Are those QR codes effective, or not?

QR Code

Go ahead, scan. We bet you’ll skip it.

QR codes, those scrambled-egg bar codes that appear on advertisements or packaging for smart phone users to scan and see a web page, are getting the heave-ho by many marketers.

As they take up valuable real estate in an ad (and are pretty ugly to boot) it’s good to ask: Are QR codes actually effective?

The latest Comscore stats say about 27% of people currently own smart phones. Of that number, only 32% say they’ve ever used a QR code. One hindrance to adoption: Apple and Android have yet to ship a phone with a QR reader pre-loaded. So only those with a smart phone, who go get an app, can use them. All told, it’s a pretty small minority of people.

If you’re evaluating use of QR codes in your marketing, ask yourself how often you ever use them? Can you name a single person you know who actively scans QR codes? Actually, it’s easy to judge their effectiveness: If you have used QR codes in your marketing, you can get the absolute number of users by configuring your website stats to see how many direct referrals you have gotten from any QR code. Our skepticism about QR codes comes from our own experimenting with their use in many marketing pieces; not a one has garnered more than a handful of visits, and some not even a single visit.

A better use of that space in advertising is simply a web address. Using a web address is nicer in the design, helps reinforce your branding, is usable with all computing platforms, and is actually just about as fast to get to with a smartphone compared with launching the bar code reader app.

We have seen a few creative uses of QR codes, in cases where you can build intrigue about where the user will land (and then reward it). And we’ve heard of one particularly good example for a QR code by McDonald’s. On some of its packaging McDonald’s uses the codes to refer users to required nutritional information on their food. Though as it’s been pointed out… McDonald’s probably doesn’t actually want people to read about what they’re eating. Those McDonald’s guys, they’re pretty sly.

Here’s some more reading on the subject by various marketers:


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