The Rebirth of the QR Code (and Why It’s More Important Than You Think) | Industry Insights | All MKC Content | ANA

The Rebirth of the QR Code (And Why It’s More Important Than You Think)

By Mike Peralta

The QR code is back at the top of the marketing industry's trends-to-watch lists, and this time, consumers are actually on board. For brands and agencies, this is more than just a case of "what's old is new again." Rather, what's old is better this time around — and capable of providing solutions that have been on marketers' wish lists for years.

Today's QR code implementations can unite experiences and bring understanding across channels in ways that haven't been possible until now. Likewise, they emphasize and elevate the fact that mobile devices represent the true key to understanding and connecting with consumers in a truly personalized way. Let's dig deeper into what these little codes mean for the future of marketing.

The Right Time for a Resurgence

Despite a flurry of industry hype and headlines around the possibilities of QR codes over a decade ago, U.S. audiences have only truly embraced these scannable codes over the past three years. This was driven in part by the pandemic's surge of contactless ordering and purchasing, but also by technology changes. Smartphone cameras are now capable of recognizing QR codes without the need to download a separate app.

In 2020, the number of U.S. smartphone users who scanned a QR code at least once during the year surged 25 percent, from 52.6 million in 2019 to 65.7 million in 2020. That was just the beginning. Going forward, U.S. QR code adoption is expected to increase from 83.4 million users in 2022 to 99.5 million in 2025, according to Insider Intelligence. This growth and adoption makes it a linchpin for uniting marketing experiences and consumer understanding in a cross-channel, privacy-first world.

Full-Funnel Applications of QR Codes

While the function of a QR code is designed to be simple on the consumer side, its applications are quite varied and versatile from a marketing standpoint. They're helping brands transform static print experiences into interactive ones, deepen engagement on out-of-home executions, convert CTV campaigns into commerce experiences and so much more.

QR codes are connecting with people across the entirety of their brand journey, and they're doing so in a way that puts mobile at the crux. This is particularly noteworthy as traditional mobile identifiers continue to disappear from the marketing playbook, prompting the need for our industry to rethink how it can leverage mobile as the linchpin of consumer experiences that it truly is.

QR codes are capable of helping marketers establish and understand cross-channel connections and impact when it comes to some of the hottest marketing vehicles available today. Consider CTV, one of the fastest growing advertising opportunities within the marketing landscape, and yet one where comprehensive measurement and attribution solutions remain elusive. In this environment — one capable of driving both awareness and action — QR codes are being leveraged to enable lead generation, conversions and sales in a variety of creative and effective ways.

We're also seeing the same level of full-funnel up-leveling via QR codes when it comes to fast-growing channels like rideshare advertising, where captive audiences have an opportunity to not just be entertained during their trips, but to actively engage and participate in gaming, sweepstakes and shopping experiences. In this context, QR codes provide an added level of engagement and measurability to an already dynamic environment.

Going forward, we also expect QR codes to serve as important mobile gateways to the growing array of branded augmented reality experiences enabled by 5G. Again, this will be an instance in which QR codes are able to deliver a level of accountability and insight where other measurement options are likely to be nascent or unavailable entirely.

Mobile devices serve as the cornerstone of our day-to-day interactions, and they should likewise be a focal point of today's full-funnel omnichannel marketing and advertising. The recent rebirth of the QR code reacknowledges the vital role these devices play in shaping our worlds, and its continued adoption and expanded application is going to unlock far more opportunities and insights than today's marketers may realize.

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

Mike Peralta, VP and GM at T-Mobile Advertising Solutions.