The QR Code Is Dead, Long Live The QR Code!

by Thomas MORADPOUR on July 12, 2011 · 24 comments

This past weekend, I published a post lauding Tesco’s use of QR-codes in Seoul’s subway; an hour later, I retweeted an article titled “Death To The QR Code” which called them obsolete and invited marketers to drop them altogether.

So yesterday, my friend Robin (@SixDegreesPGH) called out this small inconsistency. How can I praise QR codes one moment, and bash them the next? Amnesia? Schizophrenia? … or maybe just fickleness in my points of view?

Don’t worry, Robin did not suggest any of those things, but she did ask me this: “just wondered which you agreed with”.
It’s a fair question.

Actually, I agree with both. And here’s why.


Skip this paragraph if you already know about QR codes.

In a nutshell, QR Codes are simply URLs in disguise, and work with smartphones.
Their purpose is to make life easier while on the streets: rather than type in long web addresses, simply point the camera and be taken straight to the site. While codes look quite basic, there’s enough possible permutations to create billions  of variants, each implanted with the address of a unique webpage.

Applications are very broad… for example:

  • two-steps outdoor campaigns with a poster teaser and a website reveal (e.g. Zappos),
  • store shelves that pack real-time product reviews (e.g.  Best Buy)
  • retail chains opening virtual supermarkets (e.g. Tesco)


I do think Business Insider is right. Outside of Japan, QR codes have hardly taken off with the general public. They are increasingly picked up by advertisers and retailers… but let’s face it, they are already marked for a premature death.

Clunky. If QR codes are new to you, you probably pointed your phone at the one featured in this post. And nothing happened, because you need a special software. You have to know about it, search for it, download it. A big barrier for the mainstream (as a side note, I recommend Scan for iPhone – very snappy).

Ugly. Real-estate is limited on packs and ads – so do we really want to deface products and commercials by including these strange glyphs? When the cool factor wears off, all we’ll be left with is more clutter.

Out-teched. In a world of  Wordlens and Google Goggles, somebody please explain why I need a QR code to get to a website on-the-go, rather than just scan an object, a logo, a word… or simply a printed URL. Word and shape recognition are not science fiction, technologies exist. Imagine a Kinect-phone, and I could even mime it if I wanted to. Fact is, there’s already better than QR codes to link the real and digital worlds.


Wait, what?
Yes, I will use them.

So ugly that they force an audience to notice them in the middle of layout. The flaw of more advanced real-objects shape recognition is that no-one knows what can and can’t be scanned. With QR codes, there is an obvious signal that extra content is just a click away. Granted, not everybody will act on the signal, but for those interested, it’s a great way to send out an invitation.

Nothing looks more like a QR code than another QR code. And that’s a good thing. It enables much deeper relevance than, say, scanning a logo. The logo is the logo; scan it, and you’re taken to only one place. But with QR, you can create unlimited codes for specific applications, and take your audience to a different webpage whether the code is on a pack, a poster or in a store. Why not have unique codes for each location, and serve content that is customized to the street level?

Call it a fad, call it a bubble, but I think there is a window to use QR codes right now. Consumers are getting used to seeing them, so it’s no longer an individual marketer’s job to educate – at least for the younger tech-savvy audience. Of course, getting potential users to download the software is still a challenge… but it’s our job to deliver compelling content and value to make it happen!


Axa – a TV commercial you can “step into.


KLM - a QR code on the floor lets passengers check-in with their phone.


Lupe Fiasco – giant laser projection stunt lets scanners download his latest album for free


Louis Vuitton – who said QR codes had to be ugly? (yes, I did)



Future of mobile advertising and shopping… brilliant fad… or already antiquated?
Whether you’re marketer, agency or just consumer, will you use them?
Did I miss something here, or bring it home for you? Comments are open!


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  • Robin Davidson

    Personally, I don’t think they’re as clunky as everyone makes them out to be, but then I’m a bit of a geek. It doesn’t even take me 30 seconds to get my phone out and scan a code. I have the icon for the scanning app I use on my phone’s screen. Remembering a URL (web address) later though is iffy. I might forget about having seen it after all the other visual stimuli in a store or wherever I’m going.

    I didn’t realize Google had renamed? changed? what Google Googles is. I thought that was the service where you can recall an e-mail you decided you would rather not send.

    • Thomas Moradpour

      You’re quite the QR-code super user, Robin!

  • Tom Martin


    Think you nailed with “they’re an invitation” — which is what I like about QR vs Google Goggles. That said, I noticed on the latest Lincoln ad that uses Goggles — Google is using a marker to indicate the ad is Goggleable (even a word?) — but like a QR code… if you don’t know what the Google icon on the ad means, you’re clueless and thus it’s no better than a QR code.

    I’m not as worried that you need an app — Samsung and a few other phones are already coming with pre-installed QR scanners, got to think it is only a matter of time before iPhones and Blackberries do the same. Smartphone users are used to having to activate an app to do anything on their phone, including calling. So the argument that “you have to open an app” rings hollow to me as a hurdle to usage.

    The biggest hurdle and the one that could quite quickly kill QR is marketers that don’t understand QR using QR. By linking their codes to sites that are not mobile friendly, don’t truly help the consumer down a purchase funnel or info funnel or entertain, marketers are training consumers that QR is stupid and adds no value. Change that and I think you could have a technology that is going to have a role in marketing for many moons to come.


    • Thomas Moradpour

      Hey Tom,
      As always, great builds!
      Just to clarify, my argument was not that “opening an app” was an issue. It’s not, you are right. It’s the once-in-a-lifetime issue of not knowing about QR codes, not understanding that you need a software, not knowing how to find it, not willing to download it. Until QR scanning becomes an established feature of the most used smartphones, I think it will stay a problem.

