The big mobile marketing attention-getter on Twitter yesterday was “Why QR Codes Won’t Last,” a blog post by Jon Barocas on Mashable.com.
John brings up some great points about the limitations of QR codes in favor of what he proposes to be its replacement, visual mobile search. The main problem with QR codes is that not very many consumers seem to know how to use them.
Before we jump into the future, though, let’s take a look at the past to find out why QR codes are accepted in their home country of Japan.
The QR code was invented and patented (yes, patented) by Denso Wave, a division of Toyota. It was designed for the automotive industry, but the patent was not enforced in order to allow widespread acceptance. In my interactions with other mobile developers, I’ve had the good fortune to correspond with two other Americans who lived and worked in Japan as mobile developers. They told me about QR codes long before I saw my first one here. QR codes are no longer a novelty in Japan, and their use is widespread.
I am based in San Diego, California, and QR codes are everywhere here. We even have surf shops where every single item has its own barcode. When I travel, I notice almost every airport sign has a QR code and they are starting to creep into the advertisements in the inflight magazines, too.
So, if marketers are so excited about QR codes, why aren’t people using them like they do in Japan?
The missing piece of the puzzle is, of course, education. Most American consumers don’t know what a QR code is or how to use it. In Japan, DoCoMo, the Japanese telecom, sponsored full television advertising campaigns. Yes, DoCoMo paid to teach people how to use them.
Here is an example of a Japanese QR Code commercial. If you can’t see it embedded, here is the direct link: : www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxFR6r-Dqk4
It seems the obvious answer is that if marketers want consumers to do more than look confused while contemplating a QR code, they are going to need to step up to the plate and show America (and other countries) how to use them.