Lee Odden

Will QR Codes Gain Mass Adoption?

QR Code Side of Building

QR Code on Moscone Center San Francisco during SES 2010

QR codes are getting quite a bit of buzz lately and as a self-professed marketing nerd, I find them to be a clever way to connect mobile consumers with online digital content. There have been some pretty creative implementations of QR codes for promotions and mobile marketing too. You can put them anywhere printing is possible and even places it’s not.

A few interesting places I’ve seen them besides normal print advertising include: side of a building, t-shirtstattoos and turning Central Park in NYC into a huge board game.

But as creative and interesting QR codes are, I’m a bit skeptical in terms of mass adoption. For some reason, I can’t imagine consumer behavior changing to start scanning codes for things when they could just search or enter a URL. There’s also the technology that needs to be adopted by more devices.

Granted, I was a bit skeptical of Foursquare and Twitter too, but also Google Wave and Second Life.

What do you think?

Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

Feel free to elaborate why you think QR codes will be a hit or flop with the mass market in the comments below. Let’s see who can change my mind.

Thanks to Matt Dickman for the tweet that inspired this post 🙂

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Lee Odden About Lee Odden

@LeeOdden is the CEO of TopRank Marketing and editor of Online Marketing Blog. Cited for his expertise by The Economist, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal, he's the author of the book Optimize and presents internationally on integrated content, search, social media and influencer marketing. When not at conferences, consulting, or working with his talented team, he's likely on a beach somewhere doing absolutely nothing.


  1. Patrick Schaber says:

    Hey Lee,

    I saw the thread on Twitter and thought I’d jump in. I agree with Matt that device integration is key for mass adoption, but I think it’s gaining steam. We use QR codes to drive traffic at trade shows and to targeted landing pages on the web. It’s also been useful on literature for people that want to click from the literature to more information on the web. I hope they stick – they’re pretty useful for people in Marketing.


    • I think you hit the nail on the head with, “they’re pretty useful for people in Marketing”. I think it’s marketers who are more excited about QR codes than consumers – at least for the moment. There’s some really creative applications and implementations and if brands continue to provide good reasons to use them, then maybe they will get some kind of mass behavioral change started.

  2. Black Seo Guy says:

    I think its just crazy in the first place..I really don’t understand it too much or whats its purpose.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  3. I think they will Lee, but if not careful, the masses will become skeptical if advertisers continue to use it in a poor way. The other day I scanned one from a magazine I was reading while waiting for my wife to get a haircut, and it just transported me to the very same ad I saw on the page. Us marketers will kill this technology quicker with this lazy approach. See you soon! ~Paul

    • Paul that is a truism for social and mobile overall, isn’t it? Remember all those TV commercials simply being reposted as-is to YouTube or way back when companies would put their brochures up as websites?

      I do see QRs as being a vehicle to an offline to online experience. There are many creative implementations. Marketers that do not empathize with customers needs for this kind of thing will eventually run out of resources to make it happen.

  4. QR codes offer a new opportunity for engagement with consumers. I rarely if ever type a URL on my phone unless it is for a specific search. However, I scan every QR code I see and quite often am rewarded in fun, interesting ways. Why close the door on a way to engage with someone new? Using the same argument, why bother to include the URL if you have a phone number. Why even add a phone number if you give the address? Don’t miss out on the fun of QR codes!

  5. I have seen very few uses of QR codes that would inspire me to take the steps needed to get the reward. Most could be just as well served with a short URL to a mobile site. Not to mention getting over the hump of people knowing what to do with them.

    • I’ve been in the same boat. But I’ve probably scanned more bar codes than QR codes with my iPhone. I think there is the hump of becoming familiar with what to do with them but also whether that action is really worth the reward.

  6. We have a QR code for our race and it generates a ton of interest just from the confusion:


  7. I think that as smart phone usage continues to skyrocket, this is the logical bridge between offline and online. The possibilities are near endless!

  8. Jan beery says:

    QR codes are going to continue to soar and uses will be amazing! We’re educating our clients on use and implementation every day!

