One Sunday morning about ten years ago, I was flipping through the newspaper.  (Hey, remember those?)  I flipped through the weekly ad circulars and came upon a curious thing in the ad for Radio Shack.  (Remember those either?)  Their ad was littered with these odd-looking sideways bar codes.

Radio Shack was marketing a then-revolutionary device called the CueCat.  It was a goofy-looking feline-shaped electronic pen that would plug into your computer’s PS/2 keyboard jack.  Later models incorporated USB instead.  What the CueCat would allow you to do is scan the code and your web browser would directly jump to a specified URL.  Not surprisingly, buying a proprietary scanner tethered to your PC to scan links in print publications never took off, and the CueCat was a commercial failure.

Cut to present day, and the new pseudo-phenomenon of QR codes.  These odd-looking square pixel-laden boxes are popping up occasionally in odd places, from business cards to vending machines to advertisements.    [[{“type”:”media”,”view_mode”:”media_large”,”fid”:”1091″,”attributes”:{“class”:”media-image alignright size-full wp-image-191″,”typeof”:”foaf:Image”,”style”:””,”width”:”124″,”height”:”24″,”alt”:”cuecatcode”}}]]While they may be all the rage now, this is yet another technology that will catch on about as well as a landfill full of unsold CueCats.

Not only do QR codes necessitate users to have a smartphone and an appropriate scanning app, but to be able to take a clear enough picture of them with their phone’s camera.  Depending on your phone, doing so is often a task in and off itself.  You’re also targeting a small and pretty specific subset of people who have smartphones and know how to use a QR code.

The most prevalent use of QR codes that I’ve noticed lately in the wild has been on CoinStar machines.  As I’ve walked by these machines in grocery stores and retail outlets, their screens have displayed a QR code you can use to create a CoinStar account.  I fail to see the real benefit to taking the time to scan the QR code on a CoinStar machine, especially when the machine is placed in the exit doors of a busy retailer and I have numerous bags in tow.  What specific benefit, other than perhaps response tracking, does CoinStar gain by throwing a QR code up on their screens?  It seems like the majority of the benefits of QR codes sit with the marketer, so what’s in it for everyday consumers making the effort to play along?

Frankly, if I’m going to respond to some marketing gimmick, I’d rather it be something memorable I can act upon at my leisure rather than yanking out my phone and snapping a QR code.  I often find myself responding to something from a billboard or a radio ad because they make it easy for me to do so when I get home.  They could use some sort of vanity URL that takes you to a specific place.  I’ve even sought out brands that put the now familiar Facebook or Twitter icons into their visual advertising.  QR codes make it no more likely that I’ll engage with your brand.  In fact, in the absense of a quickly-consumable contact point that goes along with a QR code, I’ll likely just skip over you entirely.

That’s not to say that QR codes are completely useless.  Geocachers have been using them for a while.  For special promotions, they may be quite useful.  But I can think of precious few instances where I find myself firing up Google Goggles on my Evo because I have to get more info on something right now.

I’ve heard of retail stores offering QR codes to link to the product page on their own website, to aid in the shopping process.  I find that of little use however.  More often than not, the retailer’s online pricing doesn’t match the store shelf, and it’s like pulling teeth to get them to honor the lower price.  Secondly, I find the information found on most brick-and-mortar retailers’ sites rather lacking.  If I really am looking for information on a product, I’d rather scan the UPC with Google Goggles and find information and comparison pricing via a Google search.

Call me a cynic, but I won’t be adding QR codes to my business cards anytime soon.  If the link I’m sending you to is too complicated to convey verbally, I doubt I’ve done my job creating an easily-accessible website in the first place.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to put my CueCat on eBay.