Last week, I was in the airport, waiting for a flight from New Hampshire, and I saw a man wearing a t-shirt with a QR code. The text on the t-shirt said, “Decode This!” So I did. Boy, was I disappointed.
Scanning the QR code took me to a site hosted by some place called Pastebin. To a non-techie like me, it looked like a bunch of gobbledygook — nonsensical source code. I assumed it was a mistake. But after complaining about it repeatedly, I looked at it again. Then I Googled “pastebins” and discovered that such “bins” are common in Internet Relay Chat (IRC) environments where public pasting is a common thing. In this environment, Pastebin is a known entity.
Was this a public paste? If not, what was the point? I scanned down through the code and discovered that — it appears — a security systems company is sponsoring a contest that allows entrants to win $1,000 by following clues and decoding a puzzle. I had to scroll to the bottom of the screen where the press release was pasted (line by broken line) and there I started to piece together this puzzle of its own.
At first, I thought the t-shirt was part of the wearer’s attempt to win the prize. The more people who scanned the code, the more points he accumulated or something like that. But after reading the press release again (which was no small feat since it was in miniscule type on my iPhone), I saw that the contest was occurring at a trade show sometime later this year.
So what was the point of the QR code? Just to get people to read the release? When you consider the response rate to such a stark message, you’d think it would be very low. Especially with no clear incentive other than a public dare. At the same time, the people who are likely to scan the code simply for the sake of scanning it are more likely than average to be Internet techies, which is the market for the contest anyway.
So was this a good use of QR codes or not? It’s hard to say. But it does get people talking about it, which is — after all —a good thing. But it’s not a model for the average marketer to follow.