QR Codes: good on bottles, bad on books

People are quick to dismiss the potential of the QR code - but are marketers really offering a compelling reason to use them?

QR (Quick Response) codes are one of those technologies you love or hate. The theory is that you point an app on your smartphone at this little box of squares, and you are immediately taken to a website with further (and hopefully useful) information.

If you’re in the marketing business, you probably love them. If you’re anyone else, you’ll hate them. Actually, no, you’ll ignore them. Pretty much everywhere outside Japan, people are just ignoring the things. This single-serving Tumblr sums up the situation rather nicely.

That said, there’s growing evidence that QR Code usage is on the up – and it’s fair to say that there are few inherently bad technologies, just bad uses of them. And QR codes could well fall into the same bracket.

Here’s a little evidence:

Good use:

Erica Ogg of GigaOm brings use the news that Moore Brothers Wine Company is adding QR codes to its bottles, giving you a quick and easy route to matching your wine to your food. Now, it could be suggested that most people start with the food and match the wine to it, but that’s certainly not how I work, and I rather like the idea of rooting around in the cupboard for a bottle of wine to serve that evening, and being given some quick tips to go with it. It has a clear benefit to the user (indeed, a clearer benefit to the user than to the brand using the technique), and so strikes me as much more likely to be used.

Bad Use:

Laura Hazard Owen reports that book publisher Simon & Schuster is adding QR codes to all of its books. The incentive? More information about the author. But are people compelled enough when they put down a book to look that up? The book itself pretty much covers the details of an author, and if the readers is interested in purchasing more titles by the same author, surely they’re more likely to search Amazon than look up a QR code.¬†Given the rapid shift towards eBooks already in progress, it seems likely that the demographic who might use a QR code is probably already reading the book on an eReader, where a live link would be more useful. This seems to me to be just adding a touch of technological gloss to a medium that probably doesn’t need it.

There’s a lesson in this contrast. One company is thinking about helping its customers, the other about publicising its products. Give people a real reason to use QR codes, and they might just start to live up to their potential.