Scan this code

We’ve seen them on advertisements, products, even clothing, but how many of us actually use the QR code? Just the other day at LAX I passed by an ad for free WiFi, all you had to do to sign up was scan the code on the ad. That gave me pause. In my life, I’ve never actually scanned a QR code. Does anyone?


(Disclaimer: I have no idea what this code is for)

According to research conducted in 2013 – which promises a massive rise in the years to come – just 21% of the consumer market has scanned QR codes. The study indicated a rise in usage up till that point, but that rise fell short of expectations (Kolowich, 2014). That rise does not seem to be happening. One recent article even called the QR code a “blinking VCR clock” for this century (Goetz, 2015). Ouch.

These codes have been around for far longer than one might expect, having been introduced in Japan in the early 1990s. But they didn’t make their way across the pacific until just a few years ago. When they did, they seemed to appear everywhere, and fast (Strout, 2013). But the lack of built-in QR code readers in most smartphones (Apple and Android and even Blackberry) made them slow to be adapted, which can be a product killer in the tech-world.

While the lack of applications is harming the QR code, is it far from dead. Some very high profile brands are still using the little squares, including Coca Cola, SnapChat and that WiFi ad. Should Apple or Google start putting automatic code-readers into their standard mobile operating systems sometime soon, we may still see a resurgence for the code.


Goetz, Geoffery. (2015, January 31). Why QR codes are the blinking VCR clock of the 21st century. Gigaom Research. doi:

Kolowich, Lindsay. (2014, August 14). Are QR codes dead? Hubspot Blogs. doi:

Strout, Aaron. (2013, April 4). The death of the QR code. Marketing Land. doi:




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23 Responses to Scan this code

  1. Dawn says:


    How funny! I am totally in the same boat as you. I have seen “QR codes” around and I have always wanted to make it a point to jump on with the trend, but it seems like a hassle. I did download the QR app on my iPhone for purposes of your post. The QR code you have here directs people to a website called, “QR Stuff” ( Basically a website dedicated to all things QR.

    I wonder if the QR code will take traction in the near future. I understand that it is a quick and “easy” way to direct people to a company’s website so that potential consumers can learn more about their brand/product. However, the Twitter # and even a company’s Facebook page has made the QR code unnecessary in my eyes. People seem to want to have conversations and go to a central locations for brand commentary and opinions. Maybe if companies reinvent the QR code, so that commercials, videos, podcasts, etc play once the QR code is scanned, the QR code could become something fun and interactive.

    Thanks for sharing! I look forward to seeing if the QR code can make a more prevalent comeback.

  2. Jessica says:

    Ryan, Great post! Excellent choice of marketing to review. I am very much in the same boat as a lot of us (I assume) are, I have NEVER scanned a QR code. I was unaware that the codes have been around for so long, I had even in fact forgot about them as a tactic until this post.

    I guess I forgot because I haven’t really heard anything good about them or even remotely interesting. It does make me think, if someone was going to launch a campaign with a QR code, didn’t anyone think to research it and the technology? As you mention, its a killer in the tech world. Or did someone hear about it and jump on the bandwagon because it sounded “cool”?

  3. Jennifer says:

    Hi Ryan,

    I noticed that QR codes come up a lot lately, but I have never used them. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a reason to and that no company has incentivized me to scan their code. I guess I always thought “Well, this is a tool used to make it more convenient for them to track their marketing efforts, but how does it benefit me?” It might require me to download an app on the spot and wait a few minutes before using it, but that might be inconvenient for some people. Plus scanning a QR code can help the company track a lot of sensitive data such as like email, contact list, and access to your calendar (Schottmuller, 2011). It also gives the company quick access to online reviews. Kind of scary when you think about it.

    This is a growin trend, but I’m not entirely comfortable using them yet.

    Thanks for sharing!


