QR codes – on the way up or DOA?

Cc-bc-sa-icons-qr-codeThis morning, I took an informal poll of one person about a topic I’m curious about lately — QR codes!

The methodology:

I asked a friend, “You know what QR codes are, right?”

The results:

A blank stare and a “no.”

Okay, so perhaps QR codes have not yet won the hearts of most customers and marketers, despite controversial predictions that 2013 may be the year the codes finally take off. For some reason, I still want to believe they will hit their stride in the United States and go from ugly grids on subway platform posters to useful tools for exploring and understanding our world.

But now, this. Perhaps taking credibility away from the usefulness of QR codes, McDonald’s has started using them as an option for retrieving nutritional information. This has led some thought leaders like Adam Singer to term it a “brilliant” tactic because McDonald’s doesn’t really want people to think about the nutritional value of their food, and since no one knows what a QR code is, much less how to use it, this a great way to release the information without worry it will deter consumers from chowing on hamburgers and fries. After all, they’ll probably never see it! A smokescreen for transparency, if you will.

Hmmm. Well, that sounds convincing.

But there’s one glimmer of hope — a comment on Singer’s post cites a survey that suggests 19% of Americans have scanned a QR code. Taking that into consideration, it seems QR codes are *not* dead and useless. If almost 20% of Americans have used one before, why not use them instead of — or along with — a short link, as some marketing leaders propose?

So what do you think is going on here?  Would you scan a McDonald’s QR code to find out how many grams of fat and sodium you’re eating? Do you think the company’s motive in using QR codes is honorable?

Do you know what QR codes are? 

Let’s chat in the comments!

UPDATE 1/31/2013

This morning, Gini Dietrich observed that people in other countries appear to use QR codes frequently and with ease, but not so much in the US. She wonders what’s behind the apparent difference, and that got me curious about existing research on QR code adoption. Certainly some good research does exist, though most of it focuses on demographics, awareness and motives for scanning. I can’t immediately find qualitative research on attitude toward the codes — the missing piece of this puzzle, in my opinion — which might provide an answer for Gini and others who sense the potential of the technology.  Here’s hoping we see such a study in the near future, because it would help marketers determine where and how to employ QR codes best, if at all. At the moment, the prescriptions I see seem to echo “educate the consumer.” But with such significant push-back from people who despise QR codes more than Madonna *loathes* hydrangeas … well, maybe it’s just not time in the US yet, and those who figure out how to do it well will pull ahead. I hope I have cause to write another QR code update soon!

Here’s a link to some of the information I found today. Enjoy, and please leave a comment if you find more!

Two thirds of consumers don’t know what QR codes are: survey — Analysis of a 2011 survey by UK research agency Simpson Carpenter. The link to the comScore article embedded in this page is definitely worth viewing as well.

MGH’s QR Code Usage and Interest Survey (pdf) — Results of a survey on QR code awareness plus demographics and motives behind scans.


14 Comments on “QR codes – on the way up or DOA?”

  1. codycook2 says:

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  2. JedRieke says:

    Well, you can add me to the small percentage of people who like QR codes.

    I think that they are the key to “no old people allowed” zones. If the product is for teens and 20-year-olds, then a QR code might be beneficial. Just remember to ensure the landing page/video is aimed for that age group too.

  3. They can be incredibly effective and are proving to be in certain instances. At the same time, they can be horribly misused thereby giving them a bad name. I think they often fall victim to the kill or be killed world of tech bloggers looking to either bury tech they find played out or dismiss it because they want to seem cutting edge. They are not the answer to all things mobile. When implemented as a piece of a larger strategy, they can do wonders.

    I do not and have not ever believed that QR Codes could cure cancer, find Jimmy Hoffa or replace a fast acting inhaler for sudden symptoms.

    • HA!! Excellent points. I especially appreciate your critical thinking on potential non-objectivity in some sectors of the “We Hate QR Codes” camp.

      But actually, “as Ancient Astronaut theorists believe,” QR codes were delivered to our ancestors in the form of blueprints for Stonehenge, and most recently in crop circles….by extraterrestrials!

      (It’s true, I love the Ancient Aliens show!)

  4. […] there’s lots of talk about QR codes from me lately, eh? Some people have already written them off as useless, some people love them, and some people […]

  5. Good morning Dwayne. I enjoyed the post this morning.

    My main concern about the use of QR codes is this – lies, damn lies and statistics!

    “19% of the US have scanned a QR code.”

    That’s a far cry from “19% of Americans prefer QR codes.” I’d be willing to bet 19% of Americans have wiped their ass with a leaf at some point in their lives. That doesn’t mean they’d prefer that to the alternative, if the alternative is available to them.

    I tend to click on a lot of QR codes – in fact, every time I see one and have my phone handy. Why? Not because I’m interested in the product, but because I want to see about the execution of the QR code experience. Despite all that clicking, I have NEVER seen a quality execution of a campaign in the wild. Ever.

    Marketers may continue to use them, but if the experience is lacking, the marketing community is training the US population to never click on another one.

    • Mr. McGinnis! Hello. And thanks for taking time to comment.

      I’m on board with you about the statistics. I can’t get that 19% number to jibe with my experience; I have never seen someone scan a QR code. And maybe this says more about my personality than anything, but … I always feel weird and conspicuous when I do. Maybe people are doing it secretly at home behind closed doors? I don’t know. That’s the kind of research I would like to see but can’t find.

      In general, I think when statistics set off buzzers like that, it either means there’s a brilliant, untapped opportunity at hand — or something else is going on within the research.

      I think you are serving sage wisdom when you say that marketers are currently training people to ignore QR codes. Why bother scanning if the action rarely provides any kind of benefit? I’d like to see it turn around, but that will take a return to focus on consumer benefit and experience.

      • I guess my view on QR codes boils down to this – they are brilliant solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.

        I mean, essentially QR codes are a means to ensure the consumer lands on the place where they wanted to land – so it idiot-proofs the typing in of a url. but any marketer worth their salt ought to be able to use a custom url shortener that aligns with your brand to get you where you want to be – and if the consumer makes a mistake they will know they made a mistake and try again.

        I mean, when was the last time anyone ever heard a consumer lament that “I’d visit more web sites of brands on my mobile phone if only I didn’t have to type in the url!”

        It just doesn’t happen. Because if you really want what’s being offered badly enough, you’ll type in that url on the poster/postcard/newsletter/whatever.

  6. I can’t decide on the QR code. Anywhere else you go in the world, they’re prevalent and people are using them nonstop. Why is it the U.S. they’re not catching on? Kind of a rhetorical question because I don’t really have an answer.

    • Hi, Gini! Thank you for visiting and commenting! Your rhetorical question got me wondering about existing research on QR codes. So I did a bit of searching in academic databases and online … updated with links to some results and analysis above. I’d really love to see a study on attitudes toward the codes — it would probably answer your question. Until then, I guess it’s more billboards and bikini bottom stunts!

  7. Laura Greeno says:

    DOA for most businesses – I think they can be used well in the hospitality industry and some retail – as long as they have a brick-n-mortar presence. Thanks!

    • I agree — I think QR codes have a lot of potential to augment location-based initiatives. For example, grabbing a coupon for use at checkout, or quickly downloading detailed information about how to use something, etc. I hope they hit their stride and find appropriate use. Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

  8. […] See on alicieinwonderland.wordpress.com […]


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