A recent article in Ad Age proclaimed that QR codes have finally reached their end, something we've known about for some time. We asked Momentum NYC's Abbie Walker, VP Strategy NA for a response to the QR code's demise.
The toilet-roll hat, the chopstick fan, the pizza fork, the subway chin rest, what do these things have in common? They are all fucking useless. Joining this merry throng, “on-the-pulse” Ad Age contributor B.L. Ochman has decided to write an obituary for the ill-thought-out and appallingly used QR platform.
First, why even bother? A rather astute observer in the Momentum network once told me, “QR codes are like jokes: the longer it takes to get to the punch-line, the better it needs to be.” It’s no stretch to say that one of the key reasons that the QR platform failed so miserably was the advertising industry’s inability to remember that observation. Put otherwise: QR codes are a really shit user experience.
More often than not, brands and their agencies entirely forgot what it was like to be a human being (you know, busy, and wrapped up in getting on with real life.) They decided that all that effort people would have to expend to:
- download a QR code reader,
- find an actually intriguing QR code (like finding the golden fleece)
- spend several millennia trying to perfectly align the code in the scanner
- by the way, make sure you have enough internet access to make the stupid QR scanner work
...just to be “handsomely rewarded” by being sent to a company website or a 90 second advert on YouTube was actually worth a damn... CUE FURIOUS RAGE.
Further, few marketers manage to mingle their often limited experience of technology with common sense, thus leading to one of my favorite sports—finding QR codes in the most ridiculous and unworkable spaces. Highlights include: QR codes on the subway (pro tip: You need internet access to use the scanner), QR codes on license plates (great for when you’re on the highway!), QR codes on billboards (Anyone mind if I just scale the side of this building for a moment?), curved surfaces, spinning in-store collateral, the list goes on and on.
Remember, if you make it difficult, people will avoid it, no matter how much you think they “love” your brand.
Our Ad Age technology Columbo goes on in her article to recommend a number of new technologies coming out that, in her mind, have toppled the QR code. Reading them, I feel like Bill Murray when he’s in that beyond-furious-I-can’t-even-kill-myself-to-get-away part of Groundhog Day. She muses: “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.”
I’ll give you this one for free—no one wants to check the authenticity of a brand, and who needs to hear tickets sing? You’ve already bought the ticket, you know what you’re getting, this provides about as much value as 10 pounds of shit in a 5 pound bag. User experience, people!
We all know that mobile is the indisputable present and future. Whether you’re in a mature or leapfrog market, the explosion of smartphones and tablets is unprecedented. Technology isn’t the baddy here, we are. Sure, technology has to go through iterative stages in order to progress and grow but it’s up to us as marketers to actually use this stuff to provide authentic value to our consumers, day-to-day. We need to remember that tech is a service, and this service should make consumers’ lives more efficient and seamless.
Here are some brands doing some really great stuff in this arena, and we can get the upper hand if we learn and iterate from these guys—just the same as the technologists.
And remember: no one’s singing dirges for BetaMax, shortwave radio, or the briefcase-sized car phone. Sometimes, iteration relegates shiny new technology to componentized stepping-stones, and that’s OK. QR codes are a valuable cautionary tale for marketers, a clear story about newness not always heralding utility. So maybe, just maybe, “Same thing, but singing!” isn’t the fire we’re looking for, and QR codes aren’t our Prometheus. They just kind of suck, full stop.
Now it’s time to learn our lessons, buckle our pants, and move on.
Touchcodes. Christ, what a dumb idea.