The Worst Argument Against QR Codes…Ever

Wow! It must have been a slow news day at Search Engine Journal the other day. Kelsey Jones, the site’s Executive Editor, posted an article titled, “Why QR Codes Are More Outdated Than Your Pog Collection,” and the argument she tries to make against the use or consideration of QR codes is probably the worse I have ever read. I’m not even sure where to begin, so let’s start at the top…my comments are in bold.

Why QR Codes Are More Outdated Than Your Pog Collection

October 1, 2015
Kelsey Jones

You guys remember pogs right? Even if you weren’t a kid or teen in the 90s, you probably accidentally stepped on them while trying to climb into bed or had your kids beg you for another Jurassic Park pog to complete their collection.

I had quite the pog collection, and was especially proud of my holographic ones. However, just like the ebb and flow of many creative ideas, the pogs trend came to an end.

Just like pogs, QR code fever peaked around 2013/2014 and has been sliding into obscurity faster than your defeated pogs against my metal Animaniacs slammer.

MoM: Ms. Jones, I’m not sure what research you are basing your comment on about usage, but even if code use by brands has been down since 2013/14, I can tell you, based on the codes I have scanned, the quality of code-based campaigns (i.e., using codes properly) has dramatically increased. Quality over quantity, take your pick, I’d rather side on quality.

Here’s why.

Shortened URLs Still Work Fine

We never really needed an alternative to shortened URLs, much less the addition of an extra step, the downloading of a QR reader. If we had gotten used to QR codes from the beginning, they’d be as common to us as T9 was to the Motorola RAZR.

However, because QR code readers weren’t a native part of our phones, we’ve learned how to get along without them. Most companies and organizations still use good ol’ fashioned shortened URLs with services like Bit.ly or Goo.gl.

With a paid account, Bit.ly even lets you create your own shortened domain, like we have for social sharing here at SEJ: sejr.nl. Additionally, to make it even easier to read, some link shorteners allow you to create custom URL strings, such as sejr.nl/2016MediaKit.

These options make QR codes obsolete, especially because it’s not something I can communicate verbally. No one is saying, “let me save this QR code image and figure out how to send it to you.” They are saying, “The URL is sejr.nl/2016MediaKit. Check it out!”

MoM: Ms. Jones, I love this argument, because there is no argument. Short codes have a place and purpose, but not every marketing and or advertising situation is right for them. Similarly, QR codes have a place and purpose, but they too are not right for every marketing and or advertising situation. Regardless, even with the short code you use as an example (sejr.nl/2016MediaKit), that’s 20 characters which need to be entered into a smartphone browser, which means, there’s that much more room for error versus opening a code reader app and simply scanning the code. No typing involved. Beautiful in its simplicity, isn’t it? 

Also, according to your logic, I suppose it would be an inconvenience for people to make use of weather apps, social apps, banking apps, game apps, note taking apps, etc., etc., because they all have to be first downloaded to the phone, as most are not native to the phone. It’s a one-time inconvenience to locate and download an app, any app, but then you are off and running. 

Oh, and by the way, you might not know this, but QR codes can be customized to reflect a brand’s logo, corporate colors, shapes, etc. If you look at the work of Philip Warbasse you’ll see some prime examples.

You Can’t Scan a QR Code on Your Computer

One thing that drove me nuts when QR codes were “trying to happen” was people would put QR codes on their websites.

How are you supposed to use that?

The only way it would work would be to get out a phone with a QR reader app on it, scan the QR code on the computer screen, and then get taken to that URL on your phone. Businesses did the same with mobile versions of websites as well. How can a user scan a QR code on a mobile site, when they are already on their phone?

Just link to the website or uploaded document you want them to go to!

When it comes down to it, QR codes go against all the basic principles of good user experience design. Content and websites need to be created with one thing in mind: to make the process of completing an action as easy as possible.

MoM: Here again, there is no argument. Brands have learned a great deal since 2013/14, the heyday as you put it, and now know how and where best to place QR codes. Again, over time, best practices have taken over, and if a brand places a code online or on a phone then shame on them.

