The Three QR Code Maxims

I have three QR Code maxims that I sometimes need to recite when a client runs an idea past me for a new QR Code campaign. I have reproduced them here to help anyone who is considering using a QR Code for their business. Before you proceed with your plan just think each maxim through and how it relates to your particular use of QR Codes.

The Three QR Code Maxims

  • QR Codes are not in themselves a call to action but are simply a sign that a call to action maybe somewhere nearby.
  • People don’t scan QR Codes because they are there, they scan QR Codes for what’s on the other side.
  • The value of a QR Code is zero, the value of where it resolves is as little or as large as you make it.

Neomedia R.I.P.

It’s over five years since Neomedia launched their ‘Neoreader’ QR Code scanner, on October 22, 2007. Neomedia was (and still is as far as I know) the only publicly quoted company in the QR Code space and at the time of the scanner launch their stock was trading around a split adjusted $1.80. Bad management and a series of disastrous strategic decisions (like partnering with Neustar in the failed Mobile Barcode Clearinghouse Service) have bought their current stock price down to an unsurprising low of $0.0032. Naive investors who mistakenly believed Neomedia and its patent portfolio were in some way a proxy for the growth in QR Code usage have been badly burnt.

Profiting from any open source technology is not easy and when the technology is very simple like QR Codes it becomes impossible to make more than pocket change. QR Codes are free to generate, free to scan and free to manage hence making any kind of real money from them is just not possible.

I don’t use Neoreader routinely because it collects data about your usage every time you scan a QR Code, which enables Neomedia to build a complete picture of your scanning behaviour (see Does Your QR Code Scanner Spy On You?). However the decoding element of Neoreader is very good and I use it sometimes for damaged or difficult to scan codes. I was doing this yesterday and noticed that the latest version of the app now comes with ads (images below).

Like most people I don’t like in-app advertising but it is often the only way that a small developer can generate a little revenue until the user purchases the ad free version. So why would a company that claims to be “…at the forefront of the industry in Mobile Marketing” suddenly put ads in its app for small change? I took another look at the HTTP requests made by the Neoreader scanner (image below), there were 29 requests to ad-servers before the 302 redirect from the Neomedia server, not good.

It’s not only another bad strategic decision but a sign that the crew are grasping at one cent straws as Neomedia’s debt mountain sinks the ship.

Top 10 QR Codes Of 2012

This year’s Top 10 QR Codes are just as much of a subjective choice as last year and do not necessarily belong to the most successful campaigns. I have tried to choose a range of codes from the highly practical to the totally bizarre. I hope that they may provide some inspiration for Marketers and entertain and amuse those who are not. Each entry has a link back to the original post for more details, videos and/or larger images.

QR Coded coffee sleeve1. News, coffee and a QR Code

Upmarket coffee shops have been offering free newspapers for customers to read since the beginning of the 18th century. More recently the Box Coffee Shop in Split, Croatia scrapped offering free newspapers, replacing them with secured iPads. News and coffee go together and printing a QR Code on a coffee cup sleeve that resolves to a headline of the hour pulled from a newspaper’s Twitter stream is an inspirational idea. More…

2 for 1 offer with a pair of QR Codes2. Double QR Code Campaign

Research by Scandinavian Airlines showed that couples tend to book their trips together, hence the pair of QR Codes in this clever campaign. Both QR Codes are required to determine the promotional code for a 2 for 1 offer. Every available ticket was sold during the week long campaign. More…

Nail art gallery3. The World’s Smallest Art Gallery QR Code

This is the first time I had heard about a ‘Cube Store’ which I discovered is a one foot square retail space. The world’s smallest Art Gallery in a Cube Store with a QR Code increased bookings by 10% and telephone enquiries by 30% for this nail salon. More…

World Record QR Code made from a field of corn4. Giant QR Code Corn Maze

Not only was this corn QR Code a new world record but it was over 14 times the size of the previous world record! At well over 300,000 square feet the only way I can see this code being broken is with a larger area of corn 🙂 More…

Assassin’s Creed III QR Code Puzzle5. Assassin’s Creed III QR Code Puzzle Solved

I really like this use of a QR Code. Incorporating a QR Code in a puzzle for a trailer of Assassin’s Creed III was a great idea for publicising the new release. The original post was one of the most read pages on 2d-code in 2012. More…

Giant QR Code made from orange crates6. Orange Crate QR Code

This QR Code built in Mexico from orange crates was not without its faults. However as a way of advertising the Volkswagen Crafter commercial van it was brilliant. More…

Model QR Code that works only at midday7. Shadow QR Code Campaign

This is probably the cleverest QR Code of the year. A three dimensional model that turned into a functional QR Code when the sun struck it between 12pm and 1pm and cast the correct shape shadow. Not only a great concept but in addition the associated campaign was extremely successful. More…

Walls, ceiling and floor of this large space are covered with QR Codes8. Russia’s QR Code Covered Pavilion

Not particularly functional but spectacular. Every surface was covered in QR codes inside the Russian Pavilion at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale. The QR Codes resolved to information on the proposed Skolkovo science and technology centre to be constructed near Moscow by 2017. More…

Heineken music festival QR Code9. Heineken QR Code Stickers

At the Open’er Music Festival in Poland Heineken created a new way for people to connect with complete strangers. Festival goers were able to personalise and print their own QR Code stickers which when scanned by others would hopefully start a conversation. The organizers say the QR Codes were very popular and resulted in many new friendships. More…

Hointer's new retail technology using QR Codes 10. A New Retail Technology Using QR Codes

Bricks and mortar shopping without till lines, piles of clothes and sales assistants will be quite attractive to some consumers. We will surely here more of these hi-tech stores in 2013. More…

The QR Code Hype Cycle Revisited

QR codes are now everywhere

It was a year ago to the day that I wrote The QR Code Hype Cycle and suggested that that QR Codes in the USA and Europe were in the ‘frenzy of publicity’ phase which is typified by over enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. The positive hype continued throughout 2011 and early 2012 and I now believe that we are at the peak or very slightly over the peak of the cycle. This does not mean that the number of users of the technology will decline, quite the contrary first time usage will continue to rise as consumer smartphone adoption increases. What it does mean is that there will be a slow realization that enterprises’ and the media’s overinflated expectations are not being met. Negative press will increase and media interest will wane.

