New concepts need to be useful - Monocolumn | Monocle


A daily bulletin of news & opinion

12 March 2012

I hope I’m not alone in having a childish, churlish, fairly instant dislike of anything designated “the next big thing”. I don’t like to have my social and consumer habits dictated to me by a merry band of self-appointed forecasters. And it seems that sticking a “next big thing” label on anything is one of the best ways to ensure said person or trend never takes off.

More often than not, hyped “next big things” are to be found, decades later languishing in a pile of dead concepts. Take my old pager, the idea of phoning an operator to enter a string of numbers and a message, for it to then be sent to a friend who had to use their phone to respond, seems charming and archaic. And mad, frankly.

One current “next big thing” that I would happily see consigned to the dustbin of history is the QR code – those mangled black and white squares that are everywhere. Returning from Heathrow this week I had a terrifying awakening not unlike a scene in a sci-fi horror film.

Leaving from the plane I noticed a QR code on an advert and then another, and another and another. On my short journey across London I counted thousands. Blinking, blank, meaningless codes staring down at me, promising more information if only I’d point my phone in their direction.

The next day, fuelled by intrigue, I tried it. Standing at my train station I pointed the camera of my BlackBerry at a QR code on a fairly innocuous deodorant advertisement. Nothing happened. I felt a bit foolish. Being the technical Luddite that I am, I hadn’t downloaded the software needed for the magic to happen.

Who knew? Who on Earth does this? Has anyone outside the testing lab or ad boardroom ever successfully accessed the information that lies within?

They are, of course, exceptionally clever little things. The genius offspring of the barcode and the automotive industry – Denso Wave, a subsidiary of Toyota to be precise. Their original function was to track parts and cars on their journey through the production line.

It didn’t take long for the advertising industry to get in on the action. The idea was simple – slap a QR code on your advertisement and anyone with a smartphone and a measure of curiosity could be transported instantly to a website that told you everything you’d want to know and more.

The idea might be simple to a boardroom of ad and marketing execs – but did nobody stop to question if it might be a tiny bit ridiculous? An advert is about selling an idea instantly, cleverly, mesmerisingly through an image and a message. Who has time to stand in front of an advert, fiddle around with a smartphone and then read reams. The whole concept is a complete anathema to what the advertising industry stands for.

To me and the masses, the black and white square is not a key to unlock more information, it’s an indecipherable blot. It homogenises billboards and advertisements. I hate them. Please don’t get sucked into this “next big thing”. Let’s agree to leave it behind and laugh about our collective folly in years to come.


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