Early last month QR codes were in the news on the very same day for two very different reasons. First, there was the unveiling by global mobile payments firm Cellum of a breakthrough new form of the increasingly ubiquitous “quick response” machine-readable label. Meanwhile, an American social media and marketing “guru” named Scott Stratten released a new book entitled QR Codes Kill Kittens: How to Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business into the Ground.
Let’s talk about the kittens first.
As Stratten humorously asks, if you knew that your terrible business decisions could cost a kitten its life, would you still do it? And he uses the QR code to illustrate how often companies “kill kittens” by rushing to do something to connect with their customers without first determining that the customers will understand what’s going on, or otherwise have the ability to actually react. The book includes numerous silly examples of QR code misuse, including codes put on doors that are likely to be opened while potential customers are trying to scan them, and even a company that paid for an airplane to drag a banner with a giant QR code across the sky.
Aside from such obvious “fails” the book asks whether QR codes are inherently bogus as marketing tools, since even when used appropriately – such as on an event poster – only a small number of people will ever scan them. Stratten, however, concludes that QR codes aren’t intrinsically bad, just too often used in the wrong way, and in general a bit ahead of their time. In other words, QR codes don’t kill kittens, only poorly-used QR codes.
But Stratten’s darkly humorous use of the Internet’s most beloved “mascot” raises another, even more interesting question. Could misuse of QR codes and criticism of the technology itself be reaching a peak akin to an Internet meme that has run its course?
This takes us back to the unveiling of Cellum’s new technology, which took place in Las Vegas at Money2020, the annual conference for the payment industry. As the video above shows, so-called “motion QR” allows for the creation and use of dynamic QR codes that changes every tenth of a second.
But as cool as motion QR looks, it is far from a marketing or promotional gimmick. Instead, it is a model of function over form, with the additional information embedded in the dynamic codes allowing for essentially copy- and forgery-proof storage and presentation of ID cards, tickets and other sensitive information.
So while we are now seeing a widespread negative reaction to QR codes, this may actually be the point when the technology is poised to live up to its earlier hype – and to become an ever-present and long-lasting feature of our daily lives.
And speaking of long-lasting, last week came word of research into tungsten-based QR codes that can be used instead of traditional storage technologies like hard disk drives, which have an average lifespan of just a decade or so. Indeed, according to researchers, even at extreme temperatures, the codes could last for millions of years, truly putting today’s anti-QR chatter in perspective.