It’s In The Scan

7 09 2011

I remember with a chuckle when the bar code was introduced. Yes, I realize this dates me a little, but so be it. The year was 1974, and a pack of Wrigley’s gum became the very first consumer product scanned in a grocery store. And that chain (Marsh, of Indianapolis) would one day be the unwitting participant in my dissertation. But I’ll save that for another time.

Those little bar codes represented an enormous leap for some people, because they feared the end times had drawn nigh, and antichrist was lurking behind the counter. The next thing you know, we’d all have one of these things tattooed to our forehead. Or be glowing green from all that radiation.

Of course, it turns out that antichrist didn’t work there, we didn’t turn green, and we soon came to accept 1-D bar codes as a very efficient means of processing consumer transactions and tracking inventory.

More recently, though, the 2-D bar code has arrived in the US (having been developed in Japan a decade ago). These 2nd-gen codes are square in shape, and feature a dizzying array of little black boxes that relate to information stored elsewhere. Using one of the many QR apps available for smartphones (I like ScanLife), users can scan the code (like mine below) and instantly be whisked off to web content. Creation of QR cards (“Quick Response”) is free at a plethora of sites such as this one.

While most QRs do in fact lead to web content, some can trigger actions, such as an SMS text or email. There are also variants on the QR theme, such as the one by Microsoft that features arrays of differently colored little triangles.

The point of the QRs is to engage customers, both potential and and actual. And unless you have been living in a cave the last six months, you have noticed that they are everywhere. Heck, Home Depot announced last spring they were creating QRs for every product in the store, and affixing them to shelf tags. You know…in case you want to find out more about those screws you’re looking at.

I have seen QRs in dozens of places. The Amarillo Globe-News uses them to accompany print articles. They appear in magazine ads. I saw them on signage in Busch Gardens in Tampa last winter (announcing a new roller coaster). I saw an enormous QR this summer on a pedicab in San Diego (click here), and an enormous poster with several rows of them to help guide tourists through Estes Park CO (click here).

Which makes me wonder: Is the mediascape becoming over-run with QRs already? Is there too much clutter? Is a poster with 12 QRs just a little over the top?

While I love what QRs can do, part of me is beginning to wonder if maybe we turned mobile tool into mobile fad. While this is the kind of thing of which guerrilla marketing is made (imagine affixing QR stickers all over town or school, inviting the tech-savvy to scan), if they become too prevalent it may be no different from a thousand people all trying to be heard in a conference hall.

Good luck there.

And while I always have my phone with me when I am out and about (theoretically at the ready to scan), I don’t normally think of keeping it nearby while I am reading the newspaper or a magazine. And especially newspapers and magazines on my iPad. heck, I already am online. Just embed a video, please.

My concerns aside, I still hold out a lot of hope for the QR. Sure, it may quickly (pun intended) slip into obscurity, but then again, used in the proper doses, it can direct and engage customers in such a way as to help make sales.

And if that isn’t one of the primary purposes of advertising, then I don’t know what is. Anyone want some gum?

Dr “Know The Code” Gerlich




One response

7 09 2011

I just got back from Copenhagen and there were loads of QR there (strangely enough a lot more than London). But I have to agree I’m not quite convinced by them yet- I have a smartphone but have yet to bother to scan something while I’m about town. I’m more likely to remember it and then look it up later, and surely remembering a product is what it is all about?

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