"Data-Driven Thinking" is written by members of the media community and contains fresh ideas on the digital revolution in media.
Today's column is written by Allison Schiff, senior editor at AdExchanger. It's part of a series of perspectives from AdExchanger's editorial team.
“Are you ready to order?”
The waiter notices my confusion. “Oh, yeah, we don’t hand out menus anymore, you’ve gotta scan that QR code on the table.”
“Um … ”
“Just point your phone camera at it,” he explains in the semi-patient tone of someone who’s suddenly had to deal with a lot of luddites.
This was in late June, when outdoor dining first opened up in New York City. Until that point in my life I’d never contemplated scanning a QR code, which though no doubt still useful to serve the original purpose for which it was invented nearly 27 years ago in Japan – to track vehicle parts during the manufacturing process – had long been relegated to the dustbin of marketing history.
Although QR codes are widely used in China and Japan for everything from payments to pet identification, they never took hold in the US, despite marketer obsession in the early 2010s.
Two Thirds Of Consumers Don't Know What QR Codes Are: Survey (2011)
10 Creative Ways To Use QR Codes For Marketing (2012)
The Year Of The QR Code (2012)
QR Codes Are Dead, Trampled By Easier-To-Use Apps (2013)
Around 2012, marketers excitedly printed QR codes on direct mailers, billboards, in-store shopping displays, the back of cereal boxes and all manner of product packaging.
But all technologies need a real use case in order to thrive. From a marketing perspective, QR codes were a technology in search of a use case.
They failed as a marketing tool in part because marketers didn’t give people a compelling reason to scan them. I challenge you to find someone who actually wants to be taken to a landing page for more information about their breakfast cereal.
To be fair, there was also a technical barrier. Scanning a QR code used to require a separate app. But several years ago, both Apple and Android introduced the ability to scan QR codes using the in-built native camera app on their respective smartphones, and then … 2020 happened.
QR codes are finally becoming mainstream in the US because they can answer real needs during the pandemic: contactless payment, digital menus, self-serve food ordering, touchless shopping and contact-free clothing returns at retail locations, to name a few.