The Cardinal Sin of QR Codes Alive and Well

By on December 6th, 2012

Every now and then, I hear people ask what they need to do in order to use QR Codes successfully. There are lots of do’s and don’ts, but there is one cardinal sin that spells disaster every time. It is the “worst of the worst,” and from it there is no recovery — and Target Marketing magazine fell victim to its wiles in its September issue.

It was the Top 50 Mailers issue and the QR Code was in the upper right-hand corner of the cover. Prime real estate. It had a catchy text above it “Q&A: What Shaped Direct Mail in 2012?” and a bit.ly link for non-QR-scanners below it.  I scanned the code and here is what I got:

Yup — the link went to a non-existent page.

That’s worse than sending people to the wrong page. At least from a wrong page, they could navigate somewhere helpful if they really wanted to. But where do you go from here?

It just goes to show you that even the best get caught in the simplest mistakes sometimes. So if you are creating QR Codes to insert into your clients’ marketing materials, you might want to take the time to scan them yourself before you send the file to print. If you are printing a file with a QR Code that someone else inserted . . . you might want to take the time to scan the code, too. Even if you just scan it off the screen.

You never know. You might end up saving your client from some key embarrassment and end up the hero.

[Update: As Adam Dewitz pointed out in the comments below, the error message I received was not an incorrect page but another server-related issue. As pointed out by Target Marketing's editor-in-chief, Thorin McGee, the magazine did test the code and it worked during the tests. Indeed, when I re-scanned it today, it worked fine. So the point of the article stands, even if this particular example was a bit — please excuse the pun — off-Target.]

Be Sociable, Share!

    7 Responses to “The Cardinal Sin of QR Codes Alive and Well”

    1. Adam Dewitz Says:

      Based on the error message, you weren’t directed to non-existent page. A 502 error means the server wasn’t able to return the page you requested. Possibly due to overload or a crashed server.

      The cardinal sin here is they didn’t configure their server to handle the error in a more graceful manner… with a human friendly message.

    2. Patrick Whelan Says:

      Informative article and a informative comment. Thanks!

    3. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Says:

      @Adam. Bummer! It was funnier the way I wrote it. But just goes to show that the destination page issue can be more complicated than people might think.

    4. Thorin McGee Says:

      Hmm. Now that’s news to me. The QR Code works fine on my phone, and it worked on the phones we tested on before we sent the cover to the publisher. There is a bit.ly link right under it that will still take you to the story if the QR Code fails: http://bit.ly/top50qa . It’s still there if you’d still like to read it. I am sorry for the inconvenience and thank you for bringing it to my attention.

      I think we all understand the importance of testing and checking our links, but links also fail, temporarily, all the time. It could even be an issue with the QR Code scanner. (Notice it’s redirection through “r-nigma,” The server fault could be there and the scanner reads it’s inability to redirect as the end site being down.) Is that really a sin of QR Code usage, or just a hazard of Internet life? Emails get lost to spam filters or less obvious misdirections, display ads fail to load. Even postal mail is not 100% guaranteed delivery—catalogs get shredded all the time before they hit a mailbox.

      Should marketers let risks like that stop them from using new channels like QR Codes?

      Cheers,
      -Thorin McGee
      Editor-in-Chief
      Target Marketing

    5. Robert Says:

      Thank you Heidi for this educational article, the more that learn the correct way of using the advantage of the QR Code the better we all will do.

    6. Scott Tilden Says:

      …”Check QR codes before print”…goes on the long, “traditional” list that includes “dial all phone numbers personally before print.”

      Good advice.

    7. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Says:

      Hi, Thorin.

      Thanks for your response and giving us a look behind the curtain how Target Marketing tested the QR Code. As the first commenter pointed out, I misunderstood the error message and thought it was a non-existent page, so it was really a different issue than I originally raised. I think this is what scares many printers away from QR Codes — the unknown. Even if you think you got everything right, things can still go wrong. As you say, a hazard of anything related to mobile and Internet, not QR Codes themselves.

      I did re-scan your QR Code and today, it went to the destination page, so as Adam pointed out, it was a temporary glitch.