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There are some very good examples of QR code use, but many of them seem to be used without enough consideration of factors such as location and optimising landing pages.

Here are some dodgy uses of QR codes, some bizarre, some in ridiculous locations, others just plain stupid... 

On the underground

Yes, that great Tesco Korea QR campaign was in the subway, but they are forward-thinking enough to have wi-fi down there. 

This is not the case in the UK, so this QR code on this British Library poster is a waste of time. 

It may be that the same poster was produced for a campaign covering a variety of locations, not just on the Tube, but it does make brands look a bit stupid. 

(Thanks to @SEOsherlock for the image)

Where phones cannot scan

This example (thanks to Webster Lewin) is too high up to reach without a crane. 

Webster had to blow it up on his computer at home to scan it. Most people just wouldn't bother. 

In-flight magazines

A bit tricky to scan and load up the intended landing page when you're 30,000 feet up in the air. Unless you take the magazine with you (and who does that?) it's useless...

According to Mobile Marketing Fail, this error was compounded by the fact that, when scanned on terra firma, the code led to a site not optimised for mobile. 

On the side of buses

Inside a bus, when people have time to spare, is a good place to use QR codes. On the outside isn't. 

Unless the bus is stuck in traffic, waiting for ages at the stop, or broken down, firing up a code reader and scanning it isn't going to be easy... 

(Image credit: blech via Flickr)

On the back of footballer's heads

Footballers from Bromley Town had QR codes shaved into their heads for sponsors Betfair. Why? 

OK, this may work in terms of publicity generated by reading about the campaign, but I can't see many people scanning these QR codes. I tried, but couldn't scan the code from the image. 

On the roof of a building

This is obviously intended for Google Earth (or passing balloonists perhaps) but it seems to be a lot of effort for the slight chance that someone will scan it. 

Perhaps, like the Betfair example, the aim is to generate publicity rather than scans. 

According to brandchannel, the fees for this service start of $8,500. Perhaps I'm missing the point, but there must be more cost-effective ways to spend your marketing budget. 

In CVs

We've had a few CVs with QR codes in them. I can see the thinking behind it, and there are probably some good examples, but if a potential employer is receiving high numbers of applications, then it just means more work for them. 

For five seconds on a TV show

I spotted this on Simon Hopkinson's 'The Good Cook' show on BBC1 last year. I do think it's a convenient way to grab the recipe, but you have to give people time to fire up a code reader and scan it. 

This probably takes at least 15-20 seconds, so showing it for just a few seconds won't work. It's fine if you can pause it, but not everyone can. 

In emails

Without wanting to name names, we've seen QR codes used in email signatures. Why would you scan a QR code with your mobile when you're already online? 

QR codes don't really belong in emails, unless you are promoting a mobile site or app download, as in this example from ASOS promoting its mobile site: 

Without any explanation at all

QR codes are by no means mainstream, so educate people about them, and explain why they should take the time to scan it.

Tell them there's a great video to watch, useful information, a game to play, or a voucher code if they make the effort. Just plonking it on the ad isn't enough. 

This was spotted in an estate agency window. No direction, no explanation and covering the only info about the house that matters!

Codes that lead to non-mobile sites

Possibly the worst mistake of all. You've persuaded the viewer of the ad to get their phone and scan the code, then you send them to a page that hasn't been optimised for mobile. 

This ad from MI5 is a prime example of this. There's nothing wrong with the ad itself, but the landing page is terrible to view on a mobile screen...

Graham Charlton

Published 13 January, 2012 by Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton is the former Editor-in-Chief at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter or connect via Linkedin or Google+

2565 more posts from this author

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David Petherick

David Petherick, Head of Digital Marketing at First Vehicle Leasing

Some gems - made me smile, thanks Graham!

almost 5 years ago

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Robert Bain

Nine times out of ten when I see a QR code, they'd have been better off just including the url. Or nothing at all - if people want to look up the British Museum they're perfectly capable of Googling it. A lot of foggy-brained marketing people seem to have leapt on the QR bandwagon without really understanding what it is.

almost 5 years ago

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Liam Atkins

Seriously loving the Bromley footballers example! Major fail, but pretty funny.

