• Jonathan Lee

Are QR codes back in fashion??

Remember QR codes?

QR or“Quick Response” codes are scannable 2D codes that link to online content such as a website, an app download, social media etc. They were initially created for the automotive industry in Japan back in 1994, so they have been around for a few years.

When the smartphone, and then the app store launched in 2007/8 there was a flurry of QR code reader apps and quickly these little codes were everywhere. Unfortunately, in most countries QR codes were not that successful and there were a few reasons for that. Firstly, they were difficult to use, and slow smartphone internet speeds prevented successful execution. Poor awareness amongst consumers meant that a lot of people didn't really know what to do with them and this confusion seemed to extend to marketers as well. I once saw a QR code on a teabag so I suspect that they weren't being used in the most effective way and even when they did work, you were often brought to an irrelevant web page, or it prompted an action that really didn't deliver a reward in return. This lack of understanding was only strengthened by the fact that users were required to download a third-party app so they could scan the code in the first place.

Over time QR codes were used less and less and they became an outdated format, but over the past year or so, we’ve seen a new emergence, which has led us to think, are QR codes back in fashion?

Consumer Awareness

One of the big developments over the past few years that has really helped make QR codes relevant, is the work from companies like Snapchat, Shazam and Pinterest. A number of corporations in the social space have launched their own version of QR codes as a quick and easy way for their users to access content or link to their own user profiles.

Snapchat in particular have been a key contributor with the launch of Snapcodes in 2015. The action of scanning a code in return for a rewarding piece of content instantly became a familiar and daily habit for millions of users worldwide. The likes of Google, Amazon and Instagram have since contracted QR fever, and WhatsApp is also testing a new feature that should make it easier to add people to your contact list using QR codes.

As a result, awareness of 'codes' and the action of scanning them amongst consumers is much higher than it was a few years ago. Global Web Index has reported a steadily increased in QR usage since 2015, and according to Juniper Research, by 2022, 1 billion smartphones will access QR codes.

Mobile Phone - Native Scanning

As of Apple’s 2017 iOS 11 update, Apple added native QR scanning to the camera on all iPhone devices. Depending on what research you read, that means that 13-15% of all smartphones globally now have a native QR reader built into their device. No need for users to download an app, just point the camera at the code and it will link directly to the content.

This functionality is not yet available for Android users to access directly from their camera, but it's only a matter of time before this is added. Once Google add this as a feature then the majority of the worlds smartphone population will have the capacity to scan QR codes without the friction of downloading an app.

The Opportunity For Marketers

With the barrier to entry removed, higher awareness and increased adoption, QR codes are experiencing a renaissance - technology that was once pronounced dead is now suddenly useful and ubiquitous.

This is great news for us as experience creators, but also great news for marketers. QR codes are free, platform agnostic, they can link to any content and they are easy to implement.

From an augmented reality perspective, QR codes present a simple and effective way for consumers to access brand experiences from offline touch points such as OOH, packaging, POS, Print and more. Brands like Ikea and Puma have recently utilised QR codes for augmented reality campaigns with huge success.

Used in the right way, the QR code is an exciting consumer engagement tool that provides . easy access to augmented reality and other interactive experience.

VI are specialists in creating AR experiences and integrating them into offline channels. If you have an upcoming campaign, idea of brief you would like to discuss then we would love to hear from you. Feel free to reach out to us at

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