QR codes: The biggest missed opportunity?

Poor placement, clunky technology, and a ‘why bother’ attitude among consumers kept the squiggly squares from taking off. Time to scrap the whole idea?

When’s the last time you scanned a QR code?

I’m guessing that for many of you, it’s probably been at least a few months. For many marketers, advertisers, and PR pros, QR codes were (and in some cases still are) the shiny object that was supposed to bridge the offline and online worlds. It sounds perfect.

For example, your ad agency creates an ad outside a local mall. Then, people scan this little bar code. They are whisked away to your store’s website (ideally, it’s mobile-friendly), where they instantly receive a promotional code or coupon. Sounds peachy, right?

What’s not to love about a way to find new ways to reach and engage with your customers and potential customers? However, QR codes have been around for a while now, and the initial buzz has fizzled. The QR code never went mainstream.

1. No clear calls to action

Most marketers slap a QR code on their ads willy-nilly, with no clear call to action. A good chunk of people don’t know what to do with a QR code, much less want to scan it without a reason. You have to provide an incentive or reason for people to scan it.

Placing a QR code on an ad with no clear call to action is like placing a Facebook or Twitter icon on a TV ad with no URL. It’s the push-and-pray approach, and that doesn’t usually end well.

2. Poor execution

Another pitfall is that many marketers are not thinking about the most (or least) conducive environments to scan a QR code. Mobile behavior is very different from desktop PC behavior. Users don’t have 24 inches of screen real estate (unless you have the freakishly large Samsung Galaxy Note). They are probably on the go and multitasking. It’s a lot harder to get a mobile audience to stop all they are doing and spend 30 precious seconds to scan a code.

That marketers are placing QR codes in some of the worst places ever—such as on highway billboards, subway stations/trains, and, yes, even in public restrooms—doesn’t help.

Why would you put a QR code in a place that has no or limited WiFi, like a subway station—or, worse, on a highway billboard? It’s bad enough that people put on makeup, eat lunch, and text while driving. It’s scary to think someone is holding up their phone and trying to scan a QR code while driving 70 mph on the interstate.

3. QR code flawed technology

Even with the worst execution errors, the technology behind QR codes never got it quite right. It was another app for people to download on their smartphones. Then even if you had a QR Code app, it could be clunky to use and required a solid 3G/4G signal or WiFi. In the minute it took to download, you could have easily just queued up the website or gone to the company’s social media page.

Do you think QR codes are dead?

Jessica Malnik is a PR/marketing coordinator, social media specialist, videographer and an avid Gen Y blogger. This article first appeared on Jessica Malnik’s blog.

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