Places You Should Never Put QR Codes

By | August 29, 2014

“I love the idea of QR Codes, except their implementation is terrible.”

This is the assessment of Scott Stratten, super-geek, keynote speaker, and author whose hilariously funny discussions of technology and marketing were brought to my attention by Chuck Gehman, who posted a link to one of his videos in the comments section (thanks, Chuck!).

(If you didn’t watch the video on how not to use QR Codes, watch it here.)

It’s true. QR Codes are great tools for marketers, but they can use them in really dumb ways. Here are 9 illustrations given by Stratten on how marketers should not use QR Codes:

  • In airplane magazines where cellphone service is not allowed
  • On billboards on the side of the freeway (‘Motion plus distance does not equal good scanning!”)
  • Taking people to a video that says, “Not playable on a mobile device.”
  • On banners pulled by airplanes on the beach. (“Come back here! I want to scan your nonfunctioning code!”)
  • In emails. (“The email comes here [front of phone]. The camera . . . is here [back of the phone].”)
  • Placing them on websites where, when scanned, they take the viewer back to the website.
  • On posters placed behind permanently installed steel bars at the mall.
  • On mall doors that open when you stand in front of them to scan them.
  • On pet tags. (“If you see a lost pet, you are supposed to stop what you are doing, grab it by the neck, and hold it down until you can focus your phone. Have you ever tried to hold down a CAT???”)

Concludes Stratten: “All I’m asking is for you to think before you do. It sounds like a drug prevention message, but it’s applicable to QR Codes.”

That is an interesting concept that would go a long way toward resolving the “Nobody uses QR Codes” issue we hear discussed so much. Use them badly and people will stop using them. The problem isn’t QR Codes. It’s the lack of thought behind them.

Let’s think before we do!

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5 thoughts on “Places You Should Never Put QR Codes

  1. John Leininger

    I attended Scott’s presentation at Dscoop last year; if you look at enough of his posted YouTube videos you have seen his keynote presentation. I actually am not a big fan, his message is simple—“Bad Marketing is dumb.” I cannot argue with that, but he is picking on QR codes and too many people get the idea (from his presentation that they are not effective—he talks negative for an 58 minutes and some subtle point has three sentences that say they are great if used right). What I found most people walk away from his presentation hearing is QR codes are bad. They are not, again if used right. If I were giving a Keynote on marketing, I would focus on the right way to use QR codes. The key is knowing your audience. We did a campaign that had a QR code and the URL to the same web page under the QR code (this is one of the best practices of using QR codes) and expected most of the visits to the web page would be from the QR code, but it was totally the opposite. We thought we knew our audience, but we did not.

    In Scott’s ranting he talks about having a QR code on a ad in the subway and how there is no signal—I have been in four major cities and in all four there was a signal in the subway station. When I am waiting 10 minutes for the next train, that is a good time for QR code. And if it is the train car, I know I can click it when I get to a station (and I have done this).

    Do not get confused about the value QR codes, there are alternative that are becoming more popular, but people now know what QR codes do and if you give them a good reason, in a good place, they are awesome.

    Scott is not talking about QR codes, he is talking about marketing—stay focused. If you would like my list of “18 Best Practices for e-Mobile Triggers” send me an email at and I will send you a copy. Marketing should be positive and teaching people about marketing should be positive as well.

    Marketing and print go together, but it takes planning whether you are using a QR code, cross media, variable data, etc.

    You can also look at my rebuttal to Scott Stratten’s YouTube—“QR Codes do not Kill Kittens” at

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Walker

    Two things came to mind when reading your response.

    First, his schtick ragging on QR Codes is funny. Really funny, and it probably gets him a lot of keynote speaking engagements. So from his perspective, if you find something that gets you lots and lots of keynote gigs, you stick with it. I see him as more comedian than marketer.

    Second, I would hope that anyone with a decent marketing sense would not come away from his presentations thinking QR Codes are bad. At least to me, it’s clear that he’s talking about poor use, and while admittedly staying away from good use, it still clear that these are QR Codes used badly and his comments should not be taken to reflect on QR Codes as a whole.

    If they do take it that way, then that shows a severe lack of critical thinking . . . but then again, that’s what he’s ranting against in the first place.

  3. Chuck

    Scott’s “unmarketing” is incredibly effective. He absolutely does know his audience.

    Frankly, there are zillions more examples of terrible use of QR codes beyond his, which are obviously irrefutably bad.

    In fact, perhaps incredibly, I was handed my key at the Dscoop hotel in a little envelope, that had a QR Code on it, which had the copy below it”

    “Mobile Check-In Exclusively at Marriott Hotels”

    I did a double take, and said to myself, “Wait a minute, I’m already checked in… I have the key…”

  4. John Leininger

    I have to say, it was different watching an hour of his discussion as opposed to a short YouTube video. I agree Scott is funny, but I have met more than a few people (at two different events) that have actually missed his point of his session. Maybe they do not understand marketing in the first place (that actually is a big problem in our industry).

    I certainly think people are doing crazy things with QR codes, but there are great ideas we can spread. My favorite for the hotel (I think the one on the door key Chuck mentioned is ridiculous too) is having a QR code for the channel line-up on the cable TV. How many time have you been in a hotel and the list of channels is in a binder that is years old and is not right anymore (this would be easy for them to update). I also could think of ten better things they could have used the QR code on the key for, that what we need to be spreading. This would be a great solution. It is a tool and you need to use it right, you might be able to bang a nail into a piece of wood with a screwdriver, but it would take longer and probably mess of the surface (I would also point out that if you use the right tool, the hammer, you can still mess up the wood if you do not do it right). Execution is critical in whatever we do.

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