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Scan to see if this QR is BS

After more than 15 years in mobile technology, it’s easy to notice a pattern where a mobile acronym is sometimes promoted as if it was a cure for cancer. Result? Unmet expectations and a sense that mobile is hyped – or simply doesn’t work.

I’ve just read an article in Retail Customer Experience about the use of QR codes in DOOH and have to call out the simple and glaring fact that it’s complete BS.

I hope that the technology was misunderstood rather than being hyped – but it’s still a problem for folks in DOOH pitching anything “mobile” as it can only confuse or disappoint customers who might now expect something from QR codes that they will never get.

In layman’s terms, a QR code (QR stands for Quick Response) is simply a method of getting a webpage’s url from a static object like a poster, to a user. They’re cool for sure, but according to the article, QR codes now have interactive, 2-way, location-based qualities.

Claim #1:(In relation to the company’s QR application.) “And since the phone is aware of location and who you are and the time and the weather and the city you’re in, we can actually send very specific location-based information to that particular user.”

Why Claim #1 is BS: Even when a phone is aware of your location, applications don’t automatically get that information. Even when applications have access to local/personal information, the user has to agree to that information being accessed.

Claim #2: Kombi and EnQii showcased the ability for their app to “announce” to a store that an individual consumer is approaching, “and have that influence what’s happening on the digital screens in the store and have the screens be able to push back to the phone synchronized offers,” turning the consumer’s smart phone into “an intimate interaction device.”

Why Claim 2 is BS: This is nothing to do with QR codes, is really misleading and is illegal without the users explicit permission. I wrote about this in my post Minority Report Is Not The future Of Advertising.

Claim #3: Now retailers and marketers will be able to use rule-based, one-on-one communications with the consumer that is based on knowing, not guessing, who the consumer is, where they are and what they need, while also using the correct language, lifestyle imagery and loyalty discount if applicable, Eisenhauer says.

Why Claim #3 is BS: There is no way of knowing WHO the user is simply via a QR code being scanned. The user needs to opt-in to a promotion and give permission to the marketer to user their info.

In my humble opinion, a QR code might be a sexier way to promote an URL but it is not A two-way integration of digital signage and mobile (which was the title of the post).

QR codes and DOOH might not even be good bedfellows: When used in DOOH, a QR code requires a fair amount of time and real-estate on a screen – because the user needs to see (and be close enough to scan), recognize and be motivated to scan the code – and have a phone and application capable of scanning the code. Allow at least 30 seconds for that process (See my post, 15-seconds-or-more-part-2 on the place-based mobile user experience). A simple url can be equally tracked and would need no more than 5-10 seconds to read and remember.

Now don’t get be wrong – I love these technologies – but I spend a reasonable portion of most client meetings undoing hype and clarifying misinformation.

Bottom line – it’s might be cool to scan a QR code, visit a website on your phone, wave it around at your friends or show it to the person on the register to redeem an offer. But sometimes it’s easier for the marketer to display Go To WWW.WEBSITE.COM/OFFER to get your offer.

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6 Responses to “QR BS”

  1. Ken Goldberg Says:


    Like you, I think QR codes are cool, but not interactive. I also share your distaste for high level PR fluff jobs that ignore some fairly significant blocking-and-tackling issues like privacy, permission and the impact of QR codes on the rest of a video presentation. It is WAY too early to declare victory and call this the Holy Grail of convergence.

    Kudos to you for calling BS! We need more straight talk so that we all spend less time providing reality checks to those who are new to the space.

  2. Steve Gurley Says:

    So true, so true. I did a blog post on this about a year ago that I think is still relevant today. The following is a link to post. http://www.digitalscreenmedia.org/steve-gurley/view/17305/convergent-implementation–4–2d-barcodes

  3. John Wang Says:

    Agree with the hype around QR code at the moment. However in comparing QR code vs. printed URL, the square mark is not only cooler, but encodes more information and makes it easier for customers to interact with.

    QR code makes it practical to transmit long and cryptic URLs that facilitate 2-way communication and include location information to provide much richer services over the traditional printed URL.

    So in a way, it may be exaggerated but probably not totally BS.

  4. Paul Flanigan Says:

    Great insight. I think QR codes have a place, but not at the level they’re being touted. Instead, it seems that 1) virtual recognition will be a better fit for DS (where the phone recognizes images/pictures), and 2) even with regular digital signage, the intimacy of engagement requires an opt-in from the viewer, and that is never automatic.

    Great stuff to read.

  5. Byron Darlison Says:

    Hi Stephen,

    Well said all round. The one thing that I do like about QR codes that you hinted at and the article you reviewed took way too much liberty with, is that a QR code is a great way to invite the viewer to the mobile, and probably interactive, and absolutely permission based, version of what they are seeing on screen. For example the tradeshow display with the schedule of events, conference map and sponsors could include a link to the mobile version which the viewer can take with them and use all day long. At that version could ask for their opinions on each event they check in to, etc. etc. So although I agree QR codes are not the cure for cancer they do have some uses when used right, and the viewer chooses to opt in….

    Thanks for getting the dialogue going!


  6. Stephen Randall Says:

    Since posting the above, I wish to clarify that while QR codes on their own do not have any interactive capabilities, they can be used in conjunction with smart web and/or mobile applications, and those applications can of course then perform all sorts of engaging and interesting things.

    I’ve exchanged emails and a had a call with Kombi CEO, John Eisenhauer. Apart from clarifying the above point, I’d like to also clarify that I did not claim that John or Kombi (or anyone else in the original article) is engaging in illegal practices. If that came across in my post, then I apologize. My point was only to emphasize that it is illegal to push to a phone without a user’s permission.

    So, putting some ruffled feathers behind us, I hope everyone can now have a happy new year!


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