QR Codes Are Back

| By Ian Joyce

It took a pandemic, but the QR code is back. A couple of years ago that would have seemed unlikely. After all, in the early days of QR codes marketers splashed them across ads, billboards, vehicles, trees, people and any other surface they could imagine. It was a case study for enthusiasm over sound strategy, and predictably, the public wasn’t impressed.

Of course, the global manufacturing giant DENSO wasn’t thinking about advertising applications for QR codes when they invented them. QR codes were an innovative solution to a common industrial problem: Efficiently encoding a large amount of information into a tag that could be applied to items that needed to be quickly tracked or identified. For automotive assembly and other complex processes, QR codes were the right answer.

In the hands of a lot of marketers QR codes became shorthand for “we’re high tech,” while the content behind the codes often lacked a purpose or substance. On top of that, smartphones lacked the native ability to read QR codes and required downloading an app. Between inconvenience and lack of value, audiences ignored them.

Still, QR codes stuck around. They were valuable industrial tools, and as phones gained native readers the codes could be used for valuable purposes like sharing information, joining networks, ticketing, and other applications where scanning simple codes replaces multistep processes.

Fast forward a few years and the spread of COVID-19 suddenly made the idea of touchless everything part of everyday life. Restaurants have been significant beneficiaries of QR codes. Between supply chains that are constantly in flux, staffing issues and public health mandates, restaurant operations change rapidly. QR codes direct diners to mobile destinations with up-to-date information about hours, menus and prices. And savvy restauranteurs are going further by integrating tracking into these codes, so they can gather insights into diners’ preferences and behaviors.

Now QR codes aren’t just for restaurants. They’re visible in retail, environmental marketing and even the night sky. Marketers have learned lessons from those early missteps: Have a strategy. Place QR codes where they’re useful. Deliver value to audiences.  Then, leverage their capabilities to learn more about customers.

It’s rare that anything that was once perceived as a marketing gimmick gets a second chance, but the pandemic has given QR codes new reasons to exist.


Want to hear more about leveraging QR codes? Watch a recording of our recent webinar on the topic here.


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