What’s With the Recent QR Code Abuses?

I’m seeing a lot of QR codes spread around, popping up in TV commercials and in print advertisements. And in general they’re horrible campaigns. My favorite are the commercials that flash a QR code on the screen for a few seconds, and before I can even get my phone out of my pocket the code is gone. Luckily I could use my DVR to rewind and catch it.. only to find out it won’t scan from where I’m sitting. Not like I have a small TV. But I get up and scan it anyway cause I’m curious – only to get taken to a full web version of a site that really offers me no benefit for pulling it up on my phone.

Like we were talking about last week, mobile advertising as a whole really isn’t delivering on the promise of the platform. So it’s great in concept that advertisers are willing to try out something new to find the value they’re looking for. But there are so many blunders in the campaigns from the delivery of the code itself to the post-click content… makes me feel like the last few years worth of mobile advertising hasn’t yielded any learning at all.

So here are some things to keep in mind. First off, when QR codes were first making the rounds even most of the higher end phones still had tripple tap text input when we were inputting URLs. So having a scannable code saved us some painful typing if the URL was long. And since folks were on their phone it made the most sense to link people directly to some specific resource to save them from having to navigate around. If folks were going to be scanning codes anyway, and the codes could store a decent amount of info, the advertiser could also include some additional tracking info in the URL so they could more easily segment their inbound traffic. Things are different now. That’s not to say there’s no reason to have QR codes at all, but their role has to be different.

First off, lots of us are on phones with keyboards (software or hardware) and very comfortable typing on them. Show a nice short url along with the QR code. It used to be user hostile to have to enter a URL, now it’s more user hostile to ask us to download a QR code to follow a link. Second, it doesn’t make sense to save me typing when entering a URL if you’re then going to take me to a full desktop version of a web page with a half-dozen fields on it. Third, it’s fine if you want to do some extra tracking of inbound clicks, but don’t force inconvenience on me in order for you to be able to track. I’m just not going to engage with your campaign at all.

Frankly, I think a lot of the uses I’m seeing are really misuses. Abuses even. The sarcastic side of me can’t keep from thinking there’s some advertising agency somewhere looking to crank up their bill with no regard for the benefit they’re providing the the advertiser or the experience of the user. But I’m going to be positive and not “attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” And hope that this is an opening where we can learn a bit and find some additional ways to get value out of everyone having a phone in their hand these days.

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