QR Codes: Are They Back for Real This Time?

By Josch Chodakowsky

QR Codes are an extension of the barcode, and were first introduced as a way for manufacturers to scan larger amounts of data quickly. By 2011, retailers and tradeshows were able to take advantage of smartphone technology to utilize QR codes in their inventories, badging, and check-ins — and slowly there emerged consumer usage in the form of online offers.

The process, however, was clunky and involved third-party app software to get QR Codes to work. Fast forward to 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic raged, and the need for contactless interaction became paramount. It was during this time that QR Code technology could now exist on everything from packaging to OOH signage, and with a simple hover of a smartphone's camera send consumers to microsites, check-in pages, and offers.

This has allowed marketers to take advantage of QR Codes in ways previously unthought of; however, like most technologies, there are privacy and safety issues to be aware of — and the current speed and ease of QR Code usage means large untapped potential for marketers in the future as well. Read on to see how marketers are using them and addressing issues with QR Codes.

Check out the resources below.

Previously Cast Aside, QR Codes Make a Comeback. ANA, 2022.
After capturing a great deal of hype during the early 2000s, the scannable, Matrix-looking "quick response" barcodes turned into a punchline within the marketing and technology industries. But during the pandemic they were suddenly ubiquitous again. Thanks to better integration in smartphone operating systems, which made the codes easier to interact with, and a need during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to keep customers safe, the QR code became a must-have tool for in-person commerce.

Fast-forward to early 2022, with Coinbase, Buick, and Avocados From Mexico among a growing number of brands using QR codes in their TV ads. Here's why: According to Statista, 82 percent of U.S. households own at least one internet-connected TV, which is central to making the combination of QR codes and ads work in sync.

How Marketers Can Get QR Codes Right. Fast Company, October 2021.
Will QR codes be a one-hit wonder? They've already established staying power through the pandemic, and now that so many people have become accustomed to them and comfortable with them (a major hurdle with any technology adoption), it appears that QR codes — or at least a similar method of touch-free information access — will be around for the long haul. That means security has to adapt. Mobile threat detection has never been more important. With the rise of the digital workforce, people are using corporate-owned devices (or private devices with access to corporate data) to access more information than ever.

This puts sensitive corporate and personal information at risk, and attacks keep getting more sophisticated. Bad actors can use QR codes to embed malware that can have devastating consequences. Phishing attacks can lure users to malicious websites. Information, including personally identifiable information and credit card information, can be stolen quickly — and all of this can happen without the user being aware of it. At least, that is, until it's too late. Fast Company discusses some solutions.

It's Time to Update Your QR Code Marketing Strategy. CMS Wire, September 2021.
The use of QR codes in marketing is growing, with current data showing that 78 percent of the world's population owns a smartphone, according to Statista. With this number continuously on the rise, it would seem to make sense for companies to invest more time and money into using these types of codes in their advertising campaigns. The main benefits that QR codes can yield include increased customer engagement, easier access to information by customers, and an increase in conversions for businesses. Implementing them into your campaign can give you an edge over competitors who are not utilizing these forms of advertising yet. This article looks at best practices and usage of QR codes in 2021 and beyond.

Are QR Codes Dead? The Rise of QR Codes in the Pandemic. QR Code Tiger, October 2021.
Back in the day, QR codes were considered red flags and an inconvenience. The QR codes were declared dead and are expected to fade away. But, did they? In this long-form piece, QR code vendor discusses the ins and outs of the codes, their history, their resurgence, and creative use cases. They also wrote about other use cases in this piece.

QR Codes, Gen Z, and the Future of OOH. Net Imperative, October 2021.
Thanks to the revival and adoption of QR codes, we are starting to see growing adoption in OOH, turning stagnant billboards into immersive AR, video, or digital shopping experiences with just a scan. Here James Lane, Media Director for Redbus Media, discusses the power of interactive outdoor campaigns in helping brands create an emotional and memorable impact.

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Josch Chodakowsky is a senior manager of research and innovation at ANA.

The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Futures Pulse are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.

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