Rethinking the QR Code

What are they?

Quick Response (QR) codes are mobile or machine-readable codes used for storing information, such as URLs, that can be viewed by scanning it with a smartphone camera. QR codes can be considered a starting point to interactive packaging with augmented reality technology, as they are a fast method of connecting the offline world to the online world. Released in 1994, technology company DENSO WAVE aptly named it based on its high-speed reading abilities. QR codes consist of an array of black and white squares.

When were they popular?

The biggest factor that contributed to the widespread application of the code was that DENSO WAVE made the code publicly available. As it could be used freely at no cost, it rapidly spread across the world and grew into a distinguishable “public code.” It began appearing everywhere from cash registers, outdoor advertisements, food labels, airplanes, subway stations, clothing, and was particularly prominent between 2009 to 2010.

Why are they now considered passé?

Although QR codes are recognized for their convenience and utility, there are limitations with the 20 alphanumeric characters that store information. Furthermore, QR codes are often executed in an inadequate manner such as erroneously linking the code to a non-mobile optimized site or faulty landing page, sending users to the same information they received with the QR code, not using a clear call-to-action, or placing it in an area where there is no Wi-Fi availability.

Some of the decline in usage that’s been seen in recent years may also be attributed to the fact that Apple and Android devices do not come pre-loaded with a QR code reader. Those two mobile platforms accounted for more that 87 per cent of smart phones sold worldwide in 2012.

Why did the packaging industry not fully embrace it?

Brand marketers understand packaging is an important step in fostering interaction between the brand and its consumers. Therefore, incorporating electronic measures that go beyond the typical means of engaging customers would seem like an effective tool. However, there are limitations of space and design requirements on packaging labels. Often, attempting to include a QR code along with the standard UPC code is excessive. This is especially true when considering many customers don’t see enough value in the experience to pull out their smartphone device, open their downloaded app and wait for the information to load.

What are the alternatives to QR codes?

The QR code has many possibilities to take a consumer beyond the three-dimensional characteristics of packaging material. A major downfall to its application is that there is no standard format to the code, which means its functionality often goes unnoticed or causes confusion.

Although there has yet to be a clear trailblazer to connecting the offline world to the online, many new technologies are making strides. These enhanced technological additions will undoubtedly stimulate consumer interest and assist with their decisions to purchase a product.

SMS short-codes allow you to review information via text message, mobile applications continue to act as a catalyst for online interactions, near-field communication (NFC) and Bluetooth are emerging more and more, but the most prominent trend we are seeing is the use of augmented reality (AR). AR technology, unlike its predecessor the QR code, is essentially invisible and any logo or object can become the medium, without the need to change the original packaging design.

On a positive note, QR codes require minimal effort on the consumer’s end, given they have a QR scanner downloaded on their phone, to experience a product before making a purchase.

Will QR codes resurge?

QR codes certainly sparked marketers’ interest in interactive packaging, particularly as they are fairly inexpensive to implement. One thing that is evident is that consumers must perceive an incentive to take the necessary steps to scan the QR code and answer the brand’s call-to-action. Therefore, a brand must ensure it is strategic when applying technology such that it adds value and effectively guides the consumer to understand the product better. An example of successfully implemented technology onto packaging is the Weight Watchers’ mobile application. It interacts with existing UPC bar codes to let you scan a food product to receive nutritional information and the number of “points” in a particular product.

When discussing technology in packaging, the QR code is what generally comes to mind. However, as we have seen from a tactical, graphical and practical standpoint, the QR code has been largely viewed as a marketing failure. This however, is not true. In China, marketers and consumers have embraced interactive packaging through the use of QR codes.

As our recent study on Millennial brand engagement identifies, Millennials are eager to engage with QR code technology as they enjoy being entertained and interacting with conventional and emerging immersive technologies. There is no doubt the concept behind QR codes is brilliant and as consumers demand more interactive experiences, future packaging endeavours will strive to be more innovative, going beyond visual appeal to packaging immersed with multimedia information.