QR Codes: Quietly Retreating or Quintessentially Revolutionary?

This post aims to understand how effective QR codes are in mobile marketing, whether they have since become obsolete. A number of real example case studies will be used, to support and negate their use. Ultimately, the outcome of this post will affect the author’s decision to use QR codes in their own future digital marketing plan, as they have done previously.

Developed in 1994, within the Japanese automaker industry, QR (Quick Response) codes essentially holds information, which once scanned, (via the optical device, a camera on a mobile phone for example) becomes accessible and displayed on the transfer medium. Such information could be realistically any form of digital interface including; a direct link to a Website (harboring its URL), product images or coupons (Sun, Sun and Liu 2007).



Common QR Code Process 

In recent years, QR codes have been integrated and utilized by some of the worlds most recognizable businesses’ subsequently featuring in innovative digital marketing campaigns. Matos (2014) discovered a substantial 4000% increase in their utilization, in the period 2011 to 2012.

Who and Why?

Further evidence identified that the primary users were between 35-44 (Matos, 2014). BeQRious (2013), a business dedicated to creating and supplying unique QR codes, believes that the rise in this popularity was because users obtain a sense of achievement when using the codes.

There are a number of cases, which argue the successful implementation of QR codes into a digital marketing strategy, including;
Inception (2010)
Leonardo DiCaprio’s film Inception also made use of QR codes to ramp up the sense of mystery and hype around the movie. Flyers, T-shirts, and posters promoting Inception contained codes that led to a promotional website; What Is Dream Share? This strategy was very cryptic at the time, in keeping with the nature of the film, and also helped generate publicity.QR2

Google (2011)QR3
Google’s Favorite Places marketing campaign earmarked 100,000 places to visit in the USA. Those top businesses each got a window decal with their QR code on it. Passers-by could then scan the code for a wealth of information on the business.





QR4Mountain Dew (2012)

American brand of soft drink Mountain Dew used QR codes on their packaging offering free music downloads available. In total, some 200,000 downloaded tracks resulted from this successfu
l campaign.

THQ (2013)
The videogame studio’s title Homefront used QR codes throughout game for players to unlock exclusive, never-before-seen content. Within two days over 30,000 codes were scanned.



Hershey (2015)

The most recent marketing strategy found was that of American Chocolate producer Hershey who decided to utilise the QR code to hold relevant product information about their ingredients products, which is neither revolutionary nor ground breaking, however, it does save much needed space on labels, as well as making the appearance tidier and less congested.QR6

From all of these examples, it paints a picture that yes, QR codes can be effective, but each of these cases has numerous recurring themes. Firstly there must be added value, causing the user to consider the opportunity cost of not scanning the code (Matos, 2014). Additionally users essentially have to be in the right place at the right time. The placement of the QR code must be effective, as with any advert. The most popular campaigns featured a QR code either in a transitional period, where their focus is down, for example waiting in a taxi or for a meal they have ordered, they are preoccupied with another main task or where so little is given away, their curiosity gets the better of them.

Additionally an article by Kutsishin’s (2012) article “why QR codes do not work” has since become redundant, as arguably QR application has improved. For example, He explained standardization was an issue, as both Android and Apple did not have necessary software pre loaded in order to scan QR codes, which was a valid point. However since late 2014 (early 2015) both Apple and Samsung, whom jointly control around 40% of the global mobile phone market share (Chowdhry, 2015) have both made conscientious efforts to include preloaded QR code software on to phones (App store, 2015) thus making them more accessible. Furthermore, Apple’s Passbook application pre-installed, supports and promotes the use of QR codes with airlines, as they hold QR codes on boarding passes.


Why They Succeeded:
Chaffey (2009) shares vital tips for mobile marketing:QR7

User experience is fundamental: In each of the campaigns and scenarios listed the information was quick to find and easy to navigate, thus ensuring that it proved the best user experience possible. QR codes now featuring on packages and posters save space as well as entice the user. QR codes are unlike other methods such as billboards or radio adverts, it is likely that putting the information right in front of them, and it will reach the audience more effectively, additionally showing it on their own media device makes it seem a more personal experience.

Use personalisation: Each campaign offered an experience that was personal to them, whether they were in a restaurant, the back of a cab, playing a game or visiting a destination, it connected to that person at that time.

Test and Monitor: All the QR Code campaigns were specifically tested and designed to be compatible with corresponding mobile websites. The Codes provide quantifiable metrics, which are potentially the most important aspect they provide.

QR = Quite Rubbish
However, many sources believe that QR codes, in 2016, are reaching the end of their lifecycle as the novelty wears off. Kolowich (2014) makes reference to a survey conducted in 2013, that found only 21% of American smartphone owners (the largest market) said they had never scanned a QR Code. Strout (2013) built on this notion by sharing a number of views on why he (and others) believes the QR code is obsolete. Fortune (Kantrowitz, 2011), MSNBC.com (Shannon, 2011), and CNN.com (Gahran, 2011) have all presented past articles quite sceptical of QR Code’s actual utility.

