QR Codes: Mystery Dum Dums for the 21st Century

Cream soda Dum Dum lollipops don’t excite me as they once did—mostly because I am no longer 5 and I want a treat larger than my thumb nail—but when I see a Mystery Flavor floating around in a bag of boring oranges and strawberries, I have to open it.

On a good day, my curiosity is rewarded with an exotic taste concoction other than the company’s 16 traditional flavors. German chocolate cake, what a surprise! Peach mango sorbet, I had no idea!

And then there are the times when I anxiously open a question-mark clad wrapper, only to throw the lollipop down in disgust when I don’t get what I want (much like a 5-year-old). “This isn’t peach mango sorbet or German chocolate cake!” I want to shout. This is grape, the flavor that would surely be picked last for the lollipop dodgeball team.

Not only does it taste like cough medicine, but there’s nothing unique or mysterious about the flavor. Grape—for reasons I’ll never understand—is a dime-a-dozen in the candy world. So naturally, I’m disappointed. I was promised a “mystery flavor” that I did not receive. Now, the novelty of the gimmick has worn off.

When marketers play the “mystery” card, they have to deliver. Otherwise, a marketing tool with unlimited potential is going to become a short-lived fad. Consumers may even feel fooled.

In the May issue of units, I interviewed several marketing executives who debated the merits and potential pitfalls of another “mystery” marketing tool—Quick Response (QR) codes.

While more sophisticated than a Dum Dum, the QR code—a two-dimensional barcode with a series of modules encoded with text, a URL or other data—follows the same basic principle as a Mystery Flavor lollipop: it’s only as good as what’s at the other end.

Although apartment marketing executives are divided when it comes to whether QR codes are fab or fad, most do agree that the black-and-white squares—accessed through a QR-scanning app on a smartphone—must point to something truly special and unique. Otherwise, a few bad apples—or grapes—could ruin the entire format.

So how do you weed out the lame lollipops from the peach mango sorbets? A QR code that leads consumers to an apartment community homepage isn’t exciting or special because it can be accessed on the Internet in the same amount of time. A coupon to a local pizzeria or a video tour of a model unit—well, that’s much better. Or how about the chance to win a prize—say, a bag of lollipops?

On the operational side, QR codes are appealing because they can be created for free on QR-code generator websites. However, saturating the market with these isn’t the way to do it. If a prospective resident is going to take the time to pull out his or her smartphone and scan a QR code, it better be worth their time.

And if I pull out a Mystery Flavor lollipop, it better not be grape—and it better be bigger than a Candy Button. I am at my wit’s end with you Dum Dums.

For more on QR codes, check out my article, “QR Codes: Fab or Fad?” in the May issue of units, which mailed May 8.