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The Return of the QR Code - They’re Not Dead Yet

I have a confession to make; I love QR codes.

OK, OK. I know that the majority of you are probably snorting derisively at me right now. But let me explain why you’ll soon be looking to incorporate QR codes into your next creative campaign.

Perhaps ‘love’ is a little strong, but I absolutely do admire these plucky little barcodes. They’ve had a rather undeservedly rough ride over the years. These useful technology underdogs have the power to link physical media to digital extensions, right in the palm of our hands. Yet mention a QR code in a creative brainstorm and you’ll be met with indifference, possibly ridicule, even forceful ejection from the room.

Things, however, are about to change. With the latest iOS11 update, Apple have quietly introduced QR code recognition directly into the native iPhone camera app. This belated adoption of a seemingly defunct technology just might drag QR codes back from the brink of oblivion and deliver us the seamlessly connected utopia we deserve.

QR codes, if you can believe it, were ahead of their time. When they first piqued the curiosity of advertisers, the mobile landscape was a very different picture – mobile adoption was not yet mature enough to support the shift in behaviour required to make them mainstream. Over-eager mobile marketers fumbled with the concept of QR codes and rushed to implement them – emblazoning them across every conceivable surface. And all too often QR codes linked to lackluster content offering little benefit to the end user. We grew bored, then wary, then hostile.

Step forward into the modern smartphone-driven world of today, and things are different. In a Snapchatting, FaceTiming, selfie-loving, Pokemon-hunting, mobile-first world, people are much more accustomed to being constantly connected to their smartphone and using it to interact with the world around them.

Leading social and content platforms are now embracing codes in a big way, implementing their own visual solutions to extend functionality. Facebook anticipates that scanning blue radial Messenger Codes will become the de facto way to connect with Messenger Chatbots. Snapchat’s ghostly yellow Snapcodes link directly to mobile content. Shazam now has various image recognition solutions to trigger brand interactions. Spotify’s rather smartly designed sound wave barcodes can connect listeners to music. Most recently, we’re seeing a resurgence of interest in Augmented Reality with advances in mobile tech that greatly enhances immersive 3D experiences.

In light of these emerging trends, I think QR codes deserve a second look. The key is to think of them as much more than just a simple link to a static webpage. QR codes have the potential to extend and enhance specific interactions, facilitate micro-moments, and be the glue that binds multiple steps along an omni-channel journey.

Through the marvels of the modern mobile web, QR codes can connect us to highly optimized and contextual micro-interactions. Codes can link directly to social sharing actions, to allow participants to quickly Like, Share, Pin and Tweet a physical item. They can link to mobile-optimised e-commerce transactions leveraging mobile wallets for frictionless impulse purchases. We can digitally generate QR codes on the fly with links to bespoke content. It’s even possible to scan, connect and interact with digital billboards through a mobile device.

With these smart connectors, it’s possible to imagine scenarios such as scanning homewares in a store to create a wedding list; scanning an item of clothing while in the changing room to share a look to your social feed; scanning a range of ingredients in the supermarket to generate recipe ideas; or even scanning a code to retrieve personalized digital mementoes from a brand experiential event.

With mobile-augmented interactions becoming increasingly useful, the public will grow increasingly comfortable and willing to engage. Through a mere iOS software update, a huge segment of the mobile market will soon have an easy-to-use QR code scanner immediately at their fingertips. There will still be a challenge to educate consumers how and why to interact with QR codes, for sure. But the bigger challenge is for us, as marketers, to ensure we now use QR codes to link to meaningful and rewarding experiences that really serve a purpose to engage our audience.

It’s time to get creative with QR codes. It’s time to show them a little love.

Written by Miles Green
Head of Creative Technology