QR Codes: The Silent Killer of Your Brand

Thirty-three and counting…and so far, none of them are working. While the printer’s promotion I received definitely could have benefitted from the help of a seasoned designer, the overuse of QR codes ultimately caused its swift demise.

But worse than 33 QR codes, the first five I tried didn’t even work (under any lighting condition) and caused the promo and thus the printer’s reputation to take its mighty fall.

This couldn’t happen to you, you say. You test your QR codes thoroughly. Admirable as this may be, you still may not be out of the woods.

“About 80 percent of the time, I’m disappointed that I scanned [the QR code],” Michael Hellesen says in a BusinessWeek article. And Michael is not alone.

QR code fatigue

We’ve reached a point where even fruit in the grocery store is sporting a QR code…at least my strawberries, blueberries and raspberries are. The QR code on the package says, “check us out.”

I’m nothing if not curious (and ever one to follow the beckoning trail of a mysterious QR code) so I decided to see where this one would lead me. Happily, the code actually worked. Sadly, I ended up in the land of disenchantment. Here’s why.

1. Bad pick-up lines make my eyes roll.
As cute as my berries were, they should have said something a little more alluring, more original than “Check us out.” Pretty lame—right up there with naked QR codes (those that have no call to action at all.)

But I still had hope and scanned anyway. I arrived at the mobile page, and my strawberries invited me to like them on Facebook. Really…maybe I’m behind the times a bit here, but why would I like my groceries? Wouldn’t it be better to show me a delicious recipe I could make?

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  • Jessica Gutowski

    I’m glad you wrote this. I started a thread on my Facebook account the other day and the vast majority said QR codes, although fun & engaging, were a fad and not a trend.

    I have seen a work of art where the artist put a QR code in it and it lead to info on the artist and price of the piece. It has been the coolest I have seen.

  • Daniel Mondragon

    yeah… that´s marketing anyway. I agree, the campaign must be interesting, and has to be done by professionals

  • Eddy Hagen

    The best QR code I’ve seen, was an add in the GraphExpo catalog a few years ago, which triggered an SMS message with a predefined text to schedule an appointment with one of the sales people.

    But I have to agree: many QR codes don’t work. We at VIGC have done a lot of testing with QR codes. And although it has improved (in Belgium that is), still a lot of QR codes aren’t reabable with an average smart phone. And that’s probably the reason: many designers have an iPhone,which has an excellent camera and is capable of a very close focus. But most device haven’t. So if you test your QR codes with the best device available, it might work. But only for those best device. You should test de QR codes with the worst device you can find.

    And also a lot of implementations don’t bring any added value. What’s the use of just putting a link to your regular website (not even the mobile website!) on it?

    You can do a lot of really neat things with QR codes. But you have to do it the right way (including the technical piece: getting it printed the right way).

  • MertensD

    QR codes are perfect to make printed matter interactive. But triggering curiosity is most important. The best QR code I’ve seen was on a 20store high building by a lingerie brand…"if you want to see the lady, scan the code" :-).
    The worst QR code are all those that you see everywhere in magazines and adds only leading to websites… and to Eddy’s point… if they work. They should be relevant, trigger, offer something usefull and work!


    QR codes are fantastic, but of course, when they are used right! It’s a great way to make a printed piece interactive, but you need a viable reason for the consumer to scan the code. I love QR codes that lead you to a chance to win something or let you download coupons. Scanning them is well worth my time!

  • bbknowsprint

    The worst I’ve ever seen was for a restaurant who was trying to build their email list. The QR code was naked on a promo piece on the table and led me to their website. I was already in the restaurant, and the website had no extra information for me. This really was a case of just slapping a QR code on the promo piece for the sake of having one.

  • Maria Pavletic

    If your not one of the 1 billion active smartphone users around the world, a QR code might not interest you. But, why have major U.S. businesses begun using QR codes in advertising and promotions? QR codes are everywhere. QR codes allow advertisements, brochures, posters – even clothing or billboards – to direct users to mobile landing pages that contain much more information and interactivity.
    This integration between print and web via mobile adds a new dimension of communication to any marketing or outreach effort.
    Just about any type of organization can use QR Codes in their marketing materials. Whether you’re a retail business, a nonprofit organization, a membership association or educational institution , if a portion of your target audiences use smartphones (and most do today), then a QR Code can be a great way to differentiate yourself and reach people in new ways. If they got you there..they did their job.

  • Roger Buck

    We use QR’s in magazine ads and other areas as a means to at least monitor traffic interest. Similar to using dedicated toll free numbers in the past. In the coming months we will be using them to link to videos or a new brand campaign we are creating.

    One of the best codes I’ve read about was made of wood in front of a restaurant. At noon the sun shadow created the code and the scan produced a coupon for a discount off a noon lunch on that day. The campaign was design to boost lunchtime sales. The only issue were cloudy days but the concept was sound.