  9. mistaken point of view, ioho. qrs are not simply a “new opportunity for engagement with consumers” or a toy for marketers (who don’t know exactly how to play with it either). they’re the cheapest and most flexible tool available for people to make their own internet of things. it’s all about demoqracy, as we like to say.

    we at uqr.me allow our users to create their unique, permanent, dynamic qrs (or virtual IDs) for free, and the ideas they come up with are quite amazing: missing children posters, fundraising, churches bulletins, parties, portfolios showcase and all kind of personal branding.

    awesome debate anyway.

    • qQE.me so are we talking about .05% of the population? Or maybe .5% adopting use of QRs by the end of this year? Are tweens using QR codes? I agree there are many creative uses. The question is, will QR codes be niche or mainstream? Somewhere in between?

  10. Anonymous says:

    I agree with you, Lee. and I’m happy to see that because it is the shiny new penny right now. I’m not a fan, it’s an extra step that unless your pointing me to really dynamic and interesting content, I’m disappointed.
    On the other hand, I see it being very handy for use on say, a long shelf life collateral piece that wants to include data that changes, like: events, or pricing. Then you can direct consumers to the latest, most updated information on a piece that was printed a year ago.

    • Lisa, I can see applications too. There are possibilities for just about every kind of app or technology that connects things and people.

      I guess my purpose of this post, besides instigating a little discussion, was whether QR codes will take off ala Facebook or Google. Will they become part of people’s daily life? Will be people start saying “QR me”? Or “just QR”?

  11. Stevermeeks says:

    There are some hurdles to it for sure.
    Great content and a reward for scanning are vital.
    Mobile coupons are big, and a logical extension.
    I personally cannot stand typing in a url on my phone, so the scanner makes sense.
    Since most websites are not mobile optimized, searching on the phone just takes me to a bunch of urls that arent mobile optimized.
    When marketers and companies realize the importance of the mobile optimized content and the call to action, then the QR will work.
    Look at Japan.
    Embedded in their culture there.

  12. These are some great responses and the debate / discussion is really worthwhile. One question: Is there any data showing consumer adoption of QR code use? We know marketers are “on board” but what about consumers. If we asked 100 people on the street (or 1000) what a QR code is and what to do with it, how many would know? (you’ve seen those man on the street interviews on Letterman, right?)

    • I would say less than 5 in this part of the country. I surveyed quite a few people to determine if this was a tool I could use in real estate; and if I should put one on our race shirts, and the awareness just isn’t there yet. That said, I had a closing on Monday, and my title company had fresh brochures out with a QR code on them. Probably the first real estate related application I have seen without actually seeking one out.

  13. Alex Schoepf says:

    I strongly believe QR codes are only justified when there is multimedia content linked to it. At least I have high expectations when I scan a code

  14. I am an innovator/early adopter in the technology adoption lifecycle, so I’ve always been a fan of new sites and new technology, whether it be Foursquare, Twitter, or Second Life and Google Wave, so it should come as no surprise that I’m QR Code believer.

    First, however, let me offer a brief digression about Second Life and Google Wave. I don’t believe either of those ideas failed. What failed was the companies efforts to promote it. I’ve spent a lot of time in Second Life and alway felt it was seriously mismanaged. I started talking a lot back then about the importance of open source virtual worlds, and just as we see Second Life dwindling, we are seeing more and more interest in OpenSim, an open source version of Second Life servers. While I have less for criticisms of Google, I find it interesting that while Google has stopped promoting Google Wave, they handed to code over to Apache, and there folks working on various open source Apache Wave servers. (I’ve run both OpenSim and Apache Wave servers).

    Okay. Back to QR Codes. People need a reason to scan a barcode, whether it is a one dimensional or two dimensional bar code. In supermarkets, where UPC codes have been around for a many years, and during the early years, were rarely scanned, it is only in recent years we have gotten to the point of consumers scanning bar codes as they check out. They get something in return, a shorter wait in the checkout line. (At least in theory).

    If people will scan UPC codes for some value, they will scan QR codes if value is presented to them. I’ve seen small specialized cases where that value exists: Scanning a QR Code at a museum to get information about a painting. More information for those who scan QR codes. I’ve heard stories of people scanning QR Codes in Japan to request taxis pick them up at a taxi stand. Better service for those who scan QR codes. I’ve heard stories of QR codes on Real Estate ads as a more efficient way of asking for information about a house for sale, but I haven’t seen that and don’t have details. That said, the QR Codes that I’ve scanned in magazine articles have not provided me any benefit.

