When the QR code experienced its first wave, there was a rush of excitement as marketers tried to capitalize on the technology. It was small, it was easy to produce, and it could be accessed from any smartphone, which most people had at the time. They appeared here and there – on business fronts, business cards, T-shirts, even websites. The results were inevitably underwhelming, and the buzz over QR codes, along with the T-shirts they were printed on, disappeared. Marketers declared them dead, and moved on.
At the time, QR scanning was not a native function of most smartphones, and in order to access them an app was still required. The cost of downloading an app in North America often did not seem worth it just to access a QR code. Besides this, most marketers used it simply as an alternative way to link to their website or marketing material, which was not in all cases optimized for mobile. Marketers had failed to anticipate how QR codes could be used to add value for their customers, focusing instead on the needs of the business.
Is the QR code really “dead”?
Not by any stretch of the imagination is QR dead – in fact, since it was prematurely declared a flop, it has thrived in many different applications. The popular communication app WhatsApp uses QR code integrally for its services. PayTM, the payment app, lets business display a QR code to facilitate payment. While marketing campaigns featuring QR codes have had mixed results, this does not mean there are no success stories.
Verizon had a few successes with QR. For one promotion, they displayed QR codes in-store giving their customers a chance to win a free smartphone. For the promotion, if you shared a Verizon ad on Facebook and one of your friends bought a phone, then you would be given a free mobile phone. During that week they received an additional $35,000 in sales.
As early as 2011, Chili’s placed QR codes on coloring sheets, posters, and table tents to fight childhood cancer. By scanning the QR code, users could donate money to the cause. This resulted in donations of more than $5 million and almost 300,000 scans.
After putting QR codes on their ketchup bottles, Heinz reported over 1 millions scans. The QR code leads to a website that explains Heinz’s eco-friendly packaging standards, as well as games and contests. The success of the Heinz QR campaign also brings to light an interesting use case – most of the scans likely took place in restaurants while patrons waited for their food.
According to Juniper Research, around 1.3 billion mobile QR code coupons were redeemed last year, and that is anticipated to rise to 5.3 billion accessed by 1 million devices by 2022. In addition, Apple now has added a built in QR code scanner to its mobile devices, which means scanning is much easier for iPhone users. (Hopefully Android is not far behind!)
Most recently Amazon has started placing QR codes on magazine advertisements, allowing Amazon mobile app users to scan the “SmileCode” to open Amazon content on their phones. Though still in the experimental phase, Amazon is a leader and where it leads, others will follow.
Marketers face the same challenges they did the first time around – they will have to create value for consumers, and ever increasingly, in a personalized and targeted way – but as the technology is now more ubiquitous, the outlook is good for the QR code.