QR codes have been around for ages, but until recently the concept was plagued by two flaws: Lack of standardization for readers, and TERRIBLE design.
QR is standard and very useful for inventory, quality control, and other more industrial uses, but marketing is a different issue. No matter how appealing the destination on the other side of the code, getting someone to scan a boring black and white matrix of dots and shapes isn’t easy. Then put them all over magazines, billboards, food products, and more and they all start to blend together. For Japan, it’s a typical case of having a great concept and technology but bad implementation (a topic that we get into quite a bit in our domestic innovation projects). Thus, it wasn’t a complete surprise to us when QR codes were sexed-up with color and good design by SET Japan, a Japanese firm run by non-Japanese in Tokyo.
The idea is that, if you want a code to actually be useful whether it’s scanned or not (and actually encourage scanning), you need to put a bit more thought into it than just running a URL through a generator. Their collaboration with Takashi Murakami for Louis Vuitton (above) and Marc Jacobs showed how even luxury brands can fuse technology and mobile marketing with style.
If you looked at raw codes for Coke and Pepsi, they look essentially the same. Given that QR codes should, and are, appearing on all manner of printed materials as well as TV and the Web, designer codes help to stand out above the clutter and increase the likelihood that customers will scan. While it is crucial that the content or experience should be worthwhile, these codes are a gateway into the brand and should be treated as such.
In the Case of Moet & Chandon (above), even some action was incorporated into the design. It can work on its own, but still be useful for promotions and connecting people digitally in the right situation. There always needs to be a call to action, so the code itself isn’t enough.
Since their office in Shibuya is the floor below ours I’ve talked with SET quite a bit about QR and where it’s going from here. Their creative team had been looking at the black and white codes back in 2007 and trying to work out if they had to be so ugly. They started to play around with them and essentially “invented” the branded or designer QR code. Once the Louis Vuitton project happened, other brands started to come forward and they’ve created designer codes for countries throughout Europe, North America, Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and more recently in other parts of Asia.
Even in Japan where standard QR was born and eventually became stale, there’s a bit of a second wind going on with color and design as the old codes are replaced by brands. Obviously there are a lot of other technologies such as NFC/RFID that can bring people to online destinations, but most people don’t have compatible handsets and the hardware overhead is far over the cost of making a QR code (printing only). There are certainly a lot of people looking forward to the death of QR because it’s either too analog for their taste (scanning PAPER?) or they’re just sick of how terribly most brands use the technology. Personally I’d go for the latter. You know that something is wrong when people are posting QR codes on their homepages. As with anything, there are proper and improper ways of using QR.
We are big fans of codes at events, outdoor promotions and as part of contests. Just as ad spots have to do more to grab attention, codes should be doing the same, hence our championing of built codes – codes made out of physical objects. Being able to add the senses of sound, touch and even smell to promotional codes will encourage more people to scan them. Brands just need to make sure that there is something rewarding once they have scanned them, otherwise people will quickly tune out.