Are QR codes still a thing?

QR codes, aka Quick Response codes, are the two-dimensional barcodes you can find everywhere from product packaging to placemats and promo posters. Why are they so popular around the world but not in the US?

Marketers ruin everything. Like so many other things (social media, content marketing, email, etc.) when marketers jump on the bandwagon to implement the latest emerging tech but fail to add value, the resulting effects are dismal. Consumers deserve better, and we as marketers need to be better than that. If what you are doing doesn’t add value or enhance the consumer experience you probably shouldn’t be doing it.

Consumers never really got the point. There were a few really stellar campaigns that provided free music downloads and other digital content but they were only accessible to those with the right gear. For some reason there didn’t seem to be a reliable go-to software for reading QR codes, and who wants to have to download multiple apps to try and read a QR code with little to gain. (See first point above.)

Smartphones never seemed to scan QR codes properly. Our phones have been optimized to capture photos, not barcodes. We are a selfie/pictogram culture; we use our smartphones to capture everything in our daily life in living color. (Even if we intend on editing and filtering it into quasi-perfection.) QR codes are literally bar codes, information is encoded in pixels meant to be read as positive and negative space. Digital photography is quite the opposite with complex layers of encoded data to capture light, depth, and color.  invest in QR code reading when there is a greater value add in image recognition?

Thus it made little sense to invest in QR code reading when image recognition can provide a greater value add. Think about it. You need to fix something and you have the piece you need to replace, which you could order online if you knew what it was called. So you fire up an app that allows you to snap the thing-a-ma-bobber and identifies what it is, so you can find it conveniently in your local store or order it online.

What this doesn’t explain is why QR codes have been so popular everywhere else in the world.


  1. I asked myself this question earlier this year after the HR team approached us wanting business cards with QR codes to encourage the mobile completion of our annual online survey. Results were not driven and it became a time consuming, yet experimental task for our team. The whole while I kept wondering, is this still relevant, something I should be on top of. Personally, the downloading of the app to read the code was always my deterrent, and blogger Brian Morris reinforced this concept well: “QR codes are often presented on the fly – on posters, flyers, and magazine ads, for example. Who wants to search for an app, download it, install it, open it, and then scan just to see what an advertiser wants to show you?” The more we learn about emerging media, the more emphasis I see being placed on speed, ease of use and accessibility. The extra step of downloading a reader does not support this trend. Perhaps global users are more accepting of the extra step or the mobile platforms, and our impatient American behaviors are what is causing the lag of this tool. This could be another notion that not all technology is right for all global users. Do you have any insight into the reasons why people do appreciate QR codes globally?


    1. This could be another notion that not all technology is right for all global users. Do you have any insight into the reasons why people do appreciate QR codes globally?

      In one word, BETAMAX. I’m kidding. QR codes originated with the Japan automotive industry, and are prevalent in manufacturing and inventory tracking even in the US. But to provide consumer value, the consumer needs to embrace QR codes as a whole, or at least enough to have an accessible QR reader app installed. It is possible that the tech is better integrated into marketing campaigns around the world, and that it was killed in the US as a result of worthless or confusing offers, aka bad marketing.

    1. Thanks, Adelyn. After posting this post several things with QR codes arrived on my desk. However, I haven’t even attempted to scan the codes, as each had an alternative method for gaining the same information. Have any QR codes stood out to you lately?

  2. QR codes are moving off into the land of street artists, such as the famed Banksy. He made a giant QR code in London that also is a political statement (Goodin, 2016).

    So here’s the question: Is the power of such as well-known street artist enough to make QR codes popular in the U.S.?

    I have no problem using one. You just got to have the QR code app on your phone first. Using a QR code is really a two-step process that may prove a pain to some consumers.


    Goodin, A. Are QR Codes Making a Comeback in 2016? (2016, March 3). Retrieved from

    1. There’s not a specific objection to QR codes, simply that they’ve lacked a value add within the US market. The failure rate of QR codes has also been an obstacle for consumers. Personally, I don’t think I’ve scanned a QR code in four years. What sort of information or benefit do you typically expect to receive when scanning a QR code?


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