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Sitting down for an interview with Tower Heist actor Alan Alda, I was a little surprised to see he was wearing something that’s becoming a familiar sight here in New York — a QR code bangle. When I scanned it on my iPhone, it took me to his site and instantly gave me information about his new project, a play he’s written about Madame Curie called Radiance, and all the details on the show’s run in LA. In a flash, I had all I needed to know about his new production. When even the likes of Alda are embracing this technology, it seems that, amid all the talk of the future of QR codes, the tool really does have its place as a potential marketing platform.
There is indeed, as even non Oscar-nominated actors know, a way to use the technology to get the most out of it. Jonathan Thaler, who runs When I’m Mobile, a company that creates QR-enabled mobile websites, believes that QR codes are valuable and increasing in popularity. He believes though that this value is being undermined by ineffective and improper use of the technology.
“If corporate and other casual campaigns continue to use the technology without taking the entire process into account,” he says, “then I think this does have a huge risk of becoming a passing fad.”
Thaler explains that around 1 in 20 scans will bring the user to something worth scanning, but the same can’t be said for the rest. The problem with many QR codes is that they are unreadable for various reasons.
“The QR codes used are either too small, too blurry, there’s not enough colour contrast or there is too much artwork integrated into the code,” says Thaler. The other side of the problem is when the QR codes connect to unusable and bad-user-experience computer sites.
Thaler is adamant that if this technology is going to have the positive impact its intended to have, then these practices need to change. “If this tech is going to last and have a positive impact, these bad practices need to stop,” he says. This supports the school of thought that believes QR codes are tools that will only work with a solid strategy behind them.
“Most importantly, in my opinion,” Thaler says, “is that the scan needs to bring the user to mobile-friendly content that adds value to the experience. Merely providing a code to scan, without accounting for context or content, is a disservice to the mobile user and to the QR concept as a whole.”
The problem comes in when campaigns using QR codes focus on just getting people to scan codes — without concentrating on compelling, useful content. “That seems to be secondary right now,” Thaler continues. “Too many codes bring the user to sites which are virtually (or entirely) unusable on their device”.
Alda’s scan takes fans (or potential fans) to a mobile site full of valuable information on the spot, with the chance to book tickets too. Other day-to-day use of QR codes doesn’t seem to be as effective. Thaler believes most of the QR codes used in advertising are not worth scanning because of their mediocre results. Then there’s the matter of where the scans appear. On a subway or billboard — where one is not able to scan them and directly go to the mobile site — the purpose is defeated.
Putting QR codes on a bangle or other item makes them handy to scan. “My clients are using them on business cards, stickers and posters,” says Thaler. “I actually made one out of Shrinky Dinks [shrinkable art] paper from my daughter’s art supplies and wear it around my neck. People are fascinated that the code can be incorporated this way and that it actually scans!”
Alda himself was also fascinated. Now he knows better.
Image: Skanz QR Bracelets