QR Codes: how a great idea turned into a fail

Taking a step back, QR codes (which actually means “quick response” codes) were first created by the automotive industry in Japan back in 1994. Somewhere around two to three years ago in the United States, these strange looking squares became the talk of the town and started appearing everywhere; on t-shirts, outdoor ads, food labels etc…

The idea was kind of simple: wSee through the QR codee now had an easy way to connect the offline world to the online world with a mere scan using our smart phones. At that time new technologies were making people addicted to it, and then, we had more than 50% of the USA people using a smartphone.

At the beginning, it wasn’t until more recently the Quick Response codes shifted from being used primarily for tracking vehicles in manufacturing to being present in our everyday lives, from magazines and billboards, to subway stations, and even condom packaging. Don’t be ashamed, you know it.

In June 2011 14 million U.S smartphone users scanned a QR code. Impressive, right ? Not so much when you look at the fact that, at the end of July, 82.2 millions Americans owned smartphones. That’s only 17 percent of smartphone users scanning a QR code. But how many actually used QR codes on a regular basis? How many have actually scanned more than once? How many still have the app on their phone that lets them scan the code?

Out of those that still scan repeatedly, only half “sometimes” feel they have received something of value for their efforts. So at the end of the day, what’s the point?

So the big question is: what’s wrong with QR codes? Why are they dying so fast?

Actually, it is meanly because QR codes aren’t used correctly by businesses. All too often, QR codes are popping up in the most obscure places. There’s even a website dedicated to showcasing some of the most absurd QR codes found around the world… Thanks to Internet, people are feeling more critical and will now never hesitate depreciating brands, new projects, ideas, or anything else. When the codes are placed on the side of a moving tractor trailer, are you really reaching your target audience? Another issue businesses employing QR codes are failing to consider: what should the QR code be directing the consumer to? If the content isn’t helpful, isn’t mobile friendly, or wherever they’re scanning from doesn’t tell them what the QR code will take them to, what motivation would a smartphone user have to scan away?

Finally, after locating a QR code, by the time users take out their phone, make sure their app to scan is up-to-date, scan the code, and wait for the page to load, their attention span is lost. They just think they wasted some time, and as a result, they will never do it again. Their mind has already moved on to checking their Facebook, updating their Twitter, or even texting their mom…



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6 Responses to QR Codes: how a great idea turned into a fail

  1. maudkh says:

    Hi Baptiste, I found your post really interesting. I have to say that before reading it, I had completely forgotten the existence of this branding tool. QR codes first attracted consumers, it was ‘fun’ to scan a mysterious code in order to discover what’s behind it. Unfortunately, in my experience, usually my curiosity was not rewarded because most of the messages behind QR codes I scanned were too basic.
    So I totally agree with you: businesses do not use them efficiently. Only few companies have had successful/useful QR code campaign. Turkish Airlines is one of them. During the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, their ‘QR Flags’ initiative required people to scan a series of codes as they travelled around London in order to win various prizes and the firm also create a website gathering locations of the nearest QR codes so people kept searching for it.
    Maybe at some point, QR codes will be improved or used in a better way and so they will be back on trend… For the moment I doubt it but we never know.

    • rossibaptiste says:

      Thanks for your contribution Maud I didn’t know that Turkish Airlines did that kind of QR campaign which is indeed more interesting than just scanning a QR code to reach a simple website. The limitation of this tool is that nowadays even if the technology is really developped, all the people don’t have that kind of smart phone which permits you to scan the QR code. Moreover, everything is more and more temporal and last less and less because technology is running in front of us if I could say. Let’s wait the moment when the Google glasses will be complete part of our life and every single thing we’ll see will be scanned and analysed.

  2. gonzahell says:

    Hi Baptiste!
    I was discussing about this topic with my friends last week because one of them wanted to use this codes to promote his company. It’s a clothe’s company which he create one year ago. I told him the same that you, it’s not a good idea because it was a fail. Their level of use is zero. People who claim to have scanned one ever has done it mainly by nonsense “to see how it goes”, which many users have no idea what to do with them or they don’t have installed any application to read them.
    It’s just not a natural or comfortable use. The QR codes will surely have some life into inventory control applications in industrial environments and warehouses, but frankly, I still don’t see use level for the consumer.

  3. rossibaptiste says:

    Indeed Gonza you’re right QR codes are mostly used in warehouses for a gain of time; customer’s need of QR code is near to zero as you said. I think you did well to say to your friend not to launch QR code for his clothes company because the trend is going forward and it would be better not to propose something mainstream that nobody use. Thanks for your feedback !

  4. sophiscam says:

    Hi Baptiste,

    Your post has good pointers on why this idea could have worked. Unfortunately as people are developing shorter attention spans and wanting to be entertained, QR codes couldn’t deliver. It seems as some companies aren’t taking the notice of QR codes not being popular any more as they still keep on stick the codes on different spaces e.g. magazine pages. Do you think that this approach is still good for companies or should they move on?

    In Finland a couple companies made some campaigns, using the codes, that stuck to my memory. These both companies involved the audience in the process; one made a scavenger hunt and the other made codes based on messages made by the audience. The both happened a couple of years back, and I don’t know how well these received though.

    Thanks for the read! 🙂

  5. jennimarja says:

    Interesting! I tried to use qr-codes, but because didn’t “get” anything back I haven’t use those in days. Actually I forgot those already… This reminded me why 🙂

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