    So, will QR Codes make it? Yeah, when some creative people find ways of using them to provide value to customers that they can also profit off of, and I’m sure there are some creative people out there that can pull it off.

  15. I believe the more brain dead simple you make it for people to engage in your marketing, the better off you are.

    Typing in a url into your phone is something my man Jimmy Dean sausage fingers are gonna fight. Tapping a an app and then tapping a button, not so much.

    One of my favorite maxims I look to present anyone I’m asking for action from is easy, fast, and cheap (or bargain). This has been a winning formula for centuries and I don’t human behavior is gonna change anytime soon.

    What’s really gonna ramp these QR codes is when more and more people see that they lead to instant gratification – money in my pocket NOW in terms of discounts or free stuff. You pair that with two thumb taps and you’ve got a winning formula.

  16. What’s your take on Google’s dropping QR codes from Places? Do you think that is a precursor to some bigger action on Google’s end?

    • I think that was dumb. Any laser printer can make a QR Code vs a chip-embedded sticker. Maybe Google wants to ensure only Google-approved stickers are used for designation. Short-sighted at any rate.

  17. I do digital and social media in the ski and snowboard industries. This past year I saw a lot of companies using qr codes in magazines. After checking them out I found the main issue is CONTENT. If people scan a code and go somewhere that has poor content they’re going to be hesitant next time they go to scan a code they will think twice. JakeVideographer and Marketer – Seattle, WA

  18. I’m mostly optimistic because the autocorrect on iPhone is so damn bad. Scan v type long URL.. no brainer.

  19. Thomas Hansen says:

    Hi Lee,

    Like all technologies you’ve got to put it in context. There’s a lot of things you cannot do with any other technology, like for instance, Magazine ads, collecting emails, name and location [using GEO location] of the person scanning the ad, rating products using them, and encouraging the rater to share his experience with friends, etc, etc, etc …

    It’s just a hyperlink, the question you mean to ask I guess is more like; “What’s the value of being able to stuff a ‘hyperlink’ on anything where you can get a hold of 1×1 inch real state” ..? 😉

    When phrased like that, I hope it spikes a couple of your neurons … 😉

    Check out what we’re doing with them, on behalf of our customers; http://www.winergyinc.com/qr-codes

  20. Adam Robinson, MBA says:

    It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future. As more people begin using smart phones the QR codes will become much more common place. We are working with a few of our customers to integrate QR codes into their marketing strategies.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Hello,we believe that QR codes will make the connection between offline and online worlds easier. That’s why we created our QR code generator with social features YouScan . me. You can add all your info like Facebook profile or fan page, twitter, youtube, etc. and connect with others.Cheers

  22. perhaps this recent insightful entry by heidi cohen can fuel the conversation: http://heidicohen.com/qr-code-data/

  23. One way QR codes can be useful is for tracking offline campaigns. Tracking your online activity is easy, with Google Analytics, but offline is a little bit more tricky. It is possible to use Google Goggles & QR codes to successfully measure the conversion from your offline sales/marketing materials, flyers, brochures and posters…that said, I don’t know how big the uptake will be in the future. [Read “Measuring Success of Offline Campaigns in Google Analytics” here: http://bit.ly/eAyl3d%5D

  24. Anonymous says:

    Is Your Business Using These Secret Codes That Savvy Marketers & Corporations Are Using Right Under Your Nose To Rake In Traffic, Leads & Sales With Ease?


  25. Appcitylife says:

    We’re adding QR Codes to the mix of what we offer companies who develop iPhone apps or create business profiles within our iPhone app city guides. Table top QR codes in restaurants offer a great way for restaurants to motivate diners to download their app on the spot – especially if it includes a percent off of the next order or a free dessert while they’re in the restaurant. We’re also working with one city’s cultural services department to use QR codes at displays in museums and attractions to activate in-app content. If used correctly, QR codes become a useful tool instead of a gimmick.

  26. They’re fun and I imagine the data shows a slow but steady increase in their use. QR codes bring out the spykid in all of us. Therefore, it is my data free guess QR code use will increase unless something better comes along.

  27. We would like to test QR code in outdoor sport event, combined with tracking is super easy technology to implement. Phones can be obstacle for mass adoption, but this also can change very quickly. Check out QR generator and tracking analytic http://qrcode.good-survey.com/

    Don’t understand why would everybody then speaking and using them. Does have anybody UpToDate statistics for 2011?

