Why I hate QR Codes in Marketing, and why you should too.

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QR Codes are one of the marketing pieces that just doesn’t seem to have gone away. Despite 62% of Australians in 2012 not knowing what a QR Code was (data found here), marketers around the country continue to use them, and clients continue to ask designers and marketers how they can be incorporated into their POS materials.

At the end of the day, the entire point of a QR Code is to create a level of engagement with the audience, and transition them seamlessly from physical marketing to the online space. That’s all well and good, if that’s what was being done. Instead, I’m seeing QR Codes that don’t engage or provide value for consumers; instead, they alienate and are redundant.

So here is what bugs me about QR Codes:

  1. I don’t have a scanner app – and that just makes it too hard.
    The biggest problem with a QR Code is that you have to have a specific scanner app to use it. I don’t have one, and unless I’m in front of a QR Code that requires it, I’m not going to remember to download the app. So I don’t download, and I don’t use them. I can’t imagine that Im the only one in this conundrum. But that means that the time the designer and the marketer has spent engaging me in their ad, and wanting to take up the offer (whether it’s a literal offer or an implied offer) has been in vain – if they had used a URL, they would have still captured me as a customer. Maybe instead of just having one QR Code, there are two – one for the Scanner App, one for the destination URL. If a customer was really incentivized and interested (more on that later!) then this might be the kick forward they need to use that code.

  2. I can type a URL just as quickly
    There are people arguing that scanning a QR Code take 6-8 seconds, and therefor is a far more economical use of time than typing out a URL. In my experience, I wholeheartedly disagree. If you use a URL Shortener (like bit.ly, which I spoke about previously), its 10 characters. Or if I’m on my mobile, I can type pretty quickly thanks to instant far too many status updates on Facebook and Twitter. By the time I wait for a scanner app to open, scan the code (which often take some time to register, including moving in and away from the code) and then wait for it to load in my browser, I may as well have typed our the URL. I’m not only saying its quicker, I’m saying its more convenient. AND I don’t have to have yet another useless app on my phone.

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  1. They’re over used – and used in the wrong ways.
    Call me a hipster, call me Gen Y, but when I see the same boring, black square code thing, which is obviously not targeted at me (because I don’t use them), I get a little peeved. And then I’m confronted with that everywhere I go. It doesn’t make for a great user experience.
    Personal emotions aside, having a QR Code on your bus stand advertising because “it’s the thing to do” doesn’t cut the mustard for me. If it’s only going to take me to your website home page, it’s a waste of time. If its going to take me to a website that isn’t mobile optimized, then theres no point – even if I do scan, I’m going to have a bad user experience with a non-mobi site that might damage my opinion of your brand forever. Instead, if you’re going to delve into digital marketing, do it properly with integrated elements in a campaign, from social to video and at the very least a mobile-optimised site. 
  1. Why should I engage now? Theres no incentive.

Incentive and creating value should be the purpose of all marketing. It should be the driving force, because we now live in a very self centered and narcissistic society that’s constantly asking “What’s in it for me”. Incentives and value don’t have to be monetary – they can be entertainment focused, or centered around exclusivity just as readily, and with just as great an effect.

QR Codes are no different. If the code is going to take me to exclusive content, or I’ll get a discount, or even if it opens into a funny video – then I’m interested. Don’t put a QR Code on the back of your menu, so that I can then see that menu online. Instead, take me to a page where I can order my food without a waitress, or to a video where I can watch my food being made. Create an experience for me as a user, make something that I’m going to want to tweet about and share with my friends – isn’t that the point of marketing? To create an experience that transcends the physical experience, that lives on past the moment?

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Maybe my problem isn’t so much with QR Code technology, as it is with the boring ways that people are using them. If they were used to really drive engagement and loyalty with new and existing customers, by offering deals, exclusive content or entertainment value, maybe I would be interested. But as it stands, they seem like a superfluous piece of marketing fluff that is very unnecessary in already cluttered marketing pieces.

I would be really interested in hearing what you think about QR Codes – do you use them? Do you want more of them? Have you ever been presented with an opportunity to use them in an interesting way or are they something you shy away from? Tweet me or send me a pic via my Facebook page – I would love to know what you think!

*All images sourced from Pinterest. They are not my own.

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Em Designs is a service dedicated to giving brands a wholistic marketing solution. Everything from branding and design, to online presence, marketing consultancy and promotional pieces. From large businesses to small, to individuals in search of the right visual presentation of an idea or event; Em Designs will have the solution suited specifically to your needs. For more information on my business, please visit the website For quotes, please email emma.wright@live.com.au

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