The QR code comeback

3 min read

If the pandemic has done one good thing, it has given QR codes a second chance, saved them from their predicted demise. 

Pre-pandemic, many were QR code cynics, scared by its shady past. Now, we have a newfound appreciation for the power of these black and white pixels. But it’s new celebrity status also has a dark side that every content creator should be aware of.

In a time when brands are trying to join the gap between online content and the real world, it is inevitable that discussions soon turn to QR codes. Are they effective? How do we use them to enhance the consumer experience? What are the best use cases?


Back to the future

QR codes have had a rough past. A decade ago, marketers rushed to slap them on everything – from posters to packaging, cupcakes and bus shelters. The black and white pixel epidemic spread fast, but fell hard.

Like any bold trailblazer, the early QR code took the full brunt of bad PR. The user experience was patchy, the technical barriers were high, implementation was poor, and the outcomes not clear. Regarded as gimmicky, they became the joke of the marketing industry.


The Reincarnation

Technical barriers removed

Support for QR code scanning via the inbuilt camera on your mobile means that it is easier than ever to interact with a QR code. No need to download a special QR code reading app.

The tech giants – Apple, Google, WeChat – all recognised its importance, integrating QR code reading as default functionality. 

And then the pandemic arrived! Across the world, governments were mandating for people to record where they were visiting by scanning QR codes. Without warning, we were all thrust into a daily relationship with our pixelated friend. And with this, the world was “trained” how to use a QR code.

Behaviour has changed

The Chinese consumer has redefined the way we interact with QR codes. In China, everything is done via a QR code – making payments, finding information, connecting with people, accessing services. And this changing behaviour is now spreading around the world.

Track usage

An advantage to QR codes is that an interaction with an offline campaign can be measured. It can be hard to measure eyeballs, but QR scans and subsequent engagement can be.

The dark side

There is a downside to this new fame. 

The spread

The first one is that QR codes are now everywhere, on everything, and part of everyone’s day. As the virus was spreading, it almost felt like QR codes were spreading at a similar rate. With such a quick spread, some consumers will be immune to their impact. No long will it get people’s attention or make them curious. Now, you will need to ensure your call-to-action is powerful enough to break through the clutter.

The perception

A portion of consumers could negatively associate QR codes with tracking and surveillance. As this was a primary use during the pandemic, it will sit front of mind for some. How do you tackle this? Again, it comes down to the message and call-to-action you connect to it. Let’s explore that more next up.


Best Practise

Call-to-Action (CTA)

The technological barriers may have gone, but the communications challenge is real (and possibly more complicated post pandemic). This is why so many implementations still fail. You need to give consumers a reason to scan. You need to convince them that it is worth their effort, and that there is value for them by taking action.

Here are our top tips on creating a clear CTA

  1. Grab attention with a clear message
  2. Instruct them on how to take action
  3. Provide an incentive / communicate value 

Here are some examples…


A printed visitors guide

Take the guide on your mobile (Message)

Open your camera and hover over the code. (Instructions)

Search the interactive guide, and get directions. (The value)


Wayfinding signage

Follow the itinerary on your mobile (Message)

Open your camera and hold over the code. (Instructions)

Click to follow the route and listen to the audio guide. (The value)


We have seen that there is also value in including a visual cue for your audience in conjunction with your CTA. A simple mobile icon helps prime users. Your goal is to give them the confidence to pick up their mobile and point it at your QR code without hesitation.

Mobile optimised landing page

It goes without saying that you should be directing your audience to a webpage that is optimised for the mobile experience, and that the landing page is what you indicated in your CTA.



Written by Zoe Manderson

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