    Schottmuller, A. (2011, December 30). Top 14 Things Marketers Need to Know About QR Codes. Retrieved on August 9, 2015 from

  4. Alicia says:

    Hi Dawn:
    Your post got me thinking. I am in the health insurance industry and it seems that about one year ago the QR code was a popular way for insurance companies to direct us to their sites. The most popular reason was to have access to the blogs discussing changes related to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, one dental carrier that I recall was including the QR in the information they provided members. If the member downloaded the QR they would have access to the provider finder tool so that they could easily find dentist that participated in the plan. I don’t recall seeing this feature in the most recent communication material. I wonder if the popularity of the feature wasn’t very high. I think it may be worth it for me to ask the carrier based on the responses I have read. Thanks.

  5. Lisa says:

    Hi Ryan. Thanks for this thoughtful post. I have used QR codes throughout the marcom work I do for BASF and you are exactly right…no one uses them. We had special web pages set up to track the click throughs on these from a calendar we produced 2 years ago and nothing. I did use them, however, in a form of augmented reality where they got alot of pick up, but people didn’t realize they were using them. The iPad automatically took a picture of them and loaded an animation, so the user was already viewing the animation and not spending time figuring out how to use the code. Thanks again for sharing.

  6. Jason Williams says:

    I agree with everyone else. I have never scanned one of these and looked it up on my phone. I guess I am a little behind the ‘tech’ curve. I know my smart phone is capable of so much more than I use it for… which is calling, texting, photos and looking up things on the internet from time to time.

    In all honesty, I have never really paid much attention to these codes much less thought of using it. However, after reading this, I think I will do it just for the hell of it and check it out. I think I have one on my ketchup bottle.

  7. Kelly says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Interesting, I had no idea that QR codes have been around in Japan since the 90s. I’d like to know why QR codes are successful in Japan. Also, are there other countries aside from Japan that use QR codes effectively for marketing purposes?

    As you mention in your post, the fact that it’s not a standard feature built into our mobile devices makes it less probable that someone is going to use it. At this point, if it became a standard feature in cell phones, I’m not sure if I would use it anyway. Truthfully, I don’t see a tremendous added benefit as a consumer in scanning one, nor do I think the benefits of using them are communicated effectively by brands who use them. Yet, I keep seeing them on most advertisements as a way to engage consumers. I think in order for popularity to catch on the effort has to be twofold- the scanners become a standard feature on all cell phones and companies have to actively communicate the benefits of scanning their QR code.

  8. Tedria says:

    Hi Ryan –

    Great post! I was first introduced to QR codes when I had my Blackberry. Everyone had a unique code that you were able to scan when you wanted to add them to your contact list. Now that I think about it, that was the ONLY time I used QR codes. At one point in time, I remember companies trying to utilize unique QR codes specific purposes. Personally, I don’t think that it was presented to the public in a way that made them want to take part in this fad. No one really knows why QR codes are being used. Is it a waste of an investment to implement QR codes into specific campaigns? With less than 21% of the marketplace indulging in this trend, I would say it is!

    Thanks for sharing this!

  9. Tedria says:

    Hi Ryan –

    Great post! I was first introduced to QR codes when I had my Blackberry. Everyone had a unique code that you were able to scan when you wanted to add them to your contact list. Now that I think about it, that was the ONLY time I used QR codes. At one point in time, I remember companies trying to utilize unique QR codes for specific purposes. Personally, I don’t think that it was presented to the public in a way that made them want to take part in this fad. No one really knows why QR codes are being used. Is it a waste of an investment to implement QR codes into specific campaigns? With less than 21% of the marketplace indulging in this trend, I would say it is!

    Thanks for sharing this!

  10. Errol says:


    You definitely make a valid point on the current status and future of the QR code. I remember when they first hit the U.S. market and “everyone” needed to get on board with the QR code because it was going to be the wave of the future. I am surprised that that major cell phone companies haven’t already added a QR reader into the phone. Perhaps if it was more relevant it would be used more.

