QR Codes Gone Bad

By BKV in Mobile on September 8th, 2011

Don’t put your cQRt before your horse.

Suppose you were walking to the coffee shop and saw a phone number written on a wall.  Or better yet – a phone number eagerly written on a sketchy bathroom stall – with no explanation, no call to action, just those ten measly digits… would you simply take out your phone and call for a good time?

       “Hello, this is Roger and I’m glad to be able to offer you platypus insurance at an amazingly shocking rate
       of only $400 a month! How would you like to pay?”

       “What? I just saw your number and called it.”

       “Great!  So glad you called.  How would you like to pay for your platypus insurance?  Visa?  MasterCard? 
       Or just go ahead with your bank account number – I can handle the rest.”

       “I don’t even have a platypus!  I only have Whiskers, my cat.”

       “Fantastic! That’s not a problem.  We’ll simply give you Platty the platypus when you make your
       first payment!”

       “I don’t want a platypus.  Are you even allowed to own a platypus?  Are you soliciting illegal pet adoption?”

       “They make great pets, and they’re deadly poisonous! C’mon, what’s the name on your VISA or
       MasterCard card? Account number? Expiration date?”

       “Err…..” –click-

Apparently, many companies assume you would take out your phone, blindly dial a random number and proceed to actually buy something!  They are throwing QR codes out into the public view without context, instruction, offer or option. To further my point, I’ll assume some readers may not even know what I’m talking about!  Some may be asking themselves, what in the world is a QR code?


This fancy picture above is alternately referred to as a: QR code, 2D code, Datamatrix code, Microsoft Tag, Bee Tag and around 50 other variations as technologists (and marketers) vie for marketshare.

A QR code is undecipherable to the human eye.  It’s not like a web site URL, which can convey general meaning. Eg: best-platypus-insurance.com.  And a savvy marketer would never put a great URL out in the world alone without at least a brief description of the product or service.

Okay, so now back to the random phone number. This time, you see the number attached to a note that says “For the best and most affordable platypus insurance, call 1-800-Platypus now!”

OMG! Just what you’ve been searching for!  You own Paul the platypus, and you know first-hand what a liability he can be! Devious Paul has already destroyed the sofa, poisoned Aunt Mildred and chewed up your new fall boots!  This is perfect! You quickly rip your phone out of your Levi’s, punch in the platypus insurance hotline, and hear…

Somebody reading Swedish poetry, backwards…

Great.  Just great.  You yell, “Hi, I need platypus insurance right now!”

“Gruenfleck nutgesdern”

Again, blinking your sweat-stung eyes, “I need platypus insurance bad!  Paul is such a menace!”

“Flargen murt blorten.”

With a shiver, you hang up, knowing you’ll never be truly happy again.

Here’s the thing, even companies that get the right advice and put context, instruction and calls to action around their QR codes are failing at the next crucial, most obvious step.

When somebody scans a QR code with their smartphone, guess what… they are using a smartphone!

Why do so many organizations send QR code links to pages that are not optimized for mobile devices?

That’s what my grandfather would call “Stupid as a one sided clam.”

Case in point.


I saw this great, visually stimulating poster, with a handy-dandy QR code… and I’m really smart, so I knew what the code was for.


A very cool QR code indeed, even branded with a logo!


But, here’s the kicker. The QR code brought me here to this non mobile optimized site! Oh, you’re killing me! I can’t read that!

So here’s the way you SHOULD do it:

Give specific directions on how exactly to use the code.

Make the benefits of using the code relevant to Smartphone users.

Explain what will happen when the code is scanned.

Give those without code readers another viable option, like a short URL.

And for the love of clams everywhere, make the link results mobile optimized!


Wow! This QR code from Amex sure is snazzy, informative and EVEN BETTER… 


…Leads to mobile, device specific results.

Basically, when someone in desperate need of platypus insurance because Paul or Patty the platypus is wreaking havoc decides to call a phone number advertising platypus insurance, you should speak to them about platypus insurance - in a language and format they can respond to.  Exactly like when somebody snaps a QR code using a Smartphone, you should take them to a Smartphone optimized page in a format fit for their specific device.

Listen, you can help. Start snapping QR codes and note where they take you.  If it’s not mobile-optimized, let the company know. Tell them that they are slowing the adoption of this wicked-cool technology by throwing meaningless junk out there. Tell them to speak with their marketing group. Tell them to call BKV! This is a serious issue. Serious as Paul, the uninsured, Aunt Mildred killing platypus.

Together, we can make the world a better place, one QR code at a time…