QR Codes: A Lesson for NFTs

In March of 2021, a Jigsaw staff contributor wrote a blog piece about NFTs and all the nationwide buzz and discussion about them. It was an interesting introductory read and, for those who were willing to let their minds wander, it sparked the imagination. You can read the article here. Months later, the national dialogue took a negative turn and NFTs fell in disfavor. The fundamental criticism came from the lack of inherent value in these digital assets – a JPG file sold for millions does not prevent others from freely viewing or copying it. Additionally, the absence of actual copyright ownership raises concerns; purchasers merely obtain a token on the blockchain, while the original creator retains copyright control. The environmental impact of NFTs, relying on energy-intensive proof-of-work mechanisms. These criticisms and more contributed to the perception that NFTs, were an extravagant, dopey and unsustainable trend. So, did Jigsaw make a mistake by stretching out of marketing content and thinking and writing about technology? Before we reach that conclusion or any conclusion, it might be worthwhile to take a step back and look at a similar experience from just over a decade prior.

Remembering the Arrival of QR Codes

QR codes arrived on the marketing and advertising scene in the mid to late 2000s. The technology promised to connect offline and online content by allowing users to scan the code with a smartphone to access websites, promotions, product information, or other digital content. Marketers across the country enthusiastically embraced the new technology and soon it seemed that every brand, every marketer and every creative brief included a request for the incorporation of a QR code. We even remember a request from a major manufacturer for the incorporation of a QR code on billboards on the interstate approaching downtown Chicago.

However, at that stage of the introduction, the implementation didn’t live up to the hype. There were numerous reasons for this including:

  • User Awareness and Education: One major challenge was the lack of awareness and understanding among consumers about what QR codes were and how to use them.
  • Need for a Separate App: In the early days, users needed to download a dedicated QR code reader app to scan the codes. This additional step created friction and hindered adoption.
  • Poor Placement and Integration: Some marketers faced criticism for poorly placing QR codes or integrating them in ways that didn’t enhance the user experience.
  • Lack of Value-Added Content: QR codes were criticized when they didn’t lead to valuable or engaging content, diminishing the value of scanning the code.
  • Security Concerns: There were concerns about the potential misuse of QR codes for malicious purposes. Users were cautious about scanning codes if they weren’t sure about the source, fearing links could lead to phishing sites or malware.
  • Overuse and Clutter: Some marketers went overboard with QR code placement, leading to a cluttered and overwhelming experience for consumers.
  • Limited Mobile Internet Speeds: In regions with slower mobile internet speeds, some users experienced frustration with the time it took to load content after scanning a QR code.
  • Design Aesthetics: QR codes themselves were often criticized for their plain and utilitarian appearance, often clashing with the aesthetics of marketing materials.
    Eventually, the buzz died down and QR codes faded from inclusion in every creative brief. And we convinced our client not to put a QR on a billboard for drivers to use as they drove at high speeds into Chicago.

Then QR Codes Came Back Way Better

And then, about a decade later, technology and society caught up with the concept and the original promise of the QR code. What changed? They became more convenient. They no longer required download of a specific QR Code reader app on the smartphone. Instead, smartphone technology turned the phone’s camera into the reader and gave it the power to directly click to the enhanced digital content. This seamless integration significantly improved the consumer experience. Additionally, smartphone users were a decade more advanced in their smartphone user skills. And the digital experiences waiting at the end of the QR code were built with mobile-first design principles. All of this combined to make the QR code a more valuable marketing tool than it was at the time of its first consumer introduction. Now, every trade show, event space, in-store promotion, sweepstakes and more benefit from the QR as a link between the information you are accessing in one space and all the additional information you very well might be interested in accessing right now in a digital space.

What Does This Mean for NFTs

Well, the first lesson might be that we shouldn’t rush to judgment. Perhaps NFTs weren’t equal to the hype. At the same time, maybe they were never as silly as their harshest critics made them out to be. Maybe we just have to take a step back and wait for the real-world practical application of the technology to come to fruition. To that end, some brands like adidas are working together with artists on web3 collaborations that are bringing more attention and more value to NFTs. Other opportunities exist in bringing NFTs into brand customer loyalty programs. What will it be that gets NFTs over the hump? And what will the future of NFTs look like? We invite you to join the conversation. And if you’d like some help imagining the possibilities available with any existing or emerging technology, Jigsaw is here to help.