QR Codes: Over or just getting started?

We’re hearing a lot of talk about the lack of engagement with and slow adoption of QR codes. It’s said that people don’t want to capture a code only to be taken to the website, which shows them the same thing the ad is showing them. It’s also said that coupons & offers aren’t do their part in driving adoption. The conventional wisdom might have you believe it’s time to abandon the technology as a marketing tool.

But maybe we’re putting the cart before the horse.  The technology isn’t inherently interesting or engaging.  It’s only a tool for linking people to information or content.  Advertisers, so far, have been mainly delivering “junk mail” or the same content you’d get by visiting the brand’s site, often with substandard mobile design. They have not yet thought deeply about what the total engagement should be like – for one thing, they should not forget that the device that captures the code is likely to also be the device on which someone will experience the content – designing for that device is critical.  Happily, a few examples stand out.

This use of QR codes enables Korean Tesco customers to do their grocery shopping while waiting for the train. It doesn’t take you to a coupon for the product, or a link to the brand site – it’s the mechanism for adding products to your shopping cart. It references the in-store experience, but brings it to where people are, and gives them the opportunity to explore or to transact – this flexibility is one of most important benefits of any mobile experience. You can really do anything with a mobile device – so why limit it to the purely transactional? Impressive: true engagement, true utility, executed beautifully, in a highly relevant space. Check it out:

Sometimes, to understand the full possibilities of a technology, we need to see what artists have made of it. You can see this in the popularity of the Talk To Me exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, or the Cory Archangel show Pro Tools at the Whitney. You can also see how artists have interpreted the use of QR codes in interactive graffiti, encouraging you to engage with the art on the wall, and get more than the visual experience, as in this example:

If you could put QR Codes to work for the brands you influence through either of these filters – true utility or active, artistic engagement (or both!) what would you do?

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