QR (Quick Response) codes are easily generated, easy to use and free to virtually all modern mobile devices with a camera. They can store hundreds of times more info than standard bar codes, and are mainstream in Japan. Yet even though they’ve been around since 1994, widespread use of them in the USA is less than impressive, both in availability and quality of information provided.
When you see a book or magazine ad that offers a random QR code in the corner of the page, there’s a good chance that code will take you to the very un-mobile friendly company home page that offers you absolutely no specific information that makes you glad you took the time to scan the code in the first place. It’s not that placing a URL in a QR code is always unhelpful, but providing useful information on a mobile-specific page in context to the message would be much more valuable. If users make the effort to scan a code, they expect to be rewarded for their time. Unfortunately, the lack of rewarding “treats” offered to scanners is not only promoting boring or frustrating user experiences, but could be allowing the QR code to die a slow and miserable death.
The potential for the information treats that QR codes can offer has been demonstrated in company marketing, guerrilla marketing, and street art. In a historic district of Manhattan, large QR codes were placed on buildings that not only served as physical district borders, but also provided the added bonus of providing pictures from 50 years ago of the same city scene the user is seeing from his location. Historical monuments and museums are taking advantage of their visitors’ mobile devices, displaying QR codes that offer guided video tours. Many successful viral campaigns are based on hiding a QR code in a poster or video, or discovering codes posted all over the city, offering various clues for a curious public to attempt to figure out. (Please comment with your favorite QR examples – love to see them!)
Wouldn’t it be great if QR codes turned out to be the true Easter eggs of this decade, where mobile users scan them in eager anticipation of receiving a fun information treat from a well thought-out campaign?