rarely have been included.

2DBS: Not sure what to make of this last paragraph. At first, Ms. Ochman applauds the use of QR Codes and sites a very relevant example of how it was used successfully, but then she seems to turn on codes again. It has been said time and time again, on this blog and in many other forums, when used in accordance with best practices, QR Codes can be extremely useful in driving response, interaction and engagement for a brand or product.    

With respect to the need for a proprietary scanner, if Ms. Ochman was up-to-date on the state of QR Codes she would know that proprietary codes (JAGTAG, SnapTag, Microsoft Tag, etc.) are virtually none existent. The QR Code has become the de facto standard.

Yes, many consumers still do not know what a QR Code is, but research indicates that, over time, more and more people have been interacting with them. The ‘number’ that Ms. Ochman refers to is not a static figure…it’s constantly changing, as more consumers purchase and use a smartphone and as more advertisers make use of QR Code technology over time. 

With respect to Ms. Ochman’s comment about the lack of instructions being used with QR Codes, I agree.  More often than not this happens and it goes against best practice. But, over time, it will only make sense that instructions are no longer needed, as consumers become familiar with the technology and adapt to it. 

What are the lessons of QR for brands using the new technologies?

  • Make it easy for consumers to use.
  • Explain how it works, in clear, concise language.
  • Employ it only when it can add something unique to the user experience.
  • Make sure content or ads that contain it won’t be put in places where cellphone service is unavailable.
  • Make the apps available only for situations when using them makes sense.

It will be fascinating to see whether these new technologies are used both creatively and effectively. The potential is vast. Hopefully agencies won’t blow it this time around.

2DBS: Ms. Ochman, why will it be ‘fascinating’ to see how the new technologies are used? They either will or they won’t, just like with QR Codes. And, why do you blame agencies on blowing it with respect to QR Codes? Based on my research, advertisers are to blame just as much as the agencies for the improper use of QR Code technology.

In summary, QR Code apps are just as easy to use as most any augmented reality, digital watermark, visual search, intelligent print technology (i.e., ‘new technology’) app on the market. Success with QR Codes, or any print to digital technology for that matter, will only come as a result of using best practices. It’s that simple. Lastly, to Ms. Ochman’s comment that there are “new technologies that will surely supplant QR Codes, permanently,” I have read this time and time again, and for the past two to three years it has not come true. Why must people make such an issue of codes…the technology works, it has been proven. Does it work in every situation? No. Is it meant for every situation? No. All print to digital technology is is another arrow in a marketer’s quiver. Aim and use it wisely.   


One thought on “Another QR Code "Expert" Gets It Wrong

  1. Roger, I hope you posted your comments on the Ad Age site. I totally agree with you. I know Beth mentioned something about this article to me yesterday. Quite unbelievable how wrong so called experts can be. All my best, Philip Warbasse

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