Posted on: June 15, 2011
QR Codes: Necessity of Novelty?
Posted by: Brett Bisbe
Read time (comprehensive): 9 minutes
If somehow you’ve missed the recent marketing craze over QR codes, there’s no doubt that you would recognize one, even if you have no idea what it’s for or what it’s called.
QR codes, or Quick Response codes are essentially a new version of a barcode, scannable by a variety of mobile technology, mainly smart phone apps. These new school barcodes have made an impression with marketers because of their ability to function as “hardlinks” or “physical hyperlinks.”
Here’s the concept: a marketer embeds a QR code on a magazine ad or billboard (or any printed material for that matter); the curious consumer then uses their mobile device to scan that code, and is directed to a website of the marketer’s choosing.
The applications for this technology are seemingly endless. Basically any company or individual with a website can use a QR code as a physical indicator of online information.
The benefits of QR codes are immediately visible to marketers and advertisers. As mobile technology develops, and more and more consumers are using their mobile devices as a primary way to access online content, QR codes are a great way to supplement print advertising with online promotions and information.
As an informational tool, they are invaluable. They can save space on printed advertising by including “small-print” details on a website instead of on the ad itself. QR codes can essentially correlate print with video, audio, text, social media, anything. Advertisers have been including URLs in their campaigns for years and years, but QR codes remove an element from the process. Now a consumer doesn’t have to type in a URL, or try to remember it for future reference. All they have to do is scan the code.
What, though, are the benefits to the consumer?
On one hand, there’s the novelty factor. People like to use new technology. They like to feel like they’re part of the trend. With millions of smart-phone wielding consumers in the market, all itching to use their mobile device’s QR code reader, of course the advertisements will make impressions. The element of interactivity also helps the QR code’s popularity. Advertisement is generally successful when it can literally engage its audience.
There is also small-scale advertising to consider as a real benefit of using QR codes:
- The codes have been used in libraries to direct students to catalog information.
- Nonprofits can use QR codes to help spread mission statements.
- Charities can direct users to donation sites.
- Small businesses with limited budgets can essentially present an entire website’s worth of information on a business card or simple handbill.
In the hands of the major marketing giants though, QR codes are little more than junk mail. Most consumers have no incentive to use a QR code to visit the website of a product they are already familiar with (outside of a promotion hinged on using the code). Instead of streamlining the advertising process as intended, they are in fact complicating it by asking the consumer to participate beyond a quick visual impression.
For example, the Calvin Klein billboard featuring a massive QR code and the words “Get It Uncensored” surely spark consumer interest, but the company logo “Calvin Klein Jeans” is still present. Scanning the QR code directs users to a 40-second commercial.
Advertising experts would say that this is making a deeper impression on consumers, that this kind of marketing will further embed the brand into their minds. Others would argue that they’ve just been subjected to two advertisements for the same product, and that they process of scanning the QR code and watching the commercial was a waste of time.
QR codes may be incredibly useful for marketers across the spectrum, but in the hands of major, well-branded companies, they may just be a fad. Just like fine print, consumers will learn to ignore them.