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QR Codes

October 14, 2012

QR Codes…what are they?  What purpose do they serve?

I have to say that I really don’t know.  They take up space in magazine pages and have become ubiquitous to the point of being silly.  Here’s some history for context.

A QR Code is basically a 3D bar code.  It can contain a lot of information; way more than a traditional UPC.  It was invented by Toyota and its development was to make the manufacturing process more efficient by allowing Toyota’s machines to scan parts moving around their factories at high speed.

Somewhere along the lines someone at an ad agency must have read about QR Codes and thought they would be a great new tool for advertising.  Nowadays every smartphone comes with a QR Code reader app or you have apps like LoseIt that have QR Reader functions.

While it sounds like that’s good and that they should be incorporated into your marketing strategy I have yet to find one vendor who has provided data that they work.  Yes, you can make the argument that there is potential because of the aforementioned point regarding smartphone apps; however, potential does not provide a strong R.O.I.

I would have a problem with a marketer trying to justify the use of a QR Code in a plan with “there’s potential for this to work.”  That’s cause for termination.  If you’re marketing isn’t based on sound research and evidence then you don’t have a marketing plan.  You have a series of wishes you want to fulfill.  Marketing isn’t wish fulfillment.

Also, the use of QR Codes has become ridiculous.  They are everywhere and in a lot of places they are inappropriate.  Here is one that I saw at the back of a truck while I was driving to Connecticut (I took it from the inside of my car while stuck in traffic and it was a rainy day hence the water drops on my windshield).

Should I get closer and try to get my app to read it?

Why the hell is a QR Code on the back of a truck?  Am I supposed to walk up to the back of a parked truck and scan it?  Should I risk trying to capture it with my smartphone while I’m driving?  I’m not saying that the advertiser is forcing me to drive unsafely.  I’m more upset by the sheer stupidity of it.

I don’t have a picture of it, maybe I’ll get one during the week and make a follow up post, but a building is being constructed across the street from my office and the construction company put up a sign to promote themselves.  The sign is 6′ x 5′ and it has a massive QR code on it.  Really?  Really?

The only sensible use I’m seeing is the method in which Target is using QR Codes.  I don’t know how wide spread it is, but I’ve seen Targets where some of the merchandise has a QR Code that when you scan it using the Target app, it can tell you whether its available in the store (say a stock item that’s in the back like a futon or large bookshelf) or bring you to the app’s purchase page and you can order the item off of

Could it be that the marketers at Target wanted to incorporate the convenience of the Internet and smartphone apps into their brick/mortar stores?  Could it be that they want to make a portion of the buying experience at Target like a showroom or an Ikea-like experience?  Could this be the future of brick/mortar stores?

I like these types of questions because not only are they strategic, but also, depending on the answer, a paradigm change in a model.  Target is an innovative merchant.  They were the first retailer to strike exclusive deals with designers like Isaac Mizrahi or Liz Lange.  They drove the development/distribution of chewable vitamins for adults.  So it would make sense that they are innovating again except this time with their business model.

Either way I think they are the only company using QR Codes wisely and effectively.  I don’t whether Target’s strategy is working, profitable or sustainable (at some point you have to ask the question how affordable can it be to lose store sales to online sales), but it’s definitely a better way of using them than any other that I’ve seen.

What are your thoughts?  Have you used QR Codes in any of your tactics?  How did they perform?  Will you use them again?




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