This article was published on December 25, 2010

Are QR Codes in marketing just a passing fad?

Are QR Codes in marketing just a passing fad?
Niall Harbison
Story by

Niall Harbison

Niall is a social media advocate and co-founder of digital marketing agency Simply Zesty. He helps small brands get their message out to the Niall is a social media advocate and co-founder of digital marketing agency Simply Zesty. He helps small brands get their message out to the world and engage with their customers using the free tools available to them.

On the way to work today I counted 6 QR codes. I saw them in my morning newspaper, on billboards and and one outside a coffee shop. Marketing circles are embracing this relatively new technology with gusto but are QR codes a useful, long lasting technology or are they just a passing fad? We have written about some innovative ways in which QR codes are used but are they actually working? Does the man in the street understand the technology? Are we seeing a new trend emerge that will be around for generations to come on lots of physical products or is this a fad that will be gone this time next year?

Proliferation Of Smart Phones

The main reason that marketers are embracing this trend is because so many more of us now have smartphones that are able to read QR codes. The technology is hardly earth shattering but the fact that a large percentage of us now walk around with powerful computers in our pockets means that new technologies are emerging and QR codes are one of the biggest winners to date.

Technology Needs To Improve

The technology of smartphones has improved massively in the last 18 months but reading QR codes is still a pain as it involves opening an app which is a cumbersome experience. The experience needs to be smoother to encourage wider adoption and ideally would need to be built into cameras as a native function on all phones. I want to be able to take a picture with my phone and be taken straight to the link. The barrier to entry needs to decrease and that is up to the phone manufacturers.

Linking Real World To Online World

Some of the most innovative QR code campaigns are extending the experience of the offline marketing into the online world. The beauty of QR codes is that they can increase the measurement and effectiveness of ads. I’ve seen this in particular with iPhone app ads (where the QR code links through to a download) which is an effective way for app developers to promote their apps in a notoriously difficult market place. The danger is that people slap a QR code onto things just for the sake of it and while that might work in the short term while QR codes are still new, we still need further innovation.

Fad Or Marketing Genius?

I love them. I think there are endless possibilities that brands and businesses can use to bring their customers from the real world into the online world. Used correctly, QR codes can increase engagement and boost sales. However, there is a danger that brands and businesses are getting caught up in a technology that a small percentage of people understand. Most people don’t have a notion of what QR codes are or what to do with them but the people who do are very likely to activate them. In my opinion QR codes are here to stay but the technology needs to improve and brands and businesses need to think about ways to use QR codes that actually add value rather than just adding them for the sake of adding them. Anything that brings technology into the real world and bridges the gap to the online world is a winner.

And in case you are still wondering what a QR code is, straight from Wikipedia: “A QR Code is a matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by QR scanners, mobile phones with a camera, and smartphones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be text, URL or other data.”

What do you think? Marketing genius or a passing fad?

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