I recently had a much heated debate into this one, business cards. Should you include a QR code or not? I still can't decide?!

almost 5 years ago

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Andrew Roberts

There is also a lot of malicious usage of qr codes popping up, directing users to spam sites or virus ridden sites

http://www.zdnet.com/blog/security/researchers-spot-pharmaceutical-spam-campaign-using-qr-codes/10023

almost 5 years ago

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Tom Davenport

QR codes are in their infancy. Or rather, QR codes are the early stages of a world which doesn't need barcodes.

Take Google Goggles, the project to recognise real world items.

What it, and similar projects, will eventually offer is the ability to scan your logo to go to your site (or wherever you please).

Once mobile processors are up to speed, it will be able to track every item 'on screen' in real time. That means mapping transparent digital layers to the real world, because the screen can finally orientate itself to your surroundings.

Of course, this kind of future tech won't be available for a few years. When it is, it will more likely be through specialised glasses - hence the 'Goggle's part of Google's side project. It makes you wonder about the name iPod too - will it become a real eyepod?

For now, let's just enjoy laughing at the humiliating era of QR codes as it pans out before us.

almost 5 years ago

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DMD

The image on the roof of a building is an image overlay in Google Maps, which probably cost somewhere in the region of $0.00.

Brandchannel need to get their facts straight.

almost 5 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

Great post, Graham!

Andrew Girdwood had a brilliant post a while back pointing out that many QR codes have been generated via bit.ly, so you can track the stats on them.

For example, you can see all of the (not very impressive) stats for one of the MI5 campaigns at https://bitly.com/kUgZOm+

The post is here: http://blog.arhg.net/2011/06/mi5-recruit-by-qr-code-and-bitly.html

dan

almost 5 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

(looks like you'll have to copy/paste that bitly link above, as the + on the end has been stripped from the clickable link)

almost 5 years ago

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Ronnie

great samples of wrong usage of qr-codes!

almost 5 years ago

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Nathan Budd

I think that QR Codes on both emails as given in the example above, as well as on business cards can be useful, but only when used in the right way.

I have a QR code on my website which when scanned by a phone adds all of my contact details to my phone as a vcard, and gives the user the option to save as contact. I find this highly useful when scanning a business card for example.

almost 5 years ago

Paul Wilkinson

Paul Wilkinson, consultant at pwcom.co.uk Ltd

I've seen the BBC London TV news also flashing up QR codes (too briefly to scan) on-screen, and - as James Cridland points out - see http://james.cridland.net/blog/where-qr-codes-fit-with-radio/ - it doesn't even point to a mobile-optimised website.

almost 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@ Dan That's a great idea. Just 274 click, though maybe one is the next James Bond;)

I'm going to be checking a few QR / bit.ly stats now.

almost 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

Actually, that's MI6 isn't it?

almost 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Nathan - that is actually a good use of QR on email, though I can't think of any others.

almost 5 years ago

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Will

Education is the key to all of this and trying to educate MArketing people who think they know it all is like pushing water up hill.

And Tom whilst I like the idea of pointing the phone and having it direct me to something as you say that tech is a long way off so I would say "keep driving your car as hoverboards are not here yet".

almost 5 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

@Will - trying to educate anyone who thinks they know everything is probably an uphill struggle. Being sniffy about 'marketing' people probably doesn't help you educate them in particular ;)

almost 5 years ago

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QR Code Lover Emiel

Really enjoyed your post!

For email signatures. A lot of people read email with a phone close.

My email signature QR says: Scan to add me to your phone contacts. Which it does.

Uberhandy up to me.

For links, I agree. why bother.

almost 5 years ago

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Steve O

Great list Graham - hopefully plenty of marketing folk will read it and take heed.

I don't agree with all of your points though. With the British Library poster, why didn't you point out how the url is also a "waste of time"? Everyone is very quick to deride the use of QR Codes seen on underground posters, but no one seems to say the same for the url usually sitting near it! If I was viewing the poster, I know I would rather pull out my phone and snap a picture of the QR Code to scan later than write down a url (that I might get wrong).

Non-mobile sites is the number one turnoff for users. Don't do it!

Another very important point - give the scanner something. They've taken the trouble to scan your code so don't send them to an advert or a standard site, reward them for their trouble!

almost 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@ Steve O Yes, in that context, the URL is a waste of time. At least it makes the poster equally useless whether you have a code reader or not.

almost 5 years ago

Rob Marsh

Rob Marsh, Customer Insight Manager at ao.com

Just a small item of correction - the QR code on the cookery show was actually Simon Hopkinson's 'The Good Cook' - not Nigel Slater.

