The latest book from marketing guru Scott Stratten (with Alison Kramer), full title QR Codes Kill Kittens: How to Alienate Customers, Dishearten Employees, and Drive Your Business into the Ground, does exactly what it says it’ll do. Mercifully short and to the point it’s light reading – very light. In fact, many of its 196 pages barely contain any text at all, several just reposts of (in)famous online memes or other visual silliness, each chapter prefaced with some truly adorable kitties, presumably the kind likely offered as unwilling sacrifices by your outlandish or otherwise detestable social-media misconduct. As Stratten says often: Don’t Do It.
The book itself, in reality, is little more than a clever marketing spin-off for Stratten’s own marketing franchise, smartly called UnMarketing, a system of applied marketing techniques that is, as cribbed directly from the website, “all about positioning yourself as a trusted expert in front of your target market, so when they have the need, they choose you.” Essentially, a philosophy (and marketing strategy) on how best to engage potential customers, readers, clientele and what-have-you in this age of digital fluidity by not screwing up.
And Stratten’s teaches by example, doling out dozens of examples of people and companies doing just that – screwing up, big time. Like the Canadian billboard cautioning people not to text while driving (yet proudly displaying a giant – you guessed it – QR code for scanning), or the note telling employees not to use the much-maligned Comic Sans font (“We’re a Fortune 500 company, not a Lemonade Stand”), or the multitude of inconvenient – and dangerous – QR code squares found on the back of trucks, city buses, and other such places.
If you’ve ever spent any time frequenting sites like Fail Blog or similar digital ‘Hall of Shame’ style blogs you’ll feel right at home here. There’s loads of ill-timed Tweets, and other socially unacceptable practices, mistakes, or just plain asinine and stupid behaviors that should be avoided at all costs, lest they become the next subject of an Un-Marketing cautionary lesson. Or in his sage advice to would-be fast food workers, as exemplified in a photo of a young man happily running his tongue down a stack of tacos:
“Let’s be honest, who hasn’t licked a stack of tacos? The difference is, when I was young, we didn’t have cameras in our phones. Or Facebook. Or Twitter. Maybe lick them in private.”
The fact that such a thing needs to be said in the first place, let alone explained, may strike some people as crazy, but if there’s one thing the internet has taught us is that there truly is no such thing as ‘common sense’. In fact, ignore that fact at your own peril, Stratten cautions throughout, especially in the smallest details. Bad online design or icons “without an address leaves people to their own Internet skills and intelligence to find you. Never leave people to their own intelligence.”
The real object of Stratten’s scorn – and I’m right there with him – are those infernal little pixelated squares known as QR codes. We’ve all see them, and while most happily ignore them whilst on our daily adventures there’s apparently a certain segment of the population willing to pull out their smartphone, open a QR-scanning app, and finally hold still long enough to let said app scan and make sense of the blob’s hidden message. If – and that’s a big IF – everything work out perfectly you’ll then be transported to a mobile website, download link, or other marketing tie-in to help make the sale.
But that’s not what usually happens. Most companies, those brave enough to employ QR codes anyway, completely miss the point of what they’re good for and how to best employ them. “We use QR Codes to show that we’re using QR codes”, he says, taking up everyone’s valuable time better spent elsewhere.
Codes Kill Kittens works best as a handy reference of cautionary “don’t do”s and things to avoid for anyone hoping to ride the social-media craze wave to their own success stories. It’s hardly a comprehensive how-to guide by any means – never forget that Stratten moonlights as president of a successful (un)marketing enterprise – but that’s hardly the point. Chock full of cringe-worthy moments it successfully merges those two universal truths: humor and stupidity. It strives to be nothing more than what it is – a fun, bite-sized nugget of socially-awkwardness that fits in your pocket and looks great on nightstands.
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Scott Stratten, Alison Kramer
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