The Unexpected Return of The QR Code and What it Means For Marketers

At Facebook’s F8 2016 conference one of the quieter announcements was the addition of scannable codes in the Messenger app that let you easily follow new friends. This isn’t a new thing, Snapchat’s been doing it for a while now - and so successfully I regularly see brands using the mark for their social avatars. For me personally, when I see these scannable codes, a deep down part of myself feels validated.

I was QR champion before it finally got relegated to crackpot status (the blog “people scanning QR codes” was peak humiliation.) The concept of real world hyperlinks that could be cheaply and easily reproduced and were for the most part free and open source got me juiced. I presented a NerdNite speech on the topic and incorporated the codes into a SXSW promo for my site, Austin Style Watch.

It was at Forever 21 that I got to really experience the sad state of QR when even promos in huge malls were only receiving a hand full of scans. I can’t say we always had then posted at the best size, in the best locations, but we tried.

So why now? Why suddenly has this dusty old technology found its way into the trendiest apps of the moment? Here’s why you’re going to see these codes coming back:

Wide distribution in apps
One of the biggest challenges facing QR in America was that none of the phones came pre-loaded with any sort of scanner – something that’s common practice in most other countries. There was also so much fragmentation with proprietary codes and the introduction of augmented reality, poor consumers were just confused. 900 million people are using Facebook messenger, 200 million are on Snapchat so you finally have scanners on the phones of tons of consumers (even if they’re under the guise of chat apps.) Shazaam, an app traditionally used for identifying music, is also getting in on this area working with TV commercials and doing visual billboard scanning. We finally have a lot of Westerners with “scanners” on their phones, and they could be easily opting into messaging at brick and mortar locations or scanning to get some stylist info on a product.

Snapchat for marketing

Snapchat for ecommerce marketing

Fear of location
SoLoMo has been a term for at least three SXSWs by now, but consumers are still creeped out with too easily being mapped by strangers. We love mapping and tracking, but we want it for our Ubers and our Yelps, not with our messaging or marketing apps. Facebook has tried using GPS location in the past and been burned, so it’s interesting to see them take a step back in technology to achieve this goal. Apple gave retailers big ideas with Bluetooth beacons, but even Apple itself has been slow to adopt the technology in its own stores.

If you’re a marketer who has completely written off codes, or an injured soul like me who walked out of meeting with egg on their face, it’s time to let codes back into your life. Keep an eye on this space and how these social platforms are extending abilities.