Sure you know what a QR code is. But do our buyers?

Recognize that squiggly little square to the right, which has sometimes been referred to as “robot vomit”?  Its technical name is QR code, or “Quick Response” code.  It’s a fancy, densely filled bar code, capable of holding more info than older scannable symbols.

And they are all the rage.

Ok, well, that’s not exactly true.  They are more the rage in other countries, actually, and are slowly coming to life in this country (which reminds me of SMS marketing, which was also more of a marketing phenomenon and never took hold here).

But they are everywhere.

The question is . . . should they be?

We went into Times Square and polled 100 Theatergoers at the TKTS booth and asked them three questions:

  1. Do you know what a QR code is?
  2. Have you ever used one?
  3. Have you ever used one for a show or anything theater-related?

The answers?

80% of those polled did not know what a QR code was.

Of the 20% that did know what a QR code was, only 35% had actually used one.

And . . .

Drum roll, please . . .

ZERO of the theatergoers polled had ever used one for a show or anything theater-related.

Probably not that shocking if you thought about it for a moment.

So does this mean you shouldn’t have QR codes on your advertising materials?  Not necessarily, because I do think it’s important to keep pace with other industries.  It does mean, however, that you shouldn’t put a lot of time and resources behind coming up with the fanciest of all e-destinations for your QR users (of which there will be most likely zero) to land.

In fact, our use of the QR code on Godspell wasn’t ever designed for the user of the code.  It was designed as a visual marketing tool for the show.  By incorporating “cutting-edge” image of robot-vomit technology on our display ads, we’re able to subtly imply that our classic revival that was written 40 years ago is up-to-date, and cutting-edge on its own.

Believe me, I’m the biggest advocate of new technology I know . . . but because of that I have to be even more careful about falling in love with the coolest new tech toy on the block and you should too.

Just because you love it, doesn’t mean your customers do.

In fact, you are all tech guys/dolls, right?  Let’s take a poll right here.  How many of you have used a QR code?


(Got a comment?  I love ’em, so comment below!  Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)



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  • Kevin says:

    I have used them. We used one on our postcards for KISSLESS at NYMF. I love them and think they should be everywhere. I don’t know why Americans who have there digits on all things digital don’t take the time to EDUCATE themselves on the use of this stuff. By the way, did you put the code on the back of your GODSPELL hats?

  • Adam says:

    I remember shopping a deal to Epic Records, and the A&R guy said to me, “Why do people assume that I’m going to be impressed if they send me a demo in some new format like DCC? I don’t even HAVE a DCC player! All I have is a CD player in my car!” (This was pre-iPod.)

  • Tristian Triana says:

    I recently learned about QR Coding out of curiosity and feel it love with it! It’s very easy to make, read, and share with others. We recently did Lie of the Mind here at UNCSA and the show poster was nothing but a big QR Code. No one knew right away what it was until I scanned it with my phone and the show time and dates were on my phone calendar-all I had to do was hit “save.” I think it’s a great idea to do for show posters.

  • We set up signs with QR codes in our lobby that link to our social networking profiles – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, a mobile-optimized form to join our mailing list – as well as one that links to a mobile-optimized site that has an electronic version of our show program. We’ve only had them on display for our past two productions, and the only person I’ve seen actually scan them was a 14 year old girl who was incredibly thrilled that we had them. She scanned all four social networking ones, then happily surfed our program on her smartphone before the show. It was a very telling sight.
    It’s an interesting experiment. I’m going to try putting QR codes on our posters, banner and postcards for our next show (It’s a Wonderful Life), that link directly to a mobile-optimized online ticket booth. It’ll be an interesting experiment.

  • When QR codes replace (not augment) information – this is a slippery slope. Given that most existing audiences of major mainstream theatres in Victoria would not have a clue what they were, it would be presumptuous to assume this is the only way to market.
    I was at a local social media conference – QR codes replaced all the session and bio information. They were printed on glossy paper and almost impossible for the majority of the audience (tech users!!) to scan and read.
    Is it the wave of the future? Perhaps.
    Should it be included in marketing (just like we now add a web address)? Of course!
    Should it be the only way we market? Well – not in my city for now!

  • Jay says:

    I see them; I don’t use them. Main reason: I have to figure out what program to put on my phone so I can scan them. If phones pre-load a program like that on the device I might be more inclined to scan away. (Who knows, maybe they do already…. I’m due for an upgrade.)

  • Shawn Smith says:

    I think they could become a very useful tool in our “I want it now” society. I was walking in downtown Chicago a couple weeks ago and there were large window displays for a major clothing retailer. Each window had a different product with a QR code (and a sign that said “buy now”) which took you to the webpage where you could purchase that item. I think something like this could be useful on our marketing materials. Someone can immediately purchase tickets your show while they are thinking about it instead of waiting until they get home and possibly forgetting about it later. I love them.

  • Noah B says:

    I think that if we got Apple, Android, and Blackberry to incorporate them into their mobile opperating systems as either an app or an aspect of the camera, they would become much more widley used. I’ve used them when the QR code offered a special offer, but i would be much more inclined to use them if I didnt have to go through a special app on my iPhone first.

