QR Codes That Suck and How To Fix Them. Part 1

Cover Art is Property of Wired

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the first installment in our series, “QR Codes That Suck, And How You Can Fix Them.” Today, we will be examining some of the QR codes featured in this month’s issue of Wired.

Let’s jump right in.

The Glenlivet

Someone at Glenlivet must have been sampling the product when they designed this campaign. Sure, the ad itself looks nice, and the QR code is just the right size.

 So the rest of the campaign must be great, right? Wrong.

Scanning that QR code will take you straight to this monstrosity:

 And by straight to, I mean just that. No URL shortening, so there must not be any scanning analytics. All that money for a full page ad and no URL shortening?Let’s keep going. Let’s assume that we’re feeling overly generous, and we take time out of our day to zoom in on that microscopic form, put in some fake birthday, and get into the site.

Oh, wait. We can’t. When you submit that form, it just sends you to another form, with virtually no explanation as to why it even exists, or what it does.

How They Can Fix It

  1. Use A URL Shortener – Google Analytics are great and all, but there’s no substitute for good old fashioned QR code analytics for a campaign like this.
  2. Use a mobile-optimized landing page – This should be a given. The user isn’t on a full-sized computer. This is essentially the QR code equivalent of a middle finger.
  3. Provide instruction and content – As we saw above, there really isn’t any explanation of why you should have to log in, or why you should register if you haven’t already. It’s just kind of thrown out there without any idea of the value.


I hate to pick on Newegg, because I’ve been a longtime customer. They have awesome prices on computer parts and most other electronic goodies. Surely Newegg, the nerd equivalent of Wal-Mart, was able to throw together something that showed a little technological ability, right? Wrong again.

The ad looks good enough. There is even a nice call to action beside the QR code. This thing could be decent. Let’s scan it and see how awesome the deals are.


Oh, I see. It’s like a website on my computer, just on my iPhone instead. That’s neat. The text is all tiny and everything. I don’t guess I REALLY need to read it or anything. I can just look at the pictures. Wait…those are small too. Hell, all of those laptops look the same at this size. But, wait. What’s that big white spot in the middle? Oh, that’s nothing. Seriously. It’s nothing. Just empty space.

How They Can Fix It

  1. Use A URL Shortener – Seriously. bitly.com. It’s that easy. Paste a URL, get a shorter one back, use it to make the QR code.
  2. Use a mobile-optimized landing page – Again, this should just be a given. You can’t read anything on that page without zooming. Not to mention that big white spot in the middle. The sad thing is, Newegg has a mobile site! They just chose not to use it.
  3. Dumb it down – There is a serious case of information overload here. There are three columns of information and more rows than I care to count. I don’t know what to read or click, or why I should do either.

Business Week

These guys bought more than one ad, so surely they must be serious contenders. Let’s look at the goods.

The ads look good enough. Nice use of negative space and there is even a little call to action below the QR code, even if it is super vague. Let’s scan and see what we get. (Bet you can’t guess what it will be.)


If you guessed a massive PDF that is almost impossible to read and pretty much the worst imaginable experience ever, then you guessed right.

This thing is 28 pages long, and all of the actual text is that small. There are a few pictures sprinkled here and there, but nothing to make up for the fact that something this terrible even exists. If you’re using an Android device or a Blackberry without a PDF viewer…well, they don’t really care.

Ok, let’s back off for a minute. Maybe we’re not giving the PDF a chance. After all, we’re using an iPhone here. We have iBooks, with full PDF capabilities. Assuming that we use iBooks, know what iBooks is, and know that we can open PDF’s in iBooks, let’s do that.


Oh, wow. It’s so much easier to read these 28 pages when they are shoved into a space about as wide a credit card, two at a time.

How They Can Fix It

  1. Use A URL Shortener – Am I the only person in the world using a URL shortener? How else are you going to track the number of visits a PDF gets?
  2. Use a mobile-optimized landing page – Some kind of landing page. Any kind. Any landing page that is actually a landing page not made with Flash would be better than this.
  3. Do not depend on plugins – In certain versions of Android and Blackberry OS, there is no PDF viewer. The user would just be left hanging. Isn’t this why we all side-stepped mobile Flash?


I had never heard of these guys before, but I’m a sucker for a bean bag. So, let’s see what they’ve got.


You can’t really tell by the picture, but that QR code is damn small. It’s about half an inch wide. Luckily, we’re playing with an iPhone 4S with an 8MP camera that can zoom in on just about anything. I don’t even want to imagine trying to scan this thing with a 3GS or some old Android device. But, we scanned it. What’s on the other side?

That’s AWESOME! Look at that bean bag! It’s huge! Let’s zoom….wait. I have to download the latest version of Flash from Macromedia?Do they know that Macromedia doesn’t exist anymore? Ok, we can write that off. But the text is so small, that picture is really the only redeeming quality about this landing page, and it would not be as effective on someone who doesn’t want an office full of bean bags.To their credit: These guys used a URL shortener, so it’s not a total loss.

How They Can Fix It

  1. Do not depend on plugins – I don’t care how many Android device can used to have a Flash player. Flash is never acceptable in the mobile web. Period.
  2. Use a mobile-optimized landing page – If this had been a mobile landing page, there’s a very real possibility that I would have purchased one of these things. But, it was just too much. There was so much information and so little direction, it just drove me away.
  3. Use a properly-sized QR code – As a I said before, that thing was tiny. People on older devices are going to have a really hard time scanning it. Next time, they should shoot for at least an inch wide.

Well folks, that’s it. I hope you’ve enjoyed this edition of “QR Codes That Suck, And How You Can Fix Them.”

Have you seen any crappy QR codes lately? Be sure to share them in the comments.