  28. Love QR codes. But advertisers have to be careful not to abuse them. Make sure you present a link that works and that is optimized for mobile phone. Check out http://www.bwscan.com for free dynamic qr code generator with free scan analytics.

  29. Anonymous says:

    Check out this cool Tshirt with a QR Code printed on it:
    You can choose your own message!

  30. I think the potential is in using QR codes with barcode scanning apps such as ShopSavvy. Scanning QR codes while shopping can give you a lot of peripheral information on the product. Since more and more people use their mobile while shopping offline, this can become a common use for QR codes.

  31. WriteSwap says:

    I can not pretend to be that clued up on this topic, but it does seem like a fantastic idea. I can see lots of uses for this. It will be interesting to see just how this develops.

  32. It needs to be easier to scan for QR codes I think when using your phones camera it should automatically scan for QR codes rather than downloading a app etc. Or at least make it very quick to scan QR codes without having to download extra apps.

    • I agree with you William and I’ve heard that’s exactly what we’ll start to see with camera phones. QR code reading built in.

  33. I think QR codes will definitely benefit a wide array of niche markets that feature specialty products like clothing and other chic industries, but for the most part, QR codes won’t really deliver results for everybody. Their ease of use is going to have to improve. A limited amount of consumers are really interested in having to take out their smartphones, load their QR scan applications and then actually scan the barcode. If they become easier to use, I think they could most certainly become more useful.

    • As long as QR codes are more interesting to marketers than consumers, they’ll be a shiny object destined for the fate of Second Life and Google Wave. It’s got to be easier and more meaningful for consumers to use them.

  34. Pixelated poop and designer QR codes – two new concepts in one comment. Impressive.

  35. Dbeckman says:

    Google seems to prefer something new called “Near Field Communication.” I had never heard of it before reading this article.

  36. I even suggested to one of my clients to stencil his QR code into the side of the windows of his limo company.

  37. QR codes are great in concept but it looks like only first adopters are the only ones that get it. As a marketer, I would only use QR codes if I was targeting that particular market.

    There are two flaws I see in using QR codes. First is consumer education. If the customer needs a set of instructions to reach your marketing material, there’s just too many barriers. Secondly, you can’t Google QR codes! Much of what I’ve seen with the effects of display advertising, packaged goods messaging or TV advertising is that if you place a URL in the messaging people will Google it even if they don’t remember the URL. With QR codes, if you don’t get it…you’re kind of out of luck.

  38. Thomas Hansen says:

    Sorry Marc, but you are wrong …

    No offense, but according to this blog; http://www.printingcenterusa.com/printing-news/business-cards/qr-code-scanning-jumps-800-percent-year-over-year-800484641

    QR Codes adoption is increasing with a staggering ** 800% ** per year.

    BTW, I think that number was surprisingly *low* … 😉

    QR Codes might be ‘too hyped’ at the moment, but believe me, these buggers are here to *stay* …! 😉

    • Thomas, growing from nothing to any amount of improvement means a big percent increase. That’s not indicative of mass adoption, which is the focus of the blog post. Will they be here to stay? I think so, with the right implementation and audience. Otherwise, it’s like sending email to people who prefer faxes.

    • I would also consider the source of this data. Scanbuy, who conducted the study, isn’t exactly unbiased.

    • I think https://www.zoove.com/ will be a much more powerful solution for mobile marketing. I love QR codes, but until they make mobile cameras standard with scanners, I’m not sure it will fully take off. It has it’s niche though…

  39. Dthoma11 says:

    QR codes are going to catch on like a wild fire. It’s a great idea. Technology is allowing us to scan something from print that will take us to straight to a website. If you have told me this 12 years ago I would have told you that you were crazy and would have continued to play my sega genesis. I give it two years and QR codes will be everywhere. I guarantee in the next few years there will be plenty of people with QR tattoos for their personal business or Facebook page. If you don’t have a smart phone nowadays your lagging behind. I guess I should look into getting one then.

  40. QR code is a great invention people made. I’m making mobile apps currently and find it really cool to implement QR codes into them. I’m amazed at QR code coupons Snappii app builder allows to create. They are really helpful for small businesses.