Are QR Codes Dead?

Few years ago, we have seen QR codes become increasing popular.They seemed to be the “next big thing” in marketing. Those black and white little squares were everywhere: in product labels, retail store windows, print ads, outdoor advertisements, etc. Their presence would indicate an impressive adoption rate among most marketers.

Marketers and advertisers seem to love them, but I always questioned how many users actually scan QR codes? Based on Visualead, a company that specializes in helping brands to use QR codes, confirmed that in early 2014 only 15% of smartphone users knew how to scan a QR code properly. That means that we can make an estimated guess and say that no more than one out every ten smartphone users will probably scan a QR code.

The problem is not often with the small percentage of the smartphone users that will probably scan a QR code, but with the common misuse of them and that is one of the main reasons of why they might be going out of date. Remember that once a consumer is disappointed by the experience behind scanning a QR code, they may never scan one again.

Here are some of the most common incorrect uses and practices of QR codes:

  • Marketers taking the decision to add QR codes to marketing materials without understanding how the technology works.
  • Including QR codes in the body of an email marketing campaign expecting that – people who opens the email using a mobile devices – uses their device to scan the code (yes, it may sound funny but it is real).
  • Sending the users to a website that is not responsive.
  • Using QR codes to send users to the home of a website, thinking that it is easier for them to scan a code, than to type a URL.
  • Just placing a QR code on an ad without telling the user why they should scan the code.
  • Printing blurry QR codes.
  • Placing a QR code on a TV spot in the last 3 seconds, or inside subway stations.
  • Installing QR codes in ridiculous and dumb places.

If you don’t agree with any of the previous misuses (specially with the last one), would you explain why someone place a QR code on a pair of sneakers? 


If you want to continue laughing with similar pictures, please visit WTF QR Codes. It is a website dedicated to celebrate the ridiculousness of a QR code.

But wait…

Of course there are exceptionsI’m not entirely opposed to the use of QR codes. A really creative use of a QR code on a website, on an print ad, or in other advertising channels can motivate the consumers to scan it. It is always about what your customer is getting in exchange for dong that. The solution is to keep in mind that QR codes is a good bridge between the digital and physical worlds. A simple way of understanding if you are giving the correct use to a code, is asking yourself if you would scan it. That means you always need to be honest with the users and tell them what to expect after scanning the code (for example a promotion, additional and relevant information, etc).

One of my favorite examples of a good use of QR codes, is how Tesco became the second largest grocery store in South Kore by creating virtual grocery shelves in subway stations (FYI: those stations have Internet connectivity) allowing people to shop by scanning QR codes that were placed next to the items they want to buy. The items were added to their online shopping carts and delivered directly to their homes.


Share your favorite best examples of QR codes using the Twitter hashtag #IdeaMarketing.

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