QR codes are popping up everywhere – toothpaste tubes, food packaging and even coins. The growing popularity of smartphones suggests that these codes have a bright future, but are they really that useful?
So what’s a QR code? Abbreviated from Quick Response code, it’s basically a type of barcode that when scanned with your smartphone can take you to all manner of content – mainly internet URLs. Some of you may even have been directed to this very page from a QR code in October’s Which? magazine.
Magazines and newspapers, unlike websites, are limited in space, so being able to direct readers to further information with a QR code has clear benefits. The trouble is, I only ever read papers on the Tube, which is distinctly lacking a web connection.
Some applications of QR codes seem just plain daft, like the recently struck Dutch five Euro coins and tattoos, while others seem a little bit more inventive, or at least useful.
QR code successes
One of the most effective uses of a QR code I’ve come across is on CDs or DVDs. This gives potential buyers a taste of an artist’s latest album or access to a film’s trailer while they’re browsing in store.
Others might argue that Betfair’s use of QR codes on the British female beach volleyball team’s bikinis was more effective. The campaign certainly turned a few heads – although I wonder how many people actually used their phones to scan the code.
In the CD and DVD example there’s a real benefit to the shopper, as they’re getting access to genuinely useful information to help them with their purchasing decision.
And I can think of several other examples where this would work similarly. What about nutritional information or recipe QR codes on food packaging, or QR codes in estate agent windows and car showrooms to reveal more info about potential home or car purchases?
QR code failures
But then there’s a lot of bad, or unnecessary QR code use, such as codes on cufflinks or cakes. These have an initial “how interesting” factor, which soon dies out when you realise there’s very little compulsion to want to scan these codes, especially when you have no idea where they’ll lead you.
I’ve also seen QR codes on business cards and CVs. These usually strike me as a little showy – and that’s me being polite. If the QR code on a CV was to take me to a portfolio of a person’s work, I’d much rather look at it on my laptop; not my mobile.
And I’ve yet to be convinced that TVs are a suitable medium for QR codes too. If I wanted to find out more about the person being interviewed on a chat show, I’d look it up on my laptop. If I did want to look at it on my phone, I’d be more inclined to type a URL into my phone’s web browser, rather than holding it up to the TV to scan a code.
The exception to this might be if there was exclusive supplementary content only available through the QR code, but in that instance I’d be frustrated with the producers for limiting this content from the rest of us who aren’t QR code fans.