Like them or not, QR codes have their place

Foreword: This is my first blog post for Ryerson University’s Social Media in PR course, part of Ryerson’s well respected public relations certificate program. Follow this blog for the next nine weeks as we move from A – Z in social media.

Course: CDPR108 Week 1

Predicting whether social media tools will be darlings or duds has practically become a sport. This week’s course readings offer contrasting opinions on whether QR, or “quick response”, codes are awkward or effective for moving consumers and audiences from print advertising to websites and affecting sales. (Read “Why QR Codes Won’t Last” and “QR codes are Not Dead”.)

Critics complain that QR codes are technical, unattractive and usually don’t offer more or better information than the print ads provide. Worse, too often they link to websites that are not optimized for mobile devices. Trying to read a website on a hand-held device is hard on the eyes, not to mention annoying.

“Not dead” isn’t much of an affirmation, but not everyone is down on QR codes. Proponents like scannable codes when they are used creatively. And who wouldn’t? If you can come up with a great product demo or compelling story about an issue that matters in your industry, why not help people find it by placing a QR code on a print ad or package, for example? Isn’t that better than not helping them find it?

QR codes “on the rise”

In a June blog post (Will Augmented Reality Spell the End of the QR Code?), communications and technology expert Shel Holtz argues that “despite the amount of contempt in which a lot of people hold QR codes, they’re on the rise, not the decline.”

He counters a ReadWriteWeb report that suggests augmented reality, or AR, will cause the demise of QR codes. The report claims AR has “huge advantages over current print-to-Web promotional tools”, such as:

  • it doesn’t require print space; and
  • it can be applied to existing movies, advertisements, vending machines, buildings and many other things.

Shel admits to AR’s growing appeal but doesn’t buy the argument that QR codes are fading fast. Instead, he cites research findings from Scanbuy (a company that offers QR codes) and Scanlist showing the use of QR codes is increasing. (He found both reports on Digiday.)

  • Scanbuy’s study claims the number of QR codes it processed has risen 157% over the same period last year.
  • Scanlife’s report says it found that 86% of marketers surveyed were planning to use QR codes this year.

Moreover, Shel reported that he is seeing QR codes used more often and in new ways recently, such as floor-to-ceiling interactive advertising installations in his local mall. He goes on to list several other reports and anecdotal evidence that the use of QR codes is expanding.

QR codes are useful

While I agree QR codes could look more appealing, I believe the idea behind them – a barcode for a specific web link – is a good one. I primarily use QR codes in magazines. I like those that give me more information on the items I see in an ad, such as customer reviews or information on where and how a product is made. If I were building a campaign with print and online components, I would not miss the opportunity to include a QR code as long as I had the time and budget to develop interesting and useful content. A note alongside the code explaining what type of content is available is also a must for me before I will scan.

For now, I will side with supporters who believe QR codes have their place and will continue to exist. But remember that tools are just tools: Content is king.


9 thoughts on “Like them or not, QR codes have their place

  1. thinkingaboutsocialmedia

    Well said! From our class discussion today, it sounds like QR codes can be useful tools but with the caveat that they’re most effective if used properly. Before I had a smartphone, I didn’t feel like I was in the loop about what these square bar code things were in the corner of subway ads. Do they even work if your phone doesn’t have reception when you’re underground in the subway? This definitely speaks to using the proper PR tools for smart planning.

    1. caroldunsmore Post author

      I think you’re right. Two things are key: smart planning and using tools for what they’re obviously good for (not getting “too” clever). As PR professionals, I think we have to be much more strategic than ever before.

    1. caroldunsmore Post author

      Hi Brad, that’s the big question – will people use them? Including a web address on print information is a no-brainer. My view is that when it is easier to use a QR code to get people directly to relevant online information, I think people would appreciate the use of them. Time and stats will tell.

  2. Tania Alvarez

    I agree that the QR code is far from dead, but I do think its advantages to advertising are limited and definitely not as effective as AR technology. But QR codes will find their place, like paying for transactions with a mobile phone, or perhaps even replacing traditional bar codes in a way that makes the act of buying something a new space for engagement and interaction.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s