It’s Awkward to Scan Something

Not only is the actual implementation of QR codes awkward, the process of scanning a QR code on a piece of paper is awkward. Think about it: you have to get out your phone, find the QR code app (and many users have 100+ apps, making this time-consuming), then scan the paper.

At a huge event like SXSWi, where there are more than 32,000 people, no one is going to stand against the flow of the crowd in the hallways or expo hall to take the 1-5 minutes to scan a QR code on a flyer.

It just doesn’t happen, unless there’s a promise of winning a trip to Spain or at least a free t-shirt.

And if the only way to get traffic is to bribe your target audience to connect with you, then something is very wrong with your strategy.

MoM: Ms. Jones, why do you and others try to make the average consumer look like an incompetent fool? We all had to start from zero and learn about computers, the Internet, smartphones, apps, etc. Yes, there is a hurdle to get over with the downloading of a code reader app, but once this is done there are no real barriers for consumers to scan a code. While I personally don’t know anyone with over 100 apps on their phone, I can tell you that, in my experience, locating, opening and using a code scan app takes less than one minute. So, I’m not sure what you are basing your 1-5 minute scan experience on.

With respect to bribing people to scan a code, maybe you need to take Marketing 101 again and understand what a “call-to-action” is. Most brands employ a call-to-action (i.e., an incentive, motivation, etc., what you might call a bribe) to get consumers to respond to a certain bit of advertising or promotion. Most of marketing is based on this approach. Why should the use of a QR code be any different? According to your logic, a brand would need to bribe someone to scan a code, but not bribe someone to type in a long or short URL code. I’d rethink that if I were you.

It’s Too Easy to Make a Mistake

With shortened URLs (or just URLs in general), it’s easy to double-check to make sure it’s correct. You can just click on the link if it’s on mobile or desktop, or type it manually into a browser if you are reviewing a printed proof of a document. However, with QR codes, it’s not always that easy.

Several things could go wrong, such as:

  • The QR code image could print blurry, causing it to be unreadable (or to go to a wrong link) when scanned by a QR code reader
  • The wrong code could be assigned to the URL or vice versa
  • The QR code is cut off or isn’t printed at all on the document, and if that’s your only call-to-action, the campaign could be marked as a failure

MoM: I really don’t understand this point at all. As with anything that will be seen and used by consumers, the brand will proof the creative, before, during and after printing. When using a QR code it’s no different. Before the QR code artwork is sent to creative it gets tested to ensure that it scans to the correct destination. Simple.

In regard to a page not printing correctly, this could happen with or without a code being used. What would happen if part of a URL did not print? The consumer is stuck. What would happen if part of a QR code did not print? Actually, the consumer stands a good chance of still scanning the code, because that is a feature of QR codes (i.e., the code can still be scanned if missing a part of the matrix pattern). And, if I’m not mistaken, the code can even be printed in any orientation and it can still be scanned.

Regardless of what may or may not appear in a print ad, on packaging, etc., the bigger issue here, and which blows your argument out of the water, is to ensure that there is quality control in any and all that marketing and creative services puts out. That’s all there is to it.

So if you’re thinking of slamming down money and time on QR codes instead of bidding on that Princess Diana beanie baby, you could be making a huge mistake.

Instead, consider other methods of marketing to make your dollars (and profit) go farther, like, higher-quality content marketing, PPC ads, or even paid social media campaigns. Your users will thank you.

MoM: So, if you’re thinking of slamming down money and time on QR codes go right ahead and do so, but make sure you use common sense, best practices and take the consumer’s perspective into consideration (sounds like what marketers should already be doing with any technology, app, campaign, etc.). While other methods of marketing should be considered (i.e., ads, content, social, etc.), again it’s important to realize that QR codes are not a silver bullet to success, they only play a small role in an overall campaign.

Lastly, it should go without saying, but as with most everything else marketing related, test, test and re-test. QR code use is easy to track and measure, so after a few campaigns you should be able to determine as to whether or not they are worth the time and investment.

(Read through my earlier blog posts and you’ll find many examples of what works and doesn’t work.)

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