Changing Behavior, One QR Code At A Time

QR codes get a bad rap. Deservedly so. They’re everywhere and rarely add value. Marketers are primarily to blame for this. We force QR codes into places they shouldn’t be (as demonstrated by@WTFQRCodes). In addition to this, QR codes typically don’t guide people to contextually relevant experiences via smartphones. This is supported by the fact that 40% of QR codes in print ads drive people to brand homepages, which are oftentimes not even mobile-friendly (Competitrack).

Conceptually, the idea of bringing the offline and online worlds together by scanning a code is powerful. It’s hard for marketers to not be interested in this. In fact, we’re obsessed with the idea. There were more than 500,000 mentions of QR codes in social media over the past year (Sysomos). Mostly from marketers, to marketers. Not about how much people love QR codes. Here’s an example:

This tweet was retweeted more than 1,500 times. A not-so-subtle indication we continue to express doubt about whether or not QR codes are worth our time.

Despite the fact that most of these experiences don’t deliver on expectations, consumer usage of QR codes continues to increase. American’s use of QR codes increased 6 times from 2010 to 2011 (Competitrack). Today, 24% of consumers are reported as regularly using QR codes (2D Code) and at least 20 million of us are scanning QR codes once per month (comScore). These numbers will continue to increase with the exponential growth of smartphone users. In 2011, there was a 50% increase in smartphone users in the U.S. (eMarketer), with 66% of 24-35 year-olds now owning smartphones (Nielsen).

We may want to run from QR codes, but we can’t hide. At least not until QR codes go away and we can just scan objects with our phones, prompting an online experience. Until then, we owe it to ourselves to make the most out of them and focus on the benefits of connecting people’s online and offline worlds.

I recently had a positive experience with a QR code, which served as the inspiration for this post. It was with Mountain Hardwear, one of C+M’s recent client additions (note: our agency had nothing to do with the following example). Upon placing an order from their website, I was offered the option to use a pre-used box. When I received my order, there was a sticker on the front of the box calling out their reusable box program.

Intrigued by the idea, I scanned the QR code to see how far my box had traveled.

The trip to my house was the first journey for the reused box. The QR code introduced me to A Box Life, Columbia Sportswear’s Reused Box Program.

When you visit, you can see the total number of reused boxes, how many boxes have been tracked and total miles traveled. You can even see the top 5 most traveled boxes in the United States. To date, they’ve reused over 500,000 boxes that have traveled a total of 7,300,000 miles. Impressive. 

YES! A QR code that thoughtfully brought together my offline and online worlds. Mountain Hardwear seeded the idea during online checkout and the sticker on the box reinforced the message that peaked my curiosity. The QR code then introduced me to the bigger reused box program initiative. It made me feel better knowing I was contributing to the collective efforts being tracked at I wasn’t asked to do anything more than check a box to participate. A simple effort contributing to a bigger cause that’s shipped more than 500,000 reused boxes.

I remain skeptical of QR codes. But this experience has opened my mind to be more objective when thinking about what they can do, versus immediately dismissing their value. It’s easy to be a QR code hater. Like any other digital solution, QR codes are fair game as long as we’re asking why and thinking about how it can positively change the way people interact with a brand.