    QR seems to try and rebrand itself with more personalized QR codes (colors, pictures, and logos embedded); however, it doesn’t help if people still do not know what it does for them. I thought it was a neat idea, but it could also be a failing trend.

  11. Jessica says:

    Hi Ryan,

    I love your blog post! When I first heard about the name QR code, it was in my communication class freshman year in Newhouse Syracuse University six years ago. My professor introduced the code to all the students and said the code would soon be used everywhere.

    Different than most of the students, I actually use the QR code quite often. As you mentioned, the QR code is popular in Japan, it is also popular in China. Almost all the Asian made phones have a code reader built in app. The QR code represents each person’s identity, similar to an ID. It could be used to deposit money, add a friend’s WeChat ID, transfer money and so on.

    -Jessica Q. Yang

  12. Samantha says:

    Hi Ryan,

    This is a really great post! I was actually thinking about this the other day when doing the big project for this class. Your post also made me feel really nostalgic. I had no idea people were still using QR codes until I read your post. It made me remember when they were first introduced, and I remember downloading the QR reader app and thinking I was so cool because I could scan them, and I scanned as many as I could for the fun of it. I think that having a QR campaign now might be a waste of resources, and I only say that because it isn’t as popular as it used to be. But you do make a great point – because there are big names using the QR code, it still has a chance to become a popular advertising source again. It would be really cool to see that happen.

    – Samantha

  13. Jennifer says:

    Hi Ryan,

    Thanks for the great post! During undergrad, I was the communications intern for my alumni department. The person I was working under had it in mind that QR codes were going to drastically change how we communicated with students and alumni. We put them on everything: postcards, letters, the website. etc. etc. etc. Unfortunately, they were a huge letdown. No one really used them; worse yet, no one even really knew what they were. I tested the QR codes in advance, but I remember thinking at the time that they felt like a lot of unnecessary work. It’s great that they can give a lot of useful information, but that is completely moot if you can’t get people to actually buy into whatever it is you’re selling, so to speak. In this case, it’s kind of a hassle to have to download a QR reader, take your phone out, turn it on, scan the code, wait for the code to load, then navigate your way through all the text and pictures. To me, it seems no more convenient than just manually typing in a website and clicking on a few links. I like apps that make my life somehow easier, not complicated.


  14. Lori says:

    Hey Ryan
    Great topic to post for class. Back in 2010, I used a QR code on my business cards. The reason was to get people, who I meet at national conferences, to scan the code, get directed to my webpage, and sign up for my e-zine (e-newsletters). If they did so, they received a free white-page article that was predetermined for that audience. I found the QR codes to be very helpful, as an entrepreneur. I have to say, though, that I do not scan the QR codes when I see them randomly on a product.

    To your point, and the point of those who have commented on this post, if most people do not know what a QR code is, or will do for you, it is a lost cause. Marketers should not use them unless there is a “call to action”. Maybe a “FREE coke.. just sign up here” and an arrow pointing to the code.

  15. Christopher Papazian says:

    It is funny but I see those codes all over the place, but sometimes I am suspicious when all I see besides the QR code is “Scan this code for a chance to win X”. Conferences are infamous for these sorts of things but unless I truly know quite a bit about the company asking for my scan I refrain from doing so.

  16. Valerie says:

    Hey Ryan,

    I have actually used QR codes (reluctantly) in trade show campaigns and at large events. In trade shows we used them because the product URL was too long to think people could remember or type into their search engine – this could be solved with a vanity URL. In events we have used them as a way for people to download an event app quickly – it is not that hard to look up apps. While on paper both sound like great ideas people really don’t use QR codes; I maybe saw one or two people in each instance walk up to the QR code and scan them. I am not a fan and I really can’t see them becoming mainstream since they haven’t already!

