The Bane of Your QR Code Argument

If you read my blog, you know that I “love” articles like the one below. Once again, someone tries to take QR codes to task and, once again, the argument is very narrow-minded and weak. Let’s take a closer look…my comments are in bold.

The Bane of the QR Code
By Osarumen Osamuyi
Features Products
November 12, 2015

Ever been to large supermarkets? At checkout, the cashier scans the items’ barcode, and information is sent to the point-of-sale system, which has the pricing information, and will make any necessary calculations. They were first used in the ‘60s, when coloured stripes were placed on train cars, and a trackside scanner would read information about the car on its way to the classification yard. Today, they are used almost exclusively in supermarkets and malls.

The problem is that QR codes are 1-dimensional and can only store between 20-25 characters of information – not useful for much outside the retail business. This spurred the birth of matrix (2-dimensional) codes, which save information both horizontally and vertically. A number of variations have evolved over the years, from their inception in the Japanese automotive industry in 1994, namely the QR – Quick Response code, Shotcodes, PDF417 (as used behind our drivers licenses), EZcode, amongst many others. These 2-dimensional codes can house up to 2000 characters, depending on their size.

MoM: Umm, Mr. Osamuyi, in the first sentence of the second paragraph, I assume you meant to say “standard UPC bar codes are 1-dimensional” not QR codes. But let’s keep moving.

These codes can be read by even the most rudimentary mobile cameras and interpreted using Reed-Solomon correction, and allow devices perform an infinite number of tasks with the information gleaned from the codes. From location based advertising, to links to company websites, to viewing short films about everyday objects (on which QR codes are printed). Many thought these barcodes would define how humans would interact with each other (and by extension machines), even providing a seamless link between the online and offline worlds. Movies, like Back To The Future II depicted motor cars as having barcode number plates. How come they haven’t caught on as fast as we thought?

MoM: Yes, QR codes have not caught on very quickly (has NFC, virtual reality, digital watermarks, etc. for that matter?), but how quickly did you and or others think they would catch on? I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that it has taken this long for QR codes to become truly mainstream, but I do know that when implemented correctly QR codes can add a great deal of value to the interactive brand and product experience.

Too Many Alternatives

Many alternatives exist to QR so there’s no motivation for the average user to scan these funny looking hieroglyphs. From SMS short codes, to Augmented Reality apps, to Bluetooth and NFC, there’s just no space for the QR code to survive in today’s world.

MoM: The availability of other technologies has nothing to do with the motivation one may need to scan a QR code. Too many alternatives and lack of motivation are two separate arguments or topics for discussion. Give a consumer a truly relevant and meaningful reason to scan a QR code (i.e., a call to action) and they might do so. And, who is to say that there is simply no space for NFC or AR to survive in today’s world, as opposed to QR codes? Multiple technologies can survive simultaneously, especially when marketers and brands realize that each technology poses its own set of advantages and disadvantages, and should be used or not used in certain situations.

Connectivity (or the lack of it)

For location-based advertising, QR codes often end up in places where there is no free WiFi, or mobile connectivity, like Airplanes and train stations. Couple that with our short attention span and nobody even notices the website the codes links to, for later viewing.

MoM: When a QR code-based campaign is implemented in accordance to best practice it would never find itself being deployed or used in a location with poor or no connection. Also, it’s worth noting that even if there is no connection, most code scanner apps can scan the code and save the URL that the code directs to. This way, if a consumer wishes to go back to view the scan resolve content once a connection is made they can.

Bloatware

Apple does not include QR code scanners by default, neither does any Android phone manufacturer. And since these two account for almost 90% of ALL smartphones worldwide, this is a huge deal breaker for QR marketing. A user is required to know and be interested in QR codes to search through the app stores for apps that allows them read these glyphs. It turns out not many of us give a damn about QR technology.

MoM: Yes, smartphones come with a certain number of default apps, but more often than not it’s the consumer who ends up adding the bulk of apps found on their phone. Finding a QR code reader app in an app store is no more difficult than finding a weather app or a stock price app or a news app…just type “QR code scanner” in the search field and there are plenty of apps to choose from.

Space

Many packaging companies are prudent with space allocation on their products, having to squeeze logos, nutritional information, promos, legal disclaimers, etc into a limited amount of space, and they just cannot spare the extra pixels to print codes no one will scan anyways.

MoM: This is a very weak argument and statement. Yes, packaging real estate might not allow for QR codes, but since when is packaging a static element of marketing? Brands often change packaging over time, so what prevents them from factoring in a QR code in the redesign?

It turns out the QR problem is a chicken-and-egg one, where companies don’t promote code scanning because not many users know about or care about barcodes, and users don’t scan codes because, well, manufacturers don’t print them. A similar tale, to the Windows Phone, and its app ecosystem, or lack thereof.

MoM: My guess is that companies don’t promote QR codes, because there is an associated cost to them that not every business wants to underwrite and or there is a learning curve for the technology that not every company wants to go through. On top of that, yes, QR codes have not become mainstream, so some companies might feel as though there is no real consumer demand or interest which merits the use of codes. Consumers might not scan codes, because they don’t recognize the immediate benefit for doing so and or they might not have a code reader app on their phone. Plenty of brands print codes, so the supply of codes is less of an issue.

Could brands do a better job educating consumers about codes? Yes. Could brands do a better job implementing codes in a campaign? Yes. Could brands do a better job motivating consumers to scan codes? Yes. If these three areas were worked on, I believe, we would see an increase in code use by brands and scanning by consumers.

It’s a shame though, because I’ve been a QR proponent for around 3 years now (I have one printed on my business card), and have even come up with a few startup solutions  that depend on the technology. It’s 11 years old now, and despite low adoption, it has not been phased out. Does this mean it will endure the test of time, and the predictions in Back To The Future will come true?

MoM: Mr. Osamuyi, if you’re such a proponent of QR codes then why write an article such as this? Why not speak in more positive terms about the technology and how it can be used to a brand’s, as well as a consumer’s benefit?

Stay tuned to find out.

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