The Easiest Ways To Fail at QR Codes

by Mike on Saturday Sep 21, 2013  

I originally wrote this in 2011. Things were different then. I had a BlackBerry, tacos weren't being made out of doritos, and somewhere in Washington, a few Microsoft employees were digging Zune a grave. RIP Zune. So it's a little dated, but I still like it. Also, If you've had SUCCESS with QR codes, please leave a note below!

 
QR codes are everywhere. Your ads. Your shirt. Your business card. And now you can get one when you die.
 
When you talk about QR codes people no longer have that look on their face like they just ate bad teriyaki. Unfortunately, QR codes are quickly becoming the next "CLICK HERE".
 
It's a link. And it doesn't tell you where you are going. It's been 20 years and we still can't move past "click here".
 
Are you looking for our printable registration form because you want to come to our rodeo? CLICK HERE!
 
As if you expect people to stare blankly at your webpage in puzzlement, wondering "What do I do with all of these blue, underlined words?" And now the internet has presented us with the next iteration... the QR Code.
 
Here are three ways you can fail using a QR code (not including the #1 way... using them):
 

1. You don't tell them HOW to scan it.

 
I'll do a dance when QR codes are common enough that we don't have to do this.  I like how Microsoft is doing it because almost any ad that has one includes a link to get the app.
 
If you don't see this as a benefit, go get a Blackberry and spend 58 minutes fumbling through that damn App World (Sartre's grandson made it, I think) trying to find a QR code scanner:
 
BlackBerry AppWorld Hell
Oh how I miss my BlackBerry.
 
 

2. You don't tell them WHY you are scanning it. 

So you want me to pull out my phone, download an app, and then scan your code... because, it's there? I would love these people to modify all the links on your website's menu to say "LINK     LINK     LINK     LINK    LINK" because that is what a QR code is without a description.
 
 
 

3. You don't build the content for a phone. 

What do you think they are scanning your QR code with? Unless you have one client, and it is the guy below, make your QR code go to mobile-optimized content.
 
Mobile Computing
His cell is a telephone booth.
 
 

Real World Examples

 
I dug around my giant pile of snail-mail spam expecting to find some examples of what to do and not to do. I did:
 
 MyFord® Catalog: WRONG
For the love of god, scan. Scan damn you.
This failed in multiple ways. No instructions. No information as to what I'd get from scanning the code. They are by the car, which I can only assume would lead me to more information about the car.
 
It took me about 30 scans to get it to work. And THEN WHAT? It took me to a page that asked to me select a car. 
 
So I scanned a different code. Wait a minute, it's the SAME PAGE! I only guess this was Ford's brilliant idea to determine what car I was scanning, while actually not providing me anything different. Nice.
 
 
Dish Network® Ad: WRONG
 
Scan my sign!
 
It had instructions, but again... why am I going to scan this? I was partially expecting to see more photos of people holding up signs. But no, it was an explanation of their packages.
 
 
Bed Bath and Beyond®: RIGHT
 
Someone did it right!
 
They told me how to do it and what I would be receiving. Win! It was a college checklist! ...now if only I could get more 20% coupons!
 
And to leave you on a positive note: during my 2.5 minutes of research for this post, I ran across this blog which had a great example of a QR code fail. Do you remember in the late 90s, how you could "order pizza online", and it went like this:
 
  1. Go to our website
  2. Fill out online order form
  3. Print out form
  4. Fax us the form or send it to us with your carrier pigeon
  5. Get your pizza that you ordered online!
 
Well, the spirit lives on:
 
Scan it. Add up numbers on your abacus, and carrier pigeon it back.

tags: qr code, fail, web strategy, qr code strategy, qr campaign