If mistakes with QR codes such as these become too prevalent, then they'll become tarnished as a techy fad that isn't fit for purpose.

almost 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@Rob You're absolutely right. You obviously remember that fennel with parmesan ;)

almost 5 years ago

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Chris Gan

I compared the ways 2 supermarkets tackle the QR Code marketing in a blog post earlier in the year

http://www.internetlogistics.com/blog/online
/qr-codes-in-the-wild

The biggest mistake people make is linking these to sites that just don't work well on mobile devices, completly missing the point.

almost 5 years ago

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Fred C

I think you have really missed the point - some of these examples are PR stunts or adverts for QR scanning and are not intended to be working real world codes.
Plus, there is nothing wrong with using codes in digital media such as emails as you suggest. Yes, a simple URL may suffice, but once again if you are trying to educate people to scan then what is wrong with scanning from a webpage?

almost 5 years ago

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Depesh Mandalia, Head of Digital Marketing at Lost My Name

And what's wrong with a QR code on a building's roof? Just grab your helicopter and hover at a distance to make it just the right size to capture from your mobile. Isn't it obvious?! :-)

Great post for a bit of Friday humour!

almost 5 years ago

Mark McGee

Mark McGee, Director at InfoJuice Ltd

I've used a QR code on my business card to push people to my contact page and have set it up so that it rewards them with a discount on their first project with me. See my blog post for more details: http://www.infojuice.co.uk/tips-for-making-qr-codes-more-useful

Fair enough, the site isn't optimised for mobile yet, but the contact form should be clear enough on a decent smartphone.

almost 5 years ago

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Sanjay

I have seen an online display ad (banner) with a QR code in it. Similar to the example with the email, why will you scan a QR code with your mobile when you are watching it on a computer / mobile anyway?

almost 5 years ago

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Simon Barron

Nice article here and showing all the usual suspects.New QR Code Marketers really need to think first before implementing a qr code for the first time .

We have seen all the mistakes and know all th etricks to get maximum value from your qr code campaigns so if you want the experts to do it contact us at www.megascanz.com

almost 5 years ago

Pauline de Robert

Pauline de Robert, Product Manager at Foviance

QR codes in the Tube are not such a bad idea - you can always scan it and look it up later, the lack of immediate Web access does not make the scanning less useful, potentially: it is quicker than writing down a URL or even taking a picture of a URL on an interesting ad.

The problem is that often these codes are small and positioned on ads overhead in the train (makes you look a bit odd, holding the phone at arms' length, trying to stay still long enough to scan the thing...) or at the bottom of a poster in a corridor, where few people will stop to squat and scan...

almost 5 years ago

Peter Leatherland

Peter Leatherland, Online Sales Manager at Ethical Superstore

@dan barker @Graham Charlton just looked at the stats on the MI5 QR code, it's up to 301 now, your post seems to have given it a boost :-)

QR codes are a fantastic idea in theory just not that great in practice, I would find it easier on my phone to just type straight into the google search bar on my phone than scan with Google goggles. I can see their value for individual products which may have long URLs but not just to a homepage

almost 5 years ago

dan barker

dan barker, E-Business Consultant at Dan Barker

@peter- I imagine this will inadvertently lead to world war iv. Apologies everyone.

almost 5 years ago

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John Hutson

At last!

Been meaning to cover something along these lines. It does genuinely grind my gears when I see a QR code on the underground.

Some other fantastic examples above. Trouble is, it is deployment like this which may lead the QR Code to fail before it even has chance to become mainstream.

Be interesting to see if something else replaces this technology. Not sure if any smart phones currently have QR/Barcode scanners as a pre installed app.

almost 5 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Morning all,

I'm loving the reactions to QR codes in general across the industry. It's like marmite. I personally think QR codes can add value to marketing/communication campaigns, if planned intelligently. Same as any other call to action.

@dan - love the fact that now 60% of visits to the MI5 bit.ly are from Econsultancy. You might get a job offer soon:)

The market data shows that usage of QR codes is growing. As of Sept 2011, 11% of UK mobile audience had used a QR code. The global mobile audience is 6bn subscriptions, 59m in UK of which 16m access Internet via mobile device - so that's >1.6m in the UK. Importantly, only 2% of people who scanned a QR code said they wouldn't do it again (June 2011 research - sorry don't have source as my short term memory is rather poor!). September 2011 survey found that 70% people more likely to remember an advert with a QR code (via Econsultancy).

