QR Codes: How and Why

On my way home from work the other day, I noticed a Jet Blue ad in the subway that struck me.  It boasted the ability to win a free trip to St. Petersburg and all you had to do to learn more was "snap the code" or visit the website.  And even though there was no code to "snap", I knew what they were talking about.

Ignoring the failure of the advertisement in general (if you're going to include an option to snap the code, please include the code), it brought to mind a thought I've had for quite some time.

For those of you who don't know what a QR Code is, you're not alone.  A QR Code is a barcode created for smartphones.  It's a square of black and white pixels in a sense that is unique, and when you use a code scanner on your phone, it can take you anywhere online.  It acts as a simplified URL, sending prospective customers to any page you'd like them to visit, most often relating directly to the ad or placement where the code was located.  Once you know what they are, you'll start to notice them more and more.

In theory, it's a smart way to utilize phones in marketing, allowing people who are on the go to quickly capture "a photo" of something and direct them where you'd like them to go. But in practice, this advertising tool falls a little short.

Firstly, and most importantly, the adoption of the QR Code occurred in businesses and with marketers far before the consumers for which they are targeted.  The mere fact that most people still don't know what it is they are looking at when they see one is a sign that this technology has not spread as hoped.  In addition, a consumer must have a phone with a QR Code scanner, which most people don't.

Secondly, a simple URL is just as easy to key into your phone as a QR Code is to scan.  And it works for people without a phone with that technology as well.  They can simply jot down the URL.

I believe this technology does have value, but only if it becomes more fully adopted by consumers, and only if used correctly.  It does allow marketers to track unique URLs and the users that scan them.  They can be used on print and mail campaigns to direct people to personalized or specific sites, but should also have a URL alternative in order to capture the most possible attention.

As for Jet Blue, I wonder if the person in charge for proof reading their ads before they go to production still has a job.