I was with a group of my college buddies visiting from out of town, many of whom had never been to or even possessed any working knowledge of Miami outside of a particular Will Smith song. As we walked around Miami’s Financial District – where I call home – my friend, an engineer, questioned rather eloquently:
“What do those white and black squares everywhere actually do?”
I refrained from answering, knowing full well what was in store just around the block.
As we turned the corner into a large open lot crawling with food trucks – a staple in Miami’s burgeoning street food scene – each truck had those “white and black squares” (read: a QR Code) attached in some fashion.
I began explaining these little boxes and the content that should be uploaded to them in hopes of justifying their excessive presence throughout our urban landscape, overly extolling the exploration that lay waiting within each square. Without further delay – and subsequent cooling of our food truck tacos – I took a quick scan with my trusty QR reader app.
I was ready to blow my friend’s mind; I literally held the future in my hands.
Then something unexpected happened…
A desktop website. Facebook pages. Twitter profiles. I was left holding a bag of mediocre execution that seemed to bury the technology in the eyes of my already skeptical friend.
Not one code offered a reason why my buddy would ever be interested in scanning one of these digital graveyards. Seeming more Escher than Einstein to my mathematically gifted pal, I thought to myself, “How on earth could I right this wrong?”
Upset, confused, and still slightly hungry, I decided to set out on a quest to challenge myself. I would scan every single QR Code I passed in my neighborhood, the neighborhood where I worked, and any extras I found along the way for an entire day.
I knew this would actually be quite a frenzy.
Bus stops were to be passed, condos needed to be shilled, coasters needed to be relieved of their twelve ounce paperweights. This was not an effort to boost QR Code’s monthly usage, but rather an experiment of content, time, and most importantly, of pride.
I start each day with a quick walk to a local pastry spot, followed by a quick run to Starbucks before heading to the office. After work, I head to a pub, oyster bar or whichever establishment has the lights on.
The following is a true story. Names have been removed to protect the innocent.
Code One: “Chamomile”
As I passed multiple bus stops en route, the first QR Code appears in the wild. I felt like I was playing the Nintendo 64 game “Pokemon Snap”.
This code’s ad copy – cut out of the silhouette of a running business man’s briefcase – promised a “relaxing, lifestyle experience”.
I paused to scan.
The irony of the situation apparent, this ad’s target demographic would have already sped past the sign without a second to scan, hustling to make their next meeting.
Alternatively, perhaps there was an all-briefcase relay race they would be participating in.
I received a website that prompted me to enter another website. So far, so “eh” – but I’m the sporting type. I enter the site and am greeted by a wall of text. Stress relief, proven tactics, and a discount if I mention scanning the QR Code.
At this point you must be asking yourself, “What the hell is the service?”
I could not tell you.
After a paragraph of new age buzzwords – and the liberal use of the word “chamomile” – it was all too much.
Wait, I take that back.
Perhaps that’s what it was trying to tell me all along.
Code Two: Flaky Frustration
It is now pastry time; flaky and delicious. Much deserved after my altercation with the previous code. As I frequent this establishment, I was familiar with the menu and its predominantly displayed quick response code. Having never scanned it before, now was the time.
I grabbed the menu, took my phone out, opened the app. Customers in line behind me looked on quizzically – or with annoyance – as I scanned the code on the menu.
The impossible happens.
It takes me to a digital version of the menu. How could this be?
While I attempted to convince myself that this was done to avoid folks opening up their flashlight app in a low lighting condition – blinding another customer from across the bistro in the process – it hit me.
This place closes at 2PM.
This code simply brings up the menu on your phone accessed via the menu. Xzibit meme joke aside, the lesson learned is clear:
QR Codes are not a spectacular vehicle for demonstrating the concept of a Mobius Strip.
Code Three: Caffeine, I mean, Starbucks
I waited in line for my red eye and pocketed my phone – if only for a brief moment – as another code reaches my retina. Surely this would be much better than those previous efforts.
The scannable was attached to a bracelet fundraising effort to create jobs for the USA.
I was intrigued.
Where would this code take me, and what stories would it share?
I was not disappointed as a website optimized for mobile – finally!!! – opened up with options to view a digital short on the project, experience the success stories of the campaign, read the stories and ideas of the community, and even contribute my own.
Not too shabby at all.
I’d found three codes just to find a truly engaging one.
I had almost lost hope, as this experiment closely resembled a digital version of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
On to Work
We have a custom QR Code on our door, but I won’t get in to that as we designed and created the content behind it. Moving on.
Code Four: Lunch
Or: How My Italian Grandmother Will Never Forgive Me
A fantastic part of the day, as I’m finally able rest my eyes from staring at a 15 inch screen all day. Lunch affords me the opportunity to slow down (read: catch up) by staring at a four inch screen. I dined at an Italian restaurant known for its exotic pasta dishes and home design-heavy elements.
I skimmed through the bilingual menu, knowing full well that I would be ordering my usual rigatoni al dente.
Sadly, this would not be a wet lunch, as my previous attempt at replicating Mr. Draper ended my dreams of ever fully accepting neat whiskey into my life. However, I was not out of the ad game entirely, as there was an addition to this particular menu:
A shiny new QR Code.
Intrigued, I wondered what immersive experience could be behind such a delicious code. I scanned and was instantly greeted by a video of the chef preparing the latest special.
A digital piece that offered an informed dining decision.
I could see the ingredients – an important note, considering there were many that I could not pronounce (sorry grandma) – the preparation, and ultimately, the completed dish.
This deep in my quest, I was relieved by actually being offered some value. Granted, it would have to be changed frequently, considering content has about the same shelf life as an eatery’s ingredients.
I hate myself for that observation.
I felt the need to take a breather.
I had scanned codes on various mediums in a multitude of places, discovering the good, the bad and the absolutely ghastly. But with these results, would my extensive scanning efforts retroactively convince my pal that QR Codes are actually worth the trouble?
Code Five: Dinner, Drinks and Disappointment
And: I swear this is still about QR Codes
I chose the pub after work, a goliath of an establishment complete with Irish fare right down to the island’s quaint, traditional soundtrack. You know, Flogging Molly.
Regardless, I order a dish that could be considered the potato version of Inception and what can only be described as a slice of the heartiest ale available.
Pint poured, I reach for a coaster emblazoned with information regarding a domestic beer’s mobile application. I place my beverage next to the absorbent advertisement to investigate.
The app, in a nutshell, helps inebriated fellows get a cab home.
Great job, beer producer I won’t name!
Although one thing was missing:
A QR Code.
This seems like an especially worthwhile spot for our quick response friend.
Take me directly to the app store so I can download your app so I can just get me home.
To make a long post even longer, how about a quick blurb about what we’ve learned:
1. Have some “strategery”
QR Codes are not just there to be thrown about next to the now obligatory Facebook “f” icon. Make sure it furthers your brand’s narrative in a way people actually care to follow.
2. Speak the language of content
Are you producing something that could actually live on its own? If the answer is no, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
3. Go all in or just stay at home
Create a series. Offer consumers the ability to change the next part of the digital adventure through their interaction. Build a community of storytellers that will keep returning to updated content.
4. Build a bridge
If that certain opportunity arises where a QR Code may act as a bridge, by all means run across it. The opportunity for the obvious eludes even brands with the most eyes upon them.
5. Layer the experience
When utilized effectively and appropriately with an eye toward the overall strategy of a campaign, QR Codes are actually a great way to add additional layers to your project.
Like beef topped with cilantro, jalapeño and onion.