Theresa Walker is a senior editor at CURRENTS. She covers the communications and marketing beat for the magazine.
I began thinking about the need to include a CURRENTS article about QR codes after I started seeing them pop up more frequently last year in the catalogs I received in the mail, on tourism ads in Washington, D.C., metro stations and in the pages of The Washington Post. (This Poynter Institute article about using QR codes to drive traffic to newspaper content offers useful tips for anyone looking into using QR codes.)
I came across some interesting and not very user-friendly examples. Sears ran one in TV commercials during its holiday ad campaign last December and is, to my mind at least, still the most notably useless example. I paused my TV and tried several times, unsuccessfully, to scan the code. I don’t know how many other people made an attempt, but I can’t imagine that there were too many.
A couple of months later, I saw an interesting newspaper ad for a Picasso exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. A portrait of the artist was rendered entirely in QR codes. It was a cool concept, but it wasn’t as easy to scan as I thought it would be. And once the code successfully scanned, it was a bit of a letdown because it took me to the VMFA’s regular website rather than a mobile website or video. I felt kind of like Ralphie in the movie “A Christmas Story” after he successfully decoded the message with his new Little Orphan Annie decoder ring.
These and other experiences with QR codes led to the article “QR Codes: Use Them … or Lose Them?” in the October Issue of CURRENTS. The article offers two points of view on the topic.
Pro—Chuck Cunningham outlines the experiences of the University of Guelph, one of the first institutions in Canada to use the codes in student recruitment. He explains how, through the use of QR codes, the university successfully created a media buzz designed to raise the university’s profile and, ultimately, increase the number of applicants to Guelph.
Con—Cassie Dull of the Park Tudor School in Indiana, on the other hand, believes that while QR codes have great potential, they currently aren’t that valuable because they:
- are too much work for users and don’t provide enough value.
- need a strong message behind them to make them effective; they are just a tool and require a strong communications plan.
- are trendy but there’s no real proof that they make a difference.
With so many available methods for generating free QR codes, it’s easy and inexpensive to test whether they will work for your institution’s marketing efforts or campaign before deciding to go the route of having a QR code specially designed for your campus.
Is your institution considering using QR codes? How have you already used them? Let us know how you’re using—or thinking about using—QR codes and whether you think they’re here to stay (or not) by posting a comment.