QRblaster.com, which generates codes, published a list of the
worst campaigns of the year. It included marketers and publishers
with unreadable or obscured codes. Some were offered in areas with
no internet access, which means a scan cannot load anything to the
phone. Red Bull put QR codes on the subway, and United Airlines had
them on in-flight magazines read primarily far outside cell-service
In a well-meaning misstep, MillerCoors
partnered with Seattle bars and restaurants over the holidays so
that patrons who had imbibed a bit too much could snap a QR code to
get a cab. The effort assumed that revelers still had enough
dexterity to aim a phone and get a clear shot.
"Marketers fall in love with tools and forget the reality of how
they're used," said Ms. Robertson at AKQA.
The appeal to marketers is clear. Implementing the codes is far
less expensive than developing a proprietary app. They offer the
ability to measure consumer activity and can provide shoppers with
information, freeing up salespeople and increasing
But what's the risk of the many QR codes that are unhelpful,
don't work or are so complicated that it would be easier to enter a
"If you are not paying off [the QR scan] with content that 's
rewarding or valuable, then the experience falls flat and consumers
won't use it again," Ms. Robertson said.
Despite low usage, marketers are staying loyal to QR codes.
Home Depot, for
example, put QR codes on plants this spring so that customers could
learn more about the items and which go best together.
A spokeswoman for the home-improvement retailer acknowledged
that adoption has been slow, but the company continued to test the
technology on artificial Christmas trees and lights.
"I haven't found any brands that have totally scrapped the
codes," said Ms. Parrish at Forrester.
Education may also be an answer. Last spring, Macy's did national TV ads on its QR
codes, and shoppers who scanned them got informational videos from
clothing designers. The initiative exceeded expectations and got
positive customer feedback, according to a spokeswoman. Use of the
codes tripled after Macy's tweaked the content and offered shorter
videos in the fall.