The QR Code Is Dead Long Live The QR Code!

This past weekend, I published a post lauding Tescos use of QR-codes in Seouls 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  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?

Dont worry, Robin did not suggest any of those things, but she did ask me this: just wondered which you agreed with.

Its a fair question.

Actually, I agree with both. And heres 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, theres 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 lets 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 well 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, theres 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 cant 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, its a great way to send out an invitation.

Nothing looks more like a QR code than another QR code. And thats a good thing. It enables much deeper relevance than, say, scanning a logo. The logo is the logo; scan it, and youre 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 its no longer an individual marketers 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 its our job to deliver compelling content and value to make it happen!

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