What Happened to Marketing When QR Codes Didn’t Die?

What Happened to Marketing When QR Codes Didn’t Die?

You know about the articles that pronounce QR codes dead. You’ve seen them and read a few as they’ve appeared over the past five years or so. But QR codes haven’t died. In fact, they’re increasing in usage. So, who’s been saying QR codes are dead and what does this mean to marketers?

Who’s Wrong?

Do people actually listen to the authors of these articles? There’s been some articles, pronouncing QR codes dead on some websites with very impressive reputations. Does their reputation suffer from not seeing into the near future?

Hubspot, just a year ago, when QR code generation was on the serious rise, approved of Lindsay Kolowich writing her article, Are QR Codes Dead?:

“Since 2011, the number of mobile users has increased, especially among the younger population, while QR codes seem to have maintained steady popularity and visibility. According to comScore‘s report, the number of people who have scanned a QR code seems to have plateaued since 2012: As the number of smartphone users continues to rise, the number of consumers scanning QR codes remains the same.”

To her credit, she does see past problems that have marketers soured on QR codes, albeit wrongly.

“There are a number of reasons why QR codes might be going “out of style,” but the most important is probably that they’re often misused. They’re in subway stations where there’s no WiFi, on TV commercials that have an air time of a second or two, and some of them lead to broken links or landing pages that aren’t optimized for mobile. Once a consumer is disappointed by the mobile experience behind a QR code, she may never scan one again.”

If we are to judge QR codes by marketers who don’t understand digital marketing, then we are in trouble. Kolowich also seems to show her lack of tech knowledge. Unless this article was written five years ago and held in a queue for four years, then the author should really update her mobile phone and learn what the technology can do. At least those who discovered the proper uses for QR codes will continue to profit by their uses.

In 2013, AdAge ran an article entitled, QR Codes Are Dead, Trampled by Easier-to-Use Apps, by B.L. Ochman. Ms. Ochman writes:

“I was an early proponent of QR Codes, but now I have to admit that they are history. Invisible ink and augmented-reality apps are replacing the clunky codes.”

Where are all of these apps replacing QR codes? Two years later, eons in digital time, QR codes are the premier print-to-digital linking system and increasing with QR code video-linking rolling on the scene. As with other nay-saying writers, they have to fall back on the fact that QR codes were used improperly at first.

“The QR codes did have some brilliant and successful applications, like the mobile-code campaign for an independent music store in Hong Kong that sold music by allowing users to listen to and buy the tunes of 14 bands, half of which sold out their inventory. But more often, the codes were deployed poorly in spots where they couldn’t be scanned, like billboards, or – perhaps lamest ever – on license plates.”

Obviously these views were incorrect. Does it serve the audience of these websites and articles?

  • Is this responsible reporting? Are these incompetent views of the future of tech advancements from those who are supposedly trusted voices of technological advances?
  • There are many others who have also exclaimed that QR codes are dead – all of them before 2013. There have been no retractions as of yet but more and more news srories of QR code usage.
  • MarketingLand, in 2013, announced The Death of QR Codes. Good thing you didn’t send flowers to the funeral! The “upcoming apps” the article mentions have yet to become the goto for digital linking.

SentryMarketing has given in as of just a couple of months ago with their article, QR Codes – The Final Word… Probably.

“There have been a few major stumbling blocks in the way of QR code domination. One of these has been the clumsiness of the technology. For a QR code to work, it has to be placed somewhere that allows the user to essentially photograph it with their smartphone. Said user also needs to have a QR code reader installed on their smartphone (for which he or she must, to begin with, carry a smartphone). To connect to the content, the smartphone must be connected to the internet, and that content must be viewable on a mobile device.”

While this might be truer in 2011 or 2012, anyone who claims “said user also needs to have a QR code reader installed on their smartphone” doesn’t know that QR code readers are now preloaded on all Android phones and iPhones (the Apple watch makes full use of QR codes). To hear someone profess “to connect to the content, the smartphone must be connected to the internet” in the age of 4G technology is not a good sign that SentryMarketing hires the brightest tech savvy people for their company!

Not Everyone is a Genius!

For every top ten percent of anything, there’s also a bottom 10%. Some marketers are great and others – are not. While the marketing and advertising blogs mourn the death of QR codes, it’s the tech blogs that still sing excited praise of the technology.

Global use of QR codes are on the rise, tied to mobile devices. Perhaps not as much in America for the very reasons the QR code morticians outline – misuse through incompetence in not understanding the technology and how to properly use it. The same may be said for the American consumer scanning codes with devices they don’t understand, as with the misinformation from Ms. Kolowich.

So, to whom should you listen? If you’ve ever followed the advice of a friend and then found yourself worse off, you know why some marketers shy away from QR codes. “Once bitten” can frighten the faint hearted. Business is not led by the fainthearted. It’s the innovators, movers and shakers who use QR codes to their full advantage. THEY will be the top 10% of successful marketing firms and when that new technology comes by and QR codes are replaced, these same firms will know how to use that technology while others jump in, blindfolded and sure to fail.

Recommended Reading

Top image ©GL Stock Images

Speider Schneider has created products and marketing material for Warner Bros., Disney/Pixar, Harley-Davidson, ESPN, Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Mattel, DC and Marvel Comics and writes for global blogs on business practices, ethics, technology, QR codes and Augmented Reality.


  1. Pip Cartwright 4 years ago

    It was a tragedy that QR got a bad name for all the reasons in the article. Perhaps it was just a reflection of the times; the smartphone revolution was just starting and responsive sites were rare. It’s such a simple (is best) way of making a link that I’m delighted to see trends that will hopefully shift that plateau in consumer adoption.

  2. Steve Murcko 4 years ago

    I got a little laugh about the quote “lamest use of QR codes was on license plates” – our company places covert information in QR codes readable with our proprietary app and one of our largest projects was applying them to 3rd license plate stickers. The police scan the QR code and can retrieve authenticity of the license, outstanding tickets, insurance , etc.

  3. Guido Gerritsen 4 years ago

    Dear Spider,
    Keep writing about the QR code. It’s live and kicking! Be creative, dear marketeers.

  4. Stephen Akins 4 years ago

    There are other issues with how QR codes are sometimes implemented; but not by marketers – by engineers:

    Often QR Code applications require the user to install a proprietary application to read THEIR QR codes. For instance; Pirq, a QR Code based Loyalty Card program, requires users to use their application to scan a code at participating businesses/locations.

    It’s unfortunate that we ask consumers to install multiple QR Code scanning apps on their phones. I’m not saying Pirq shouldn’t have their own mobile app, but prefixing one’s location codes or other data with a URL – even if it’s just to link the consumer to the app download and instructions – seems to me would be good practice for ALL consumer use QR Codes.

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