QR Codes and Other Epic Marketing Fails

June 15, 2015 Book Reviews 2 comments

QR Codes Kill Kittens

QR Codes. They are the greatest thing since sliced bread. After all, they allow you to “gamify” your business in clever and inventive ways right?

Wrong! Well, at least according to “UnMarketer” Scott Stratten.

Exposing once again the underbelly of marketing failures (like his previous book here), Stratten’s QR Codes Kill Kittens takes an entertaining yet educational dig at what marketers do wrong. Subtitled “How to alienate customers, dishearten employees, and drive your business into the ground”, the picture heavy book can be easily read in one sitting.

Filled with cringe-worthy cases of misplaced and misused QR Codes, terrible tweets, service shenanigans, Facebook foolishness and management malpractices, QR Codes Kill Kittens is loosely divided into four chapters/reasons arguing against QR codes and other mishaps:

  1. They don’t work.
  2. Nobody likes them.
  3. They are selfish.
  4. They take up valuable time better spent elsewhere.

Yes, it is as simple as those reasons above.

QR Code Failures

The chief antagonists of Stratten’s book-length diatribe, QR code failures come in many different shapes, sizes and flavours. They include placements in ridiculous or impractical locations, ill-maintained links, or lack of thought on what they offer.

Examples include QR codes placed in train tunnels without any mobile reception, behind doors that open into walk-in customers, and on Facebook profile pictures (which obviously can’t be scanned if you’re viewing them from a mobile phone). To give you an idea, consider the three examples below:

1) QR Code on the back of a bus. Just be careful not to get exhaust into your face.

QR Codes Fail Bus
Courtesy of Epic Marketing Fails

2) Yes, you are expected to scan that QR code while driving at 100 km/h along the highway.

QR Codes Remax Fail
Courtesy of SQL Rockstar

3) Look up in the sky! Its a bird! Its a plane! Its an ill-conceived QR code that does cr*p!!

Airplane towing QR Code Fail
Courtesy of Scandit

A Kitten Dies…

Scattered throughout the book, these vignettes of management and service failures are often cringe-worthy.

Let me quote some notable examples from the book:

A Kitten Dies… every time someone runs a Facebook contest without thinking. When you give away a free iPad, all you end up with is a whole lot of likes from people who like free iPads.

(Ummm… How many of us are guilty of this? Own up!)

– A Kitten Dies… every time you send someone a two-line email. With a 15-line signature.

– A Kitten Dies… any time someone tweets about their Klout/ Kred score. Influence is organic and subjective.

(These days, Klout hardly figures… Phew!)

Twitter Terrors and Facebook Foul Ups

As you’d imagine, there are scores of examples from the world of social media. They include indiscreet tweets or Facebook updates from disgruntled employees (who are later fired), insensitive tweets by companies taking advantage of disasters, and incriminating photos of unsavoury practices at work.

Other social media boo boos include captchas (those pesky identity checks) that cannot be deciphered, poor choices in hashtags (eg #susanalbumparty), self-serving Pinterest posts by real estate agents, and many others. See below for two examples from the Twitterverse.

Kenneth Cole Twitter Failure
Poor choice of timing and hashtag by Kenneth Cole (courtesy of Meliorate)

Justine Sacco Twitter Failure
This is so bad that I don’t even need to explain why (courtesy of Meliorate)

Service Screw-ups

Online or offline, horror stories of poor customer service abounds. Here, Stratten lays it on thick, with examples such as the magazine which charges US$295 for a pdf formatted reprint which takes two weeks to complete, un-subscription services which require jumping through flaming hoops, and employees who serve with a snarl.

Of course, this example below surely takes the cake (or ketchup)…

Service Failures
Source of image

Advertisements from Hell

Beyond the major themes above, other examples of marketing stupidity abound. They range from power point slides that bore, job application emails that attach wrong images, poorly designed/copy-written advertisements, negative product demos, and more.

Dettol Soap Bad Ad
Not exactly the best way to demonstrate “cleanliness” (courtesy of Irish Jim Marketing)

Cover Your Home in a Click Dick

What does this look like from far? (courtesy of AdWeek)

All in all, QR Codes Kill Kittens is a nice and short read. While we may laugh at how ludicrous some of the examples are, it is frightening to be reminded of the marketing faux pas that we could be committing each and every day without knowing.

What other marketing mishaps – online or offline – are you aware of? Feel free to share!

By Walter
Founder of Cooler Insights, I am a geek marketer with almost 24 years of senior management experience in marketing, public relations and strategic planning. Since becoming an entrepreneur 5 years ago, my team and I have helped 58 companies and over 2,200 trainees in digital marketing, focusing on content, social media and brand storytelling.


  1. This is great. I love these examples of marketing fails. It’s almost like some corporate cultures somehow incentivise less thought.

    I gotta go back to my Bank and take a picture of the poster with a QR code that is half obscured by the frame.

    It’s like the designers created the poster and the staff placed it in the poster frame, but no one actually tried to go through the user experience of scanning it.

    It’s tough to find entrepreneurial people that will be that proactive, especially in a large corporate structure where every is thinking C.Y.A.

    1. Thanks for your comment. Indeed, we do come across folks who are not mindful about what they design and how it works with people. The book was certainly a fun read! 🙂

Join The Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>