It's innovators and early adopters who drive adoption and increase market awareness. Some get in wrong, others jump on the bandwagon without thinking it through. They will potentially put people off but it doesn't mean there is no potential.

What's not wise is to make a decision without testing it for yourself. Of course there are some situations when using a QR code will achieve nothing but that is for the marketers to figure out and learn how best to use it.

I know a few B2B companies planning to use QR codes in the bid process to personalise uniform and dry tender documents to see if they can increase the interaction their audience has with their output and get better audience engagement. The whole point is they are looking at how a QR code can deliver benefits to both customers and the business. To that I say fair play and I'm glad that not everyone dwells on the negatives.

cheers
james

almost 5 years ago

Peter Leatherland

Peter Leatherland, Online Sales Manager at Ethical Superstore

@James Gurd I think you are right in saying they can add value to a marketing campaign and I would say they could be more useful outside marketing. The problem has been people adopting them because they heard they were the next big marketing thing and so executed them poorly, making the public less likely to warm to QR codes. Out of the examples in the post I actually think the estate agent one could be really useful if only it had been implemented properly, i.e. it tells people in clear language what it is, and lets you go to the property page on the site (which would be optimised for mobile) and let you save/bookmark the property into a list of them to come back to later.

The thing with the numbers you mentioned, I would be wary of statistics like that, “11% of UK mobile audience had used ‘a’ QR code” so they may have only used one or two but searched for a brand name/product on their phone 15-20 times after seeing an advert which would bring the usage percentage right down. Still they have their uses especially if you need to display lots of links/shortcuts to pages, like the Tesco Korea idea

almost 5 years ago

Sarah Alder

Sarah Alder, Managing Director at Cranmore Digital Consulting Ltd

Great list. I saw one on the back of a huge white lorry driving up the M6 one day in the central lane. I couldn't help it, I looked to my left, fully expecting to see another lorry driver coming alongside,leaning out of the cab and holding up a huge great iPhone to scan it.

Sadly, it didn't happen. Where IS Dom Joly these days?

almost 5 years ago

James Gurd

James Gurd, Owner at Digital JugglerSmall Business Multi-user

Not sure why poor implementations will cause the QR code to fail?

Social media mistakes haven't stopped social media from having success stories. Hashtag hijackers haven't stopped people using hashtags on Twitter.

Yes it might confuse a few people and/or make them think this code thing is stuff and nonsense, but it's not going to kill the potential.

@Sarah - the image of Dom Jolly leaning out the cab with a giant phone put a smile on my face. It would make a cracking TV ad and video. Then we could add a QR code to both:)

thanks
james

almost 5 years ago

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John Hutson

@James,

I think by saying the poor execution contributing to it failing is more based around the fact that this is a medium pushed solely by brands (with the rare exception of CV's maybe).

I agree that poorly executed Social Media activities haven't put people off using that medium, but brands arrived there second. People are there for people so would be inclined to stick with it if their friends do.

I guess the main thing that annoys me, is the ones that are just jumping on it with no thought to how powerful and effective it could be if used intelligently.

By allowing users to go to a non mobile friendly site, from a mobile friendly shortcut is just absurd and they deserve it to be a failure.

Likewise QR Codes in places where mobile internet use is not really possible (such as the underground). Yes it can be stored for later use, but are people going to remember? Think of how many bookmarks we save in our browser never to return.

almost 5 years ago

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Jim O, Social media guy at CSC

almost 5 years ago

Graham Charlton

Graham Charlton, Editor in Chief at ClickZ Global

@ Jim O - this isn't the first time we've written about QR codes and their drawbacks.

almost 5 years ago

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Colette S

Some great examples of how not to use QR codes. Why would anyone even think about using them on a website

almost 5 years ago

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Paul Ashton

@Collete S,,,, Because they might be useful. "Download our app" and a link to the app store on a website means I have to go to that same webpage page on my mobile just to click the link. Or rather, I won't bother.

almost 5 years ago

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Alice

I think the easiest way to add QR Code to the website is http://www.pageqrcode.com service. Just copy&paste HTML code.

about 4 years ago

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Dan Royce-Carl

There is one small thing missing from this post... QR codes are very insecure!

QR codes have been used to distribute malware in the past, so a little caution is advised.

about 4 years ago

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