April 30, 2015

RIP QR Codes: 5 Reasons QR Codes Died a Slow Death

RIP QR Codes: 5 Reasons QR Codes Died a Slow Death

Since QR Codes became a “thing,” packaging designers have tried to integrate them in all sorts of manner. We’re now several years into that experiment, so what’s the verdict? Are QR codes on packaging here to stay? Should they?

For a brief moment in time, QR (quick response) codes were a huge digital marketing boon. You could wave your smartphone over them and … boom! Everything you’d ever want to know about the product would appear. Is it gluten-free? Locally sourced? What does Oprah have to say about it?

Well, the idea of the QR code is great; the reality … not so much. Here are five reasons the QR code couldn’t survive the smartphone revolution.

1. No Standardized QR Code App

How do you even scan a QR code, anyway? Well, you take a picture of the QR code on your smartphone, use a scanner app you’ve installed, and the app directs you to the URL embedded within the code. It’s typically the business’ website, but it could be the Facebook page for the business or product.

The problem is that scanner apps don’t come pre-installed on any smartphone operating system, and only the most app-happy among us would bother downloading one. The tool isn’t ubiquitous. Consumers aren’t likely to install it just to learn more about a particular brand of shampoo while shopping at their local Walgreens—particularly when all the information they’d want about the product should be on the product package. Oh, snap!

2. Websites Aren’t Optimized

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that consumers were willing to scan QR codes on random retail items. Once they did, they’d—more often than not—find that the websites to which they’ve been directed weren’t optimized. This means that the consumer who actually bothered to use your QR code on their smartphones were directed to a website that they can’t easily use on a smartphone. Oh, come on!

Note, this may change now that Google has unleashed “mobilegeddon.”

3. Consumers Don’t Know How to Scan Properly

According to QR code optimizing service Visualead, only 15 percent of smartphone users even know how to use a QR code scanner. That’s just the number of people who know how to use such an app; there’s no guarantee that these people are actively using one.

Scanning a QR code isn’t a hugely complicated process, but just attempting—and failing—to scan a QR code once can turn a consumer off of QR codes forever. Who really wants to stand around trying to get the appropriate angle, light, and focus for a picture that won’t even get “liked” on Instagram?

4. Information Gleaned from QR Codes Is … Useless

Let’s face it: probably the biggest reason QR codes are fading into obscurity is because consumers aren’t being given a reason to use them. Businesses are directing users to uninteresting websites that don’t offer valuable information. Why would consumers waste their time scanning a QR code and researching a product’s background if the code simply redirects to the company’s website? Where’s the added value? Why jump through all the hoops for a crummy commercial?

The near-universal misuse of QR code marketing contributed to this trend. The business that has an optimized website with interesting content is going to suffer because it is floating in an ocean of worthless QR coding. It’s a barrel of bad apples rotting the one good one.

5. QR Codes Have Become a Joke—an Unattractive Joke

Seeing dozens of poorly applied QR codes on packages has made the entire QR code aesthetic seem kind of desperate and un-cool. They’re so much more conspicuous than classic low-tech barcodes, and from a visual sense, they don’t organically blend well with many packaging designs. You have to design your label or package around the QR code; the QR code can’t be easily integrated into existing design.

Also, regardless of how eye-catching a QR code might be, it has to be placed where the consumer can actually scan it. The QR code printed on the side of a straw, or the QR code on a highway billboard that can’t be accessed by anyone not travelling 80 miles per hour isn’t tremendously useful.

The QR code isn’t the most fruitful marketing campaign any longer. We won’t advise entirely abandoning the concept—hey, you might come up with an absolutely brilliant QR code campaign. But don’t feel as though you have to use QR codes in order to satisfy public demand. Trust us—the public ain’t demanding it.


by Kevin Smith
SmashBrand helps brands create, optimize, and launch successful products, services, and customer experiences. Our data-driven process is the key to accelerating sales and minimizing risks.

We use a strategic combination of market research, design, and consumer testing to solve complex brand problems more effectively, create differentiation, and forge more meaningful connections with customers.

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