QR codes: Fool’s Gold?

I was in a meeting yesterday between a client of mine and TfL, in which the topic of the arrival of widespread Wi-Fi on London Underground came up. This led me to being asked for the third time in just one day for my thoughts on QR code usage. QR codes being the 2D codes that can be scanned using a smartphone with a QR code reader, taking the user to further cotent via their mobile. So I thought it might be sensible to note my thoughts down here.

It was predicted a few years ago that by now QR codes would have exploded in the UK. Sure, you now see them on cereal boxes, posters, TV ads – but how many people are pulling out their smartphones and scanning them? Well, about 19% of UK consumers according to some stats. But, how many find the experience satisfying if they have gone to the trouble of getting out their smartphone and scanning? I’d suggest a very small proportion, with most experiences being very anti-climactic!

Many are saying QR code usage will take off when Apple and others include QR readers within the preset package when you buy your smartphone. I would argue that while this change will assist moving QR codes being just a gimmick to a more consistent part of people’s everyday lives, it will not make a massive difference. A step change in QR code usage will only in fact come when brands, advertisers, PRs (and the like) are able to start coming up with QR code initiatives that offer non-techie people more than they could get by simply typing in a URL to a browser.

I believe QR codes will come of age as a meaningful communication route at some point, but only if creative mental leaps are made by those incorporating them into campaigns and initiatives, not because of a fast forward in technology.

It would be a start if those employing QR codes in campaigns could remember not to place them underground (at least until there is WiFi down there!) or point them towards sites that aren’t optimised for mobile phones.

A rare example of an initiative with enough creativity – and value to the user – to be worth scanning a QR code for, comes from South Korea with a virtual Tesco store for busy subway users:

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