Placement is key!
Adverts with QR codes maybe placed where WiFi or interent service isn’t accessible, rendering the code useless and potentially affecting the users perception based on one experience if a scanned code did not work

Why have QR codes received negative views:

– Mobile experience is disappointing: Strout (2013) explained how often codes lead o non-mobile optimised sites, or even sites that have no correlation with the original call to action (CTA).

– Poorly targeted: Using QR Codes in places with no Wi-Fi connectivity or mobile data will limit effectiveness as well as affect user perception.

– Lack of Concentration: In 2015, Heinz came under fire as a previously used QR code (as shown above) became linked to a pornographic website, after the promotion ended.

Alternative Solutions

There are several alternatives to QR Codes. Matos (2014) included a list of substitutes:
SMS short codes — every mobile phone has functionality that allows users to text. Short codes are an easy way to punch in five numbers and receive back information (usually a link) that can connect one to an online experience. This isn’t a super sexy solution, but sometimes, the simplest answer is the best answer.

Augmented reality apps — Payoff is immediate and allows for a much richer experience than QR codes in comparison. Creating the experience requires more effort on the part of a company/marketer; but in the end, the result should be more engagement and adoption by the audience.

Mobile apps, like MyFitnessPal, a mobile app allows interaction with existing bar codes. Using that as the catalyst for an online interaction versus creating a new code that takes up additional space at least lowers the barrier to entry on the part of the marketer.

Bluetooth and NFC (Nearfield communication) NFC is a wireless communication technology that allows for the transfer of small amounts of data, mainly capable of complex two way communication and can therefore be used in a wide range of applications such mobile payments.

Overall, I believe the pros of QR Codes far outweigh the cons and they do still have a future in digital marketing strategies. Shin, Jung and Chang (2012) stated, “a key problem is that QR Codes are still relatively primitive” but I have to disagree, they have been around for over 20 years. The ease of use in the consumers eyes and how they can be integrated into a strategy seamlessly, make QR codes an attractive concept, moreover the low adoption cost ads even more of a bonus. Many global and well recognized busineinesses have successfully implemented QR codes into their strategy, and although I believe that, the novelty has indeed warn off and that their most effective period was 2010 – 2014. My recommendation is that it would be unwise to base a whole campaign around a code now (as Inception did). But it is this ‘easy’ image that hinders both users and businesses. The old adage, once bitten, twice shy comes to mind, by which I mean once a consumer is disappointed once by QR Code experience, it is unlikely they will scan again. It is evident looking on the Internet, inefficiently has damaged their overall reputation, as the majority of posts are negative.

Initially, I struggled to find any recent applications of QR codes. It would be wise however to use the codes alongside other methods, similarly as Hershey has done recently, (as theirs feature on the back of their packaging) and also the airlines use them primarily for holding data, more than just a gimmick, but as a functional tool in a bigger picture, which is how I will utilize them.


BeQrious (2012) Accessed online. Available at: http://beqrious.com/about-us
[Accessed 25th January 2016].

Chaffey, D., Ellis-Chadwick, F., Mayer, R., & Johnston, K. (2009). Internet marketing: strategy, implementation and practice. Prentice Hall.
Chowdhry, A. (2015) http://www.forbes.com/sites/amitchowdhry/2015/03/04/apple-passes-samsung/#5921d22e350e. [Accessed 25th January 2016].

EduCase, (2009). QR Code Introduction [ONLINE] Available at: https://net.educause.edu/ir/library/pdf/ELI7046.pdf. [Accessed 25th January 2016].

Google Images (2016)

http://2d-code.co.uk/images/homefront-qr-code.jpg QR code

Google Images (2016)

http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_7ZYqYi4xigk/SxyYINAne4I/AAAAAAAAFDs/s6Uhty1Lw7Y/s400/fp1.jpg[Accessed 25th January 2016].
Inception QR codes (2011) https://jenniferbarnett.wikispaces.com/file/view/Inception.jpg/148427793/Inception.jpg
[Accessed 25th January 2016].

Jaekel, B (2015) “Heinz once-and-done approach to QR codes fails” Accessed online. Available at: http://www.mobilemarketer.com/cms/news/social-networks/20701.html
[Accessed 25th January 2016].

Matos, A (2014) Available at: http://www.marketingtechnologyinsights.com/2014/02/when-do-qr-codes-work.html [Accessed 25th January 2016].

Peled, U (2014). http://www.marketingprofs.com/articles/2014/24499/proper-and-improper-use-of-qr-codes-10-great-examples-of-each#ixzz2uRccKizs.

[Accessed 25th January 2016].

Savitz, E (2012) Accessed Online. Available at: http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2012/08/03/why-qr-codes-dont-work/#1ee1ed36272f

Wilson, A. M. (2012) QR codes: Are they worth the effort? Analysis of a QR code pilot project. Journal of Access Services 9. Accessed Online. Available at: https://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/…/JAS_QR_Code.pdf?

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