Which Failed 1990s Product Foreshadowed QR-Code Based Advertising?
These days, it’s fairly common place to see QR codes everywhere–from magazine ads to the care tags on potted plants. Millions of people have smart phones that allow them to quickly and easily scan the codes and access information online.
Back in the 1990s, however, the idea of scanning a product or advertisement to get more information about it was a foreign one and mobile phones weren’t advanced enough to handle the task. It was in this environment that the ill-fated CueCat, from the Digital Convergence Corporation, struggled to survive.
The CueCat was a physical peripheral you hooked up to your computer, much like a computer mouse. The slim and vaguely cat-shaped device was just a cheap barcode scanner that ran on propriety software and allowed you to scan product barcodes and barcodes placed in printed advertisements to get more information from the company in question–much in the way we now use QR and bar codes with our smart phones. Back in 1999, however, consumers simply failed to see the utility of the device. Nobody wanted to drag things to their computer to scan them; the entire system lacked the ease and spontaneity future consumers would enjoy with simple barcode scanners. In addition there were widespread concerns over privacy as you had to sign up for CueCat account and each physical CueCat was serialized and linked to your account.
Between the impracticality of using the device, concerns over privacy, the company’s particularly aggressive stance against people tinkering with or modifying the CueCat hardware, the product was destined for failure. When the CueCat was finally put down, it took almost 200 million worth of investment capital with it.