  17. Jessica Jordan says:

    This is such a timely blog post as I was just chatting with one of my groups about the usage of QR codes. Although the idea behind QR codes was great, I think it was poorly utilized due to the lack of understanding how to scan them. At first glance they look like the old school barcode for Blackberry Messenger. Whenever I see QR codes, there’s a sense of mystic, not because it’s such a cool concept, but because I don’t even know what app to use to obtain the information being advertised. As scanners did not come pre-installed on smartphones, I think QR codes made it more challenging for consumers to use the marketing tool. I never found QR codes worth the hassle of figuring out how to scan them, so till this day I simply shrug my shoulders when I see them anywhere. I am curious to know statistically, just how much of a fail QR codes have been since companies initially started using them.

  18. Anastasia says:


    Great post! I think I am one of the only ones that currently have a QR reader on my phone. I will admit that I was a bit skeptical about QR codes but after a introduction to them in my undergrad and speaking to some heavy hitters in the Ad world I learned the importance of the QR code when it came to sharing information. just as you stated some brands use the QR code to sell products, but QR codes (which are can be set up for free on some sites) can also be used for personal branding. A recruiter once mentioned that she was a recruitment event and was introduced to a prospective candidate for employment. They talked for a while and he asked could he give her his resume. She said you can send it to me. He gave her his card and on the back it have a QR code. She happened to have a reader on her phone. She scanned it and she was instantly connected to his resume. I though this was genius and took the lead and added a “free” QR code to my infomational cards.

    Now not everyone will have a QR Reader, but for those who its great there could be some added advantage. At least in the case of digitally connecting someone to your portfolio, resume or blog.


  19. Ruqqayat says:


    Great post! You seem to have accomplished exactly what a blog should seek to do and have generated engaging conversation amongst your readers! Similar to those who have commented before me, I have seen these codes all over the place but never cared enough to download any application to scan them. I cared just enough to be curious but not enough to engage me. Fascinating that they have existed since the 90’s. I wonder what strategy or what type of marketing would have to occur in order for these to effectively become popular enough for those of us who have seen but never utilized them to actually care enough to take action?

    Great job!

  20. Hector says:


    This is such a great topic to touch on in this course, specifically because as we are wrapping up our pitch to our clients, suggesting the QR code as an mobile strategy might be the wrong idea after reading your post. I’ll admit, I have never in my life felt the need to download an app just to allow me to scan one of these codes — regardless if I would be rewarded for my efforts with some free swag from a brand.

    Personally, I find these huge QR codes to be major eye sores on creative (posters, online banners, etc.). Unless there was a way to scan a barcode that actually looked cool, I feel like the majority of people have just ignored this trend and it will die a slow and painful death. On your note about if Apple or Android should place readers built into their phones, I think that would be asking a lot from both companies and would need a real reason to make that type of build on their devices.

    Great post!

  21. Yunhee says:

    I had tried once to scan a QR code but got discouraged because it didn’t work. Unless there was a compelling reason to do this again (say, a huge discount on something I’m eyeing), I probably wouldn’t try it again. It’s a pain in the butt and the apps just don’t make it easy and intuitive enough. It’s a shame because I was really excited about this whole concept at one point.

  22. Eric says:

    Hi Ryan,
    Great post and thanks for sharing this information about QR codes. I had no idea that they have been around since the 1990’s. What I do have a pretty good idea about however is their lack of popularity in recent years. When they first were introduced to western markets, many companies were quick to adopt these codes. However, from a consumer standpoint I personally find these codes inconvenient for three reasons. First, I don’t have the app and would need to download it in order to read the codes. Second, I would need to physically take a picture of the code and take the time to focus my cell phone’s camera to it. Third, once the picture has been taken, I would then need to read a bunch of information in order to find out more about what the code is trying to say.

    I can see how it was cool when it first came out, but at the end of the day consumers want convenience and a QR code is just one extra step that’s preventing them from getting the information they need. Therefore, I’ve seen several companies recently abandon the code and switched their communication approach to using clear and simple communication. In other words, communications that doesn’t send consumers through any extra steps and states everything clearly and openly in once place.