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Requiem for the QR code

They’ve been around for decades. They are quick, inexpensive to produce and very effective at adding an interactive layer to two-dimensional printed advertisements. Most brands however, continue to struggle with them. In the annals of advertising lore, notable failures far outnumber success stories. Which probably explains why QR (or quick response) codes have been written off by most marketing pundits.

But is the QR code really doomed? Or have most agencies, unable to comprehend their potential, been abusing them in all possible ways? Take the recently run campaign by Visa Gold, (pictured) which is plastered across all the metro stations and malls. The initial design called for a subtle gray QR code that fit beautifully into the layout. Trouble is this didn’t provide for enough contrast to get the code working! Imagine how many users were frustrated when they tried getting it to work. Now, there are ugly black patches stickered on top of the design making it unsightly in addition to advertising the fact that it wasn’t thought through. I’ll bet very few of the initial users are going to be coming back for a second helping.

QR codes demand an active, engaged audience. You know – that rare specie who is willing to search for and download an App, point at a square piece of code on a random surface and wait, hoping to gain access to unspecified content which could be anything ranging from a YouTube video to a basic link to a website or (rarely) free downloadable content that truly adds value. When brands reward them with valuable content that makes their experience better, they will lap it up and reward said brand with clicks indicating loyalty. Mess up and QR codes as a whole get a bad name.

It is actually up to the brand to intelligently make use of QR codes. There is no point in including a QR code randomly in a print advertisement to guide people to a website when it offers no additional value. There is even less point to doing the same thing online when the user can just click a link to get to said website! Just like what these guys, who really should know better, have deplorably done.

While we all wait with bated breath for someone, somewhere to get it right, here are some fundamental questions that anyone planning a campaign with QR codes must necessarily consider.
Is there a genuine business objective?
Does the campaign add value for the consumer?
Where is the campaign likely to happen?
Does the venue have adequate Wi-Fi or Internet access?
Does the QR campaign make access to content simpler?
Lastly, are you simply doing this for the perceived ‘cool’ quotient?

Try it out honestly. You’ll see whether you should toy with QR at all!