QR Codes

Somewhere in Japan, I imagine, there is a man or woman or group of men and women who greet each rising sun and hope, with full hearts, that today someone will give them good news about their invention.

They invented that QR (quick-response) code, of course, to track auto parts or something.

Then someone mentioned to these innovators that their idea would have wider applications in marketing, and soon the whole world would be deep-diving into wells of information about companies and their offerings just by holding up their iPhone 2G – this was a while ago – and scanning that cute little entomological-looking code.

And then ... well, not much.

Every day, we all walk and ride and skim right past a bunch of QR codes, all just begging us to whip out our phones and discover a world of fascinating facts. And we almost never do it. Because the QR code is still a solution looking – hungrily, eagerly, maybe even desperately – for a problem.

Normally the need comes first. Usually we invent because we as humans have to. NASA has contributed so many technical breakthroughs to the world because its engineers were trying to get Tom Hanks safely up and back.

What’s stalling the QR code revolution? Why do most people shrug if you mention them?

Answer: Everyone’s worried about his or her own selfish affairs. How will it help me to be able to browse your offerings or find out about your daily specials? Can I get that information some other way? Can I live without dragging The Thing from my pocket, breaking off conversations, fumbling for a reader app, scanning and hoping it all happens really quickly without a bobble, without really knowing what I’ll get as a result? I choose to walk on.

With that in mind, here are some great food-related QR code exercises:

    1. Random House Connection

      While mom and dad relax/drink/relax further at places like T.G.I. Friday’s, the smartphone is often a pacifying toy: Here, yes, you can play Angry Birds. Ah, now that the kid has control of the phone, the children’s menu is perfect for the restless youth to scan a Random House Wild About Books link for an interactive website. OK, that’s useful. Nice move, Random House/T.G.I. Friday’s, et al.

    2. Guinness Surprise

      Because other beers are generally amber and a good Guinness is nice and black, Guinness sent pubs a set of pint glasses with special QR codes that show up only when the black liquid is poured against the white graphics on the glass. That’s the cool part. Of course, at that point, we see the Guinness team in the old struggle of not knowing exactly why you scanned it (except that you’d been drinking Guinness): “Hey, tweet it! Check in on Foursquare! You can, uh, update Facebook and – hey, how about downloading coupons or, wait, I know! Invite your friends! Maybe there’s, um, promotions!” Oh, well. At least the cleverness of the black liquid backdrop surely pleased those Japanese inventors.

    3. The Lunchtime Solar Exclusive

      A Korean chain that sells a fair amount of food at lunchtime created a stunt 3-D QR code that could only be scanned when the sun was at a certain declination. Lunchtime coupons ap-peared and online ordering was enabled – but only during the noon hour. Crowds gathered. Case studies were filmed and posted on YouTube. Across the pond in Japan, the QR scanning inventors almost surely smiled.

    4. Taco Bell’s Upscale Moment.

      To counteract the wonderful, powerful brand inertia created by the lovably downward-dreaming development of Locos Tacos, the Bell went way upscale by hiring celeb chef Lorena Garcia to class up the menu – dubbing the effort “Cantina Bell” and hoping we’d forget about the muffler-less car in the drive-thru ordering a taco 12-pack.

      Online, a we-sure-hope-they-go-viral pair of videos show the assembling of two QR codes, one made of lemons, one made of avocados. Those final codes were then featured in print ads. Sitting at your computer or in the doctor’s office you could hold up the smartest phone you had available at the time and scan the codes to be rewarded with Ms. Garcia’s actual recipes for citrus-herb marinade or guacamole and a bunch of other menu information. Sure. Information. C’mon. Give me more “information.” Actually, no, on second thought, all I want is the recipes. Still, that’s pretty cool.

    5. Nutritional Information

      Before everyone from Panera to McDonald’s to Shake Shack started posting calorie counts right there on their menus for everyone to gawk at  – and then force out of their minds completely so they could order what they came for – the QR code was an excellent solution on a menu or translight order board: Scan this quirky little dude down in the corner and we’ll tell you everything from fat content to riboflavin levels of our onion rings. Now that caloric information is right out front, or trending that way, it’s less of a brilliant idea to link folks to a full nutritional web calculator or whatever your restaurant offers.

Still, just because you’re not first doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be 1,398th. Providing nutritionals to people with smartphones might just be the kind of good idea that the industry should do – not because it’s novel – but because it’s efficient, useful, gettable and makes total sense. Wouldn’t that be a cool use of a QR code?

Its inventors would be so proud.

Charlie Hopper is principal/writer, special projects, for Young & Laramore, an Indianapolis ad agency, and founder of the blog SellingEating.com. He may be reached at chopper@yandl.com.

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