  • Joe K says:

    I have used them as they make surfing the net for information fare easiuer then typing things in. I even have it on my business card and my virtual card on my android.
    I think just like anything else it is a matter of educating the public as to what it is. Now if it was in the shape of angry birds I wouold bet the sample taken on the street would be much higher.

  • Tyler says:

    I have used them but rarely find value as a consumer. When I was a corporate wine buyer I tried a new merchandising program based on QRs and found the same response in the stores, 0. Until the handhelds push the technology it will be tough to gain much momentum in my opinion.

  • Sue says:

    I tried to use one once but my phone said I needed to download something first. Not going there. Mostly they seem to offer links to more advertising, not something worth seeking out IMHO. I did not know they are called QR codes or robot vomit (love that term).

  • Christine says:

    I have seen them before but did not know what they were called and I have never used them.

  • Scott says:

    I have scanned a QR Code. When I first found out what the robot vomit was, I immediately wanted to try it, so I did. Haven’t since. Why? It wasn’t that interesting. It will become more popular here only when there is a mission critical reason to use them.
    After reading your post, it’s like the old chicken or egg quandary. Do marketers invest in a technology now knowing that there is currently little reward with the understanding that down the road this may be fruitful?

  • Rick Stutzel says:

    I just read the QR in your entry using my Droid X, and it said it was for in West Sussex, UK.
    Is that right?

  • Joyce says:

    Tell ya what I think. I think it reminds me that I do NOT have a smart phone! It’s a bit elitist in that people with old “stupid” phones cannot use those QR codes. Similarly, years ago when “The Sopranos” was winning every Emmy award, and “Sex in the City” was all the rage I was reminded that without the extra cash to have HBO, I didn’t know what those shows were all about. So while I know what a QR code is,I won’t be utilizing it any time soon.

  • Tim Shane says:

    Well, I’ve been wanting to like them and be on board because like you, I’m all about new technology, usually before the bugs have been shaken out, but it is really just ridiculous.
    By the time I scan the code and go to the website usually everyone else I’m with has moved on.
    It is also part of the technology that makes us all dumber/stupider.
    You are much more likely to stick in a persons brain with a catchy phrase than the robot vomit.

  • Andy Joe says:

    I never use them as a consumer or marketer. QR codes are the Beta tapes of the ’10s.

  • Mackenzie Meeks says:

    I use them for my boarding pass when I fly. I just scan my smart phone. It’s really easy

  • Matt says:

    I’ve tried to use them twice. Both times they didn’t work so I gave up

  • Courtney says:

    I have used a QR code a couple of times…Both in theater marketing as well in exchanging contacts. I don’t know how effective it was as far as sales are conserned, but the site got quite a few hits from it. I actually have friends who have created buisness cards with only a QR code on it. A risky idea, sure, but pretty cool in my opinion.
    This website: is easy to use to create one and effective as well.
    Also, the app “QR Reader for iPhone” works pretty well to read them.
    All in all, QR codes are rising in popularity and the simultanious rise in the use of smartphones is making them possible, kind of fun, and easy to decode. There is a whole barely touched technical oriented audience and I think using a QR code shows that the theater is not as antiquated as those outside our realm seem to think it is.
    P.S. is it possible for e-mails of new posts to go out earlier? Like, soon after said post gets online? It’s no fun reading a post almost a day late 🙁 (at least I’m not receiving them until 8PM the day they come out)

  • Janice says:

    I’m currently writing a paper on QR codes, and from all the information I’m gathered it’s amazing how far behind the U.S. vs. other countries that are using them – which is the key word. WE don’t know how to take advantage of the technology.
    I have used a QR code before and have even created a free one – hadn’t realized how many websites are available for this. The designs you can have for QR codes and the tracking capapbilities is great.
    I would love to see the industry use them more. For example, if you’re in the TKTS line and don’t know what you want to see, someone can hand you a show card, zap the QR code, and see a video of the show. And if you don’t have a phone with the app the person handing out the show card may just be able to help. Of course, they can also be used to keep the rush line entertained too.

  • 1. If you are going to use a QR code, provide context for the content. “Scan this code to see a sneak preview of GODSPELL.” People want to know what they are accessing before doing so.
    2. Don’t just send them to your website. They don’t give a crap about that. Send them to content — trailers, behind the scenes videos, interviews with performers, song from the show, etc.
    3. Make sure that the content is mobile friendly. If your QR code takes me to site that requires me to pinch, expand, and do a freakin’ back flip, then it is NOT mobile friendly.
    4. According to the International Association for Wireless Telecommunications, cell phone penetration in the US broke 100% in June 2011 – As of July 2011, 40 percent of all mobile phones in use are smartphones –
    What’s my point? If you educate your audience as to what the QR codes are and how it allows them to easily access interesting content, then they might actually use it.
    If all you do is slap a QR code on a poster that takes them to your website, then don’t blame the technology for your “Field of Dreams” approach to it.

  • I have used QR codes. I agree with what everyone is saying about how it would be easier if there was a built in app and that the link should go to a mobile optimized content. I tend to see them the most in the subways which seems like it may be counterproductive. Although the QR code apps I’ve used will save the link. They are everywhere and easy to create. They will probably around for a long time.

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