Posted March 15, 2011 9:54 pm by with 12 comments

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In a recent article called “Why QR Codes Will Go Mainstream,” Mashable referred to these quizzical little boxes as “the shortest distance between curiosity and information retrieval.” Very poetic.

The author of the piece suggests that QR codes are likely to become the commonplace connector between all things offline and online. He points out the fact that the code is open-source and freely available for use, that adding it to a magazine page doesn’t cost extra and that the rise in smartphone usage makes them accessible to more people every day.

All of this is true, but there’s one big downside to QR codes that I think will keep them from becoming mainstream; they don’t mean anything when you look at them. They’re cool and for folks who love puzzles, they’re enticing, but for the average person flipping through a magazine, they’re an out of focus eye chart.

We do need a way to make offline links clickable but why does it have to be done with a graphic that holds no information for the human eye? Why can’t we have a code that looks like an image or has text but is still readable by a smartphone?

I’m sure that if enough advertisers invest enough time and money in QR codes, they could catch on. As Mashable says, the payoff is the key. Right now, many codes return information that could have printed on the magazine ad and that’s bad use of technology. What we need is to find a reward that is worth the effort, like exclusive content, a deep discount or a free sample. Even still, without an image pulling you in, it’s going to take time before consumers feel the need to crack a QR code when they see one.

What do you think? Do you use QR codes as a consumer or marketer? We’d like to hear about your experience.



  • very much coincidence, i have just finished presenting the importance of incorporating QRcodes in the marketing strategy.

    • Cynthia – You raise some good points. Having a QR code simply go to a non-mobile friendly home page is a wasted opportunity. But if it leads to an incentive, or contact information, it serves a purpose. Most people don’t like having to type in phone numbers or remember to look up a company on Facebook. A QR code can serve as a sort of bookmark for products, services or companies of interest. But it’s up to marketers to make proper use of this technology.

  • Cynthia – Very interesting post. I know were entering the technical era, but I just believe at some point were are going to digress and go back to one on one human interaction. All these gadgets, codes, social media profiles and everything else is stopping one on one human interaction.

    I recently took a course that talked about mobile marketing and these QR codes. I guess they are thinking it is going to replace the phone books. Good luck to them. Great Post! – Chad

  • For news to survive, real news written and produced by real journalist, they’re going to have to face the fact that people want it faster, shorter and on demand. The days of spending Sunday morning reading the New York Times from front to back are rapidly fading, but millions will read the front page story as long as they can do it on their phone while they wait in line for coffee.

  • Nice article, I’m impressed by just how much Twitters numbers have grown over the last year! I would ask Twitter where they want / think they will be in another year, five and ten. What are their goals moving forward? We all know Google is continuously trying to steel the market for everything they can, will Twitter try to dominate the social market?

  • I use a QR code on my website and as gravatar on my posts. I hope it will work here as well. I probably should try to track how often it is being used. For now I have other more important topics on my lists though.

  • Jan

    Sorry to say, but this article is a bit outdated!

    There are already sites where you can generate nice QR-codes.
    E.g. this one where you can add (animated) images to a QR-code:

    Some other progress is made on online QR-code scanners (e.g. .
    Even, when looking some further, I’m sure there also might be an app which can do the online decoding on the phone itself.

    • Cynthia Boris

      When writing about tech, an article can be outdated before it’s even posted but my point here is not that there isn’t anything better out there, but that companies aren’t using it. I’m sure there are plenty of great examples of QR codes being used in new and exciting ways but right now, that’s not the norm.

  • We’ve been successfully using QR codes to incentivize and drive attendees to events. And, by tying the incentive to an actual conversion, we ensure that the people who attend are truly interested in the event, not just the incentive. It’s been a fantastic tool that we’re very excited to play with more.

    The key is truly to make sure that the entire strategy is well thought out, and each step of the scanning/conversion process should be included so that they are optimized for the mobile experience and brand.

  • Jerry

    Interesting piece. I speak as someone who implemented QR codes on ALL our listings in about 18 months ago, very ground-breaking then, but I had not previously considered your point that the image holds no readable info for a human. And its a goo point. It got me thinking… recently I’ve been using Google Goggles for scanning business cards on my android phone. The neat thing about Goggles is it has shape and character recognition, so, when I scan a business card it recognizes that the object might be a business card, it breaks out things like name, email, title, phone number, url etc into what it thinks are the correct fields, and it gives me an option to ‘add to contacts’.
    SO, here is the point, is the QR code just an interim technology because shape and image recognition is not yet advanced enough (excepting the efforts of Google Goggles) to do the job of linking me to more relevant info?
    I a moment I will go find a magazine and scan and advert with Goggles and see if it links me to the advertisers website in some useful way.
    (I guess what it wont do is provide the advertiser with any tracking, which I guess QR codes have the potential to do if advertisers use them smartly).
    Good piece, I like it when someone questions the hype

  • Jon Bell

    I have been using an outstanding site to create QR codes which has been an excellent and effective marketing tool for my business.

  • Carrie

    You should checkout We are generating custom branded QR codes that visually keep your look and branding so as to provide the same results of a logo but is also hyperlinked. We also can track the codes and they are dynamic so you can redirect them as needed. I think this is really the way QR codes need to go if they are going to be sustainable.