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Is the QR Code Dead?

The poor QR Code has been beaten up, blamed for bad mobile experiences and has become the red headed step child of the mobile industry. "Is the QR Code Dead?" has been asked so many times in the past 3 years that I thought it was time to set the record straight, defend the QR Code and put blame where it's deserved.

History and Facts

  • It’s been around since 1994
  • It was first designed for the Japanese Automotive Industry
  • It's initial purpose was and continues today to track parts
  • It can store more (a lot more) data and information than a traditional barcode
  • Japanese marketers were first to use It as a marketing tool in 2002
  • 2006 Google uses a QR Code In their charts
  • In 2008 Japan began to sell tombstones with QR codes
  • 2011 The first QR code scanner and reader applications are released for a variety of smartphone platforms in the US
  • In 2011 The Royal Dutch Mint issued the world's first official coin with a QR code
  • 2011 QR codes begin to gain prominence in America thanks to some large company campaigns such as Best Buy and Macy’s.
  • In November 2012, QR code payments were deployed on a larger scale in the Czech Republic
  • In 2015, the Central Bank of the Russian Federation issued a 100-ruble note with a QR Code
In short, the QRCode (any 2 dimensional code) has been here longer than the Smartphone, is more powerful and versatile than traditional barcodes.

So why so quick to pull the trigger?

It’s our (marketers, designers and device manufacturers) fault.
  • The QR Code hit the US in 2010 when there were only 62.6 million Smartphones in the USA.
  • US Smartphones weren't capable of reading a QR Code until Reader Apps became available in 2011.
  • Mobile Design and Optimization (in the US) were just born and most didn't know what they were doing or how to work in the space yet.
  • The User Experience (UX) was horrible.
  • 2011-2013 the ability to generate this very powerful and sophisticated tech tool could be produced by anyone (VERY BAD IDEA!).
So during the rise of the QR Code (2011 to 2013) where it saw usage growth rates of 6000%, we (marketers, designers and device manufacturers) were driving mobile end users to a frustrating and ugly experience. And we now know how important this experience is and the affect it has on a BRAND’s bottom line. In short mobile users began scanning less because we (marketers, designers and device manufacturers) didn’t do our homework and produced shitty end user experiences.

Now we know better right?

The FOX Network loves mobile tech. I can’t tell you how many times mobile technology gets eye time on The Simpsons, Family Guy, Bones and More. I remember a BONES episode where Angela was demonstrating how a QR Code could help them solve a murder and more recently ABC’s MARVEL’S Agents of S.H.i.E.L.D. where two of the agents, Melinda and Mockingbird, use QR Codes on an identity badge to gain access to a facility. And this is where I bring up the user experience and the lack of creativity we still see even though we can do so much better.


  • Men are more likely to scan a QR Code
  • The viewers of MARVEL’S Agents of S.H.i.E.L.D. swing more male than female
  • If you’re displaying a QR Code your intent is for it to be scanned, why else are you using it
  • Make sure the content behind the QR Code is relevant (I don’t believe in 2016 I still have to say this… arg!)
So instead of capitalizing on the #1 Scripted Show For Timeslot in Adults 18 to 49 with a contest, opt-in to something or a cool Bio of the Characters we were driven to these --->

The QR Code is no where near dead!

Take a walk down the aisle of any grocery store, pull random products off the shelf and you’ll find the CPG Industry (packaging) has embraced the QR Code. Why? Because there are only so many cost effective ways to connect BRANDs to consumers within the in-store environment.
The choices are:
  • QR Codes (cost effective list building)
  • SMS (cost effective list building)
  • NFC (a bit more expensive plus even less of the population knows what this is or how to use it and we’re still lacking audience trust on this one. Plus APPLE screwed the pooch on this one and their NFC only works for payments at this point)
  • GEO Fencing (Very Expensive and still needs opt-in to execute legally so you’re back to using one of the other tools to get an opt-in before you can communicate automatically
  • IBeacon (cost effective but requires an app and consumers are finding it to be intrusive and annoying)
The QR Code is really nothing but a door. Not every one uses facebook or twitter or watches S.H.i.E.L.D or send text messages. So we really need to understand when to use a QR Code and position it properly to achieve our desired marketing goals. If we’ve learned anything, we all use our mobile devices differently in different scenarios. So instead of shooting the messenger provide as many cost effective consumer connection options available.
Just make sure when the mobile user gets to wherever you’re sending them that:
The choices are:
  • It works
  • It’s relevant
  • t’s pleasing to the eye
  • The desired goal can be executed in as little time as possible