If you are a marketer there are two things said in the post a year ago that are worth repeating. Firstly in Japan QR Codes are ubiquitous but the Japanese scanning consumer will scan a QR Code less than five times a month – think about it. Secondly QR Codes that provide deep discounts, free samples, exclusive content etc., may increase sales but the number of scans and conversions will depend on the value of the offering.

Design your QR Code campaign carefully, provide as big a reward to the consumer as possible and even then be prepared to be underwhelmed by the response. Not everyone with a pair of scissors cuts coupons.

Four Ways You Can Scan QR Codes Safely

The content of a QR Code is a mystery until it is scanned. If it decodes as a URL, much like a normal website hyperlink you can not be absolutely sure where your browser will eventually take you. However one thing you can be sure of is that someone somewhere wants you to download their malicious code on to your mobile device.

QR Codes cannot in themselves be harmful but like a normal website link the end point can be a URL that will encourage you in some way to download malevolent code. In the case of a mobile device this will most likely be contained in an app, so downloading the app will infect your mobile.

This is not so much of a concern if you are using an iPhone because apps are supposed to be meticulously checked and verified to contain safe code. However in the past iPhone security holes have been found (and then patched) including vulnerabilities in opening PDF files which would have allowed the introduction of malware.

So the risk can never be zero whatever your mobile device but at the moment the likelihood of downloading malware via a QR Code is extremely small. For those who would like to lessen the risk even more than it is, here are four possible ways to protect yourself.

1. Use a QR Code scanner with built in security.

QR Pal allows users to scan, store and share QR codes but it also has a feature called SafeScan. QR Pal users can use SafeScan (enabled by default) so when a scan takes place it calls their API providing the target URL. The target URL is first checked against QR Pal’s internal blacklist which is made up of known bad URLs, user submitted URLs and previous positive malware results from scans. QR Pal’s system then performs it’s own internal checks based on rules they have set and if negative proceeds to multiple popular 3rd party APIs before returning the result to the user.

If a positive result for malware is found the user is provided with a clear indication that the target website could be malicious. The user also get a warning if the user does not have an active internet connection meaning that SafeScan cannot check and gives the user the ability to save the code for later.

QR Pal is free at the moment.

QR Pal iOS 3.0+

QR Pal Android 2.1+

2. Use a security app with a built in QR Code scanner.

Norton well known for their security and anti-virus products have released Norton Snap a secure QR Code reader which makes use of Norton’s ‘Safe Web’ service to provide reputation information on URLs found via QR Codes. Depending on the data decoded from the scanned QR code, different actions are taken but if the data matches a standard web URL, then the Norton ‘Safe Web’ rating is fetched for that URL and displayed for the user. To get more information about a site’s rating, the user can click the rating icon to visit the full report on the ‘Safe Web’ website.

The user also has the option to enable automatic loading of all websites rated green or “safe”. This way the user will only be notified if the website has a red or ‘warning’ rating. Norton Snap also has support for lengthening shortened URLs. If a URL is determined to be using a URL shortening service, then it can be lengthened and the Safe Web report will be displayed for the lengthened URL. This provides much more useful information than reporting on shortened URLs.

One of the cool features of the Norton Snap iOS app is that if it encounters a URL pointing to the Android Market, it will offer the option to search for a similarly named app on the iOS App Store. This is important because it turns all those Android Market QR codes that are normally unusable by iOS users into useful links! Norton Snap is free at the moment.

Norton Snap iOS 4.3+

Norton Snap Android 1.6+

Norton Snap is free at the moment.

3. Use an antivirus app.

For a few dollars you can download an antivirus app that will at a minimum scan your apps, settings, files and media in real time and remove harmful apps automatically. Using an antivirus app has the added bonus that not only will you be protected against malicious links but also against infected email attachments and file downloads.

Because I have an Android phone I use AVG’s Antivirus Pro which used to be DroidSecurity Antivirus until purchased and then improved by AVG. As well as the above it has theft protection features which include locating a lost or stolen device using GPS, creating and displaying message on screen remotely and locking the device and wiping content.

iPhone users considering antivirus may want to take a look at VirusBarrier iOS 4.0+

AVG Anti-Virus Pro Android 1.6+

4. Use common sense.

  • If you are scanning a QR Code fly posted on a sidewalk trashcan you will need to be more vigilant than when scanning a QR Code in a Ralph Lauren ad in the Wall Street Journal.
  • Do some research on apps before downloading them. Who is the publisher, what are the ratings and are there honest reviews?
  • Only download from a reputable app store market.
  • When you install an app in Android mobiles you will see a list of permissions that the app requires to access the hardware and software components on your device such as Send SMS, Read/Write Contact Data, Full Internet Access etc. Read the permissions and if you see something that doesn’t look right then check it out before installing the app. For example if you are installing a sound recording app it should not need access to your contacts or need to send an SMS.
  • Consider leaving the Unknown Sources option disabled.

The bottom line in my opinion is that QR Code malware on your mobile is very low risk at the moment but if you want something to worry about on your mobile forget viruses and concentrate on preventing bacteria 🙂