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Five Reasons QR Codes Suck

By: Guest | January 24, 2012 | 
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Today’s guest post is written by John Fitzgerald

A recent study revealed 79 percent of college students have no idea how to scan a QR code.

Let that sink in for a second.

Four out of five 18- to 22-year-olds don’t know what to do when they see an ugly barcode slapped on a print ad targeted at them.

If college kids can’t grasp a new technology at the crossroads of social and mobile, it must be a bust. Right?

Well, not exactly.

While it’s true the data is disappointing to anyone who has jumped on the QR bandwagon, I think it would be premature to write off the technology as a failure.

Following are five popular complaints and why they aren’t as bad as you might think:

  1. Only five percent of adults scan QR codes. True, but that’s still 14 MILLION PEOPLE! And don’t forget, only 35 percent of U.S. adults own smartphones, which means 65 percent of the population can’t scan the codes. Further, 20 percent of iPhone/Android users have scanned QR codes. As smartphones continue to proliferate in the market, QR code adoption should continue to rise.
  2. QR codes clutter printed materials. Funny, nobody says Facebook and Twitter logos clutter up everything from print ads to TV commercials. Which would you rather have sucking up valuable real estate on your printed materials? Another company’s logo, or an interactive, trackable call-to-action?
  3. QR codes are ugly. Sure, QR codes look sorta garish, but there are many ways to customize their look and there are many services available to make customization easy. For basic customizations, try QR Hacker. Mashable has published a few other QR code options. And of course, in matters like the ever-changing landscape of free and freemium tech services, Google is your friend.
  4. QR code apps are unreliable. I used to say that when I owned a Blackberry. Since moving to Android, I don’t think I’ve ever had an unsuccessful QR scan. iOS apps are equally reliable, but early iPhones don’t have the ability to autofocus on a QR code. Moving forward, autofocus seems to be the norm, so hardware and software on both platforms appear to be equally QR-friendly. It won’t be long until QR code software is bundled with new phones.
  5. Whipping out your phone to scan a barcode is a lot of work just to get to a website. I agree 100 percent with this complaint. However, the core of this problem is we aren’t being very creative with the technology… yet. As a video producer, I’m fascinated by the ability to link printed materials to videos and other online content thus adding a digital layer on top of a format with an established distribution system. But QR codes can do much more than link to a website or a video. I recently produced a series of videos for the Columbia University Catholic Ministry that includes a QR code which launches a text message when scanned. When the user sends the message, he or she is signed up for free news announcements from the ministry, all delivered via text message. You can see it here (the QR code appears at the end of the video). Beyond that, we’ve already seen very creative uses of QR codes in overseas markets, including the Tesco Supermarkets example from Korea.

One more thing… Remember back in 2005 when text messages were a failure because the U.S. hadn’t adopted the technology like Europe and Asia? The current state of QR code adoption strikes me as being very similar. As smartphone usage increases and agencies get more creative with their QR code integration, I believe we will see QR codes reach a tipping point.

Time will tell. What do you think?

John Fitzgerald is a documentary filmmaker and founder of BooDroo. He currently serves as a video producer and social media consultant to several pro baseball teams and non-profit organizations. You can follow him on Twitter @fitzternet.

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