      • Tom Martin


        Totally agree… the tipping point is getting the QR Scan app on the phone. Then getting folks to know it’s there and how to use it. All in due time though…

  • Matt Van Hoven


    Get media makers to adopt and the masses will follow. Otherwise expect to fail at getting people to create new behaviors. 

    ROCK ON, 

    Matt Van Hoven

    Here’s the reasoning behind that sentence, if you care to read it:

    An issue I see is based on trust/adoption. Consider that the primary reason people engage/view advertising is because they are forced to (commercials, pre-rolls, banners, posters, billboards etc which are only viable when there’s nothing else to look at). Since most QRs are  tied to some advertising effort, it’s not likely a passerby will engage one because she knows she’s going to be advertised to. So why waste the time? Even if the content is ‘good’ there’s no way to know that. We seek ads only when we know they are good. Without a decent incentive or the knowledge that a particular code leads to interesting content (or a really good lead in to the work at the point of the code), a QR is just more noise, hidden behind a weird black and white square thing.  

    A ‘solution’ to this adoption issue is for accepted content creators (NY Times, ABC, HBO, Forbes etc etc) to implement QRs in their programming. IE I’ve called for the Times to print a QR on every story in their printed papers. That way if I like a story and want to share it immediately with you (because it’s about plastic bottle recycling methods that can lower a large beverage company’s bottom line or something…) I simply scan and share. It’s a cheap, simple and obvious utility that could arguable usher people into the tech. Compare that to what you’ve seen – QRs that lead to “additional content” which may or may not be good. That’s a gamble most people won’t take. The utility on the other hand is more relevant, and tells the user that the content provider is just trying to help – rather than sell. Nuance like that can make or break your campaign. 


    • Thomas Moradpour

      It’s not a bad idea… but it’s outside my control. The only thing I can directly influence is my own business. 
      The point I’m in full agreement with you on is to take the lens of the user, not of the business, when considering the “added value”. Approaching this with either an entertainment, or a service mindset if better than a broadcast-advertising one. 
      Thanks for reading and commenting, Matt!Cheers

  • samraatkakkar

    For QR code to be successful, its utility & usage has to evolve. Increased adaption of the QR codes in  will result in users becoming more comfortable with using the same.  Currently the utility of QR codes is rather limited. 

    And I agree with Matt Van Hoven. 

  • Carol L. Weinfeld

    Most QR codes offer no incentives for consumers to scan them. If marketers could combine creativity with utility for consumers (like the KLM and Tesco examples), they will be adopted. Let’s take a wait and see approach.

    • Thomas Moradpour

      You are 1,000% correct, Carol!
      QR codes are intrinsically complicated, but only “externally” boring – it’s up to us to make the experience engaging and motivating.

  • No 2 Pound Street

    We’ve just started using them in our wine shop. The QRs are on the back of the front shelf. Customers can scan & get taken to a page with a tasting note, somewhere for them to leave a tasting note & a like link to FB. We’re trying to get the consumer to join in.
    Currently looking at QR links to video footage of vineyards & cellars & winemakers talking about their wines as well. by the way.

    • Thomas Moradpour

      This is very cool – I believe the most useful applications of QR are in retail, more than advertising.
      That said, I don’t discard more “fun” usages too… it should not stay too dry.

  • Howie at Sky Pulse Media

    I have been pitched QR codes to replace a vendor that is SMS/MMS based, but with a form of a QR Code for a marketing service I am launching. It is photo based but they offer QR codes now. The pure QR play said one action done vs take a photo send via MMS. But my vendor can reach all phones in many ways depending on capabilities. But we are so used to texting aren’t we?

    If there is a compulsive easy QR code call to action I would use them. I was contemplating how often I thought ‘i need more info now’ and maybe once a day if that. But I would love to collect them if I could and shoot them to my laptop or a tablet because mobile websites really suck. Even when formatted for mobile. But so many aren’t. Don’t send me to a mobile website with a QR code where I have to enlarge part of the screen. I’m gone.

    But here is the real question Tom. I can click the search button on my Android. And then use Voice Rec. to find something. Which could be easier than a QR code! So it needs to be unique the url or campaign where I can’t just use my phone to find you via Google.

    Isn’t the future though Press a button, talk, results come back? My Droid software is returning 85%+ accuracy first try.

    • Thomas Moradpour

      I agree fully with you that QR codes are not the future – better technology will be!
      (I do think though that they are the “present”)
      Cheers, Tom!

  • Greg Wehmeyer

    This will blow away any argument that QR has to be ugly:

    I do commissions!

    • Thomas Moradpour

      Does not match the Vuitton one for me ;-)

  • George Shewchuk

    I think they have visual “stopping” power and can even be central to a design idea – check this out

    • Thomas Moradpour

      Pretty cool example! of course, this is a “first movers” example – either you’re the first to do it so boldly… or it has zero impact. Think of a full shelf full of such products: can’t tell them apart.

  • Guest88

    The problem isn’t the code or technology, it’s the crap’ola campaigns that have been done with them.

    You have hundreds of print people all telling customers “all you need is a WordPress plug-in on your site and you’re good to go…”

    There have not been enough mobile people or mobile dollars used in QR based campaigns.

    At this point I completely ignore QR codes when I see them.

    • Thomas Moradpour


  • Nick Ford

    Thank you! The beauty of QR codes is that they are so recognizable. They are the international symbol for “mobile web”, really. 

  • Paul Lakeman

    Combine them with NFC tags job done!

  • Pingback: To QR Code or Not to QR Code – That is the Question | Proforma | Abilene, Texas

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