2D Codes: A Marketing Tragedy – Act I

Have QR codes gone the way of Tybalt? Dispatched out of anger by marketers who disappointedly were dealt a plague on their messaging houses? It’s possible.
As we wrap up Q1 of 2013, here is what I have found to be the most popular topics marketers are talking about:
  • Big Data, Responsive Design
  • Digital Strategy, Data Strategy, Making Analytics Actionable
  • Mobile Email, Messaging in general (content, triggers, cadence, engagement rates, etc)
  • Weather (it is that weird transitional time between seasons, after all)
  • Channel Tactics (includes SMS, email, location-based services, QR codes, and others)
  • Not surprisingly, comparing year over year, I can attest that 2D barcodes have dropped precipitously in popularity as the “New, Hot, Game Changing” thing that everyone wants to deploy and know everything about.

    This tactic once held the top spot in my charts from 2009-early 2012.

    Despite many a salacious headline, their death (as with email, SMS, print, and other channel options) have been greatly exaggerated. Don’t forget that when you use them right, these codes work.

    Looking back, 2D codes were a marketer’s dream. They offered the ability to deliver smart extensions of a brand experience. They brought old media to life, made previously dormant surfaces “clickable” and “trackable.” The streets began to flow with little black and white squares. But something was rotten in the state of Denmark.

    The likeability path of the 2D code, much like a Shakespearean plot, is fairly gruesome and it seems only practical marketers have been spared the flogging and disappointment afforded the masses. In the search for a causal relationship, it may help some (where my English majors at?) to consider The Bard’s work and how we’ve devolved it over time. Many lines filling his famous folios have been accepted for their fame but have been used inappropriately or inaccurately in actuality.

    Think back to arguably the most famous of Shakespeare lines. How many commercials, TV shows, and movies have we seen where the line “Wherefore art thou…” is used wistfully by a fair maiden looking over a balcony for someone or something (actually used as “where for art thou…”).

    Most scholars agree, the actual beauty of the words is in the anguish Juliet is feeling as she wonders “Why must my true love be a Montague!?”. She didn’t even know he was there. It’s twisted you see, twisted by inaccurate common use and over-entitlement. Made true by perception becoming reality and covered over by layers of time and further misuse.

    “Marketers at some time are masters of their fates;
    The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our marketing tools,
    But in ourselves, that we are underlings.”

    Consequently, QR codes have an image problem. Here are some of my top reasons why:

    1. Accessibility was more bane than boon, as many of the early adopters didn’t think the opportunity through. It didn’t cost much to generate a code and point to a website, so little value was placed on a readily available commodity.
    2. Success was judged by bad or meaningless metrics (total scans, percentages of audited readership, similar campaigns by a similar brand, or the always elusive “buzz”).
    3. Even before they arrived, they were dead. They were going to succumb to NFC, watermarking, augmented reality, Touchcode, RFID, maybe even “smellivision”?

    Those high-profile deployments were actually high-profile failures. They were lauded as a yet-to-be-defined success, and copied repeatedly by eager marketers ill prepared for the programmatic vs. campaign-based thinking that is proving to be where much value resides. Chalk another one up to marketing getting a bit ahead of itself. Early investments (in this case reputation and expectation more than financial) didn’t return so practitioners were burned and a pox was earned.

    Daresay before you, my marketing kinsmen, bite your thumb at these codes, I pray thee stay tuned for my next post where I shall dispatch a ready cure.

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