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Learning not brands

December 13th, 2011 by Graham Attwell

Amy Gahran has written an interesting article on the slow take off of QR codes. She quotes research by Archrival, a research group that focuses on youth marketing, which surveyed 500 students at 24 colleges and universities across the United States who “found that although about 80% of students owned a smartphone and had previously seen a QR code, only about 20% were able to successfully scan the example QR code they were shown.

Furthermore, about 75% said they were unlikely to scan a QR code in the future.”

One of the reasons advanced for the findings was that the process of accessing QR codes is too clunky and time consuming. So far I agree. Firing up the app and getting it to scan can be a pain.

But I would disagree with another of their conclusions. Archival suggest that QR codes need to provide “content that engenders a more meaningful connection to the brand or product.”

On the contrary I suspect it is just because QR codes are becoming associated with brands and products that we are reluctant to use them. In this respect context is critical. I will not use a QR code just to access some random brand or product web site. On the other hand if the code does something useful (and I know it is going to do something useful) like tell me the time of the next rain or bus or allow me to check in for my flight then I will and do use QR codes. And even if QR codes are thought to be an interim technology towards augmented reality and near field communication the same issues arise.

These findings reflect a growing tension between the development of social networks and services designed for us (the 99 per cent) and those for the one per cent or less of companies wanting to use social networks and advanced technologies for selling brands and products. The problem is that social network and service providers are more concerned with the one per cent than the 99. This has led to Facebook’s constant attempts to erode privacy in order to provide more data for advertisers. Even Twitter, which has perhaps been the most brand free of the networks has launched a re-design which seems primarily intended to facilitate brand advertising.

Such tensions will not go away. Web 2.0 was launched on the back of free service paid for by real (or hoped for) advertising revenue. Yet such revenues are finite. Ultimately we need to develop new and more robust business models which better reflect the nature and purpose of the services provided.

This does not mean there is no future for QR codes and other augmented mobile applications. There are a number of very convincing experiments of their use in education. But where they do work, in a social sense, the context and purpose is clear. And that is for learning, for interaction for creativity, not for pushing brands and products we do not want.

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