Don’t Blame QR Codes for Bad Marketing Ideas


I may not have been the first to write about QR codes but I was one of the first ten, and that’s being humble about seeing the web links as a brilliant marketing tool.

So, whenever I hear someone write about how QRs stink, or are a waste, or even how they are already obsolete, I just shake my head. I check out the writer’s company and make a note to never deal with that person or company.

Yes, like a chainsaw in the hands of the Three Stooges, most marketing geniuses are set to cut off something important when they use QR codes. They see the inclusion of a code, rather than how it works in the grand scheme of marketing a product or service.

It’s like a client who thinks merely using vast areas of a jolly red color will scream Christmas on a package or ad and ignoring the design, copy, and image used to reach the consumer. Some say a poor workman blames his tools. The truth is stupidity cannot be defended by blaming a QR code any more than blaming a link to be clicked. It’s not the link but the content to which it is tied.

QR Codes for Marketing


In my years of experience with large corporations, I’ve had my share of head shaking when someone in marketing exclaims that some technology will be used for a “WOW! factor” without knowing the possibilities of the technology. They are so fast to blame everyone else for the failure when it inevitably happens.

I’ve seen corporate presidents and vice presidents burst into meetings, demanding some odd marketing idea, based on personal ideas and not reality, then run out with a look of self-satisfaction for saving a major initiative, only to return and point a finger when their idea fails and suddenly becomes someone else’s idea.

This is the failing of the QR code. Like a loaded automatic weapon in the hands of Jerry Lewis as the Nutty NRA Intern.


Where are the Supposed QR Code Replacements?

Most of the QR code detractors mention Augmented Reality (AR) and Near Field Communications (NFC) as better and more functional technologies for print to web linking. AR and NFC are great technologies, but they have different functions as well as expenses not shared by QR codes.

A QR code can be generated for free whereas AR involves almost a movie production-like cost and effort. They can provide linking as well as the entertainment value of interactive imagery. However, they have not been used infrequently and organizations that have dabbled with AR content stopped, mostly due to the costs involved.

AR also has, as people tout, image recognition that QR codes lack. Time has removed that argument as now QR codes are able to function on almost full image recognition, except people must know the image is tied to a function if they are expected to scan them.

Users have not, it seems, caught up with the technology in knowing images may contain links without some kind of notice. Once it becomes a regular occurrence that might be a game changer. For now at least, the code or the frame of a code with an image is the technology users know, and are willing to scan.

NFC holds certain challenges that limit its applicability. Applied mostly to credit cards and pass keys, the ability to swipe and register, or call up information requires close proximity. NFC lacks the flexibility that QR and AR enjoy.

The cost of implanting a NFC device into each and every printed poster, ad, flyer or whatever would generate huge costs. A QR code is just ink on paper or a digital image.


Limitations are the Fault of the Producer

QR codes do have limitations. All of them, however, involve the ability to scan the code. A code that is too small, too far away, or on a moving object, won’t allow a user to get out their smart phone in time to scan the code.

Placement has always been a consideration for any print piece, and has long had the problem of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Who says marketers have always been at the top of their game? Is every advertisement successful?

The proper use of any technology is dependent on the proper use of the tool. Somewhat like my father, who used the good kitchen knives as a screwdriver for small household jobs. All of our knives had broken tips and dulled blades, making it harder to cook and a life of dodging shelves that fell off the walls.

The reality is that QR, AR, and NFC all have their place in digital marketing. All three need to be used correctly. Eventually they, as well as other emerging technology, will shape marketing.


It’s All About the Content!

A repeated complaint nay-sayers have about QR codes is that they take the user to a web site when it’s faster to just enter a URL. Not necessarily, but it’s a point well-taken. With QR codes, as with any marketing, it’s interesting content that is needed to engage consumers. Can anyone argue that point?

An early example of unique QR use was the résumé of a young man who placed a code over a picture of his face with instructions to place the user’s phone over the mouth of the picture. The code revealed a video of his mouth, talking about himself. The content used the technology well.

Others took the idea and ran with it, such as this talking comic book cover.

A recent video for Audi, lovingly referred to as “Spock vs. Spock” missed a great opportunity to incorporate QR codes into the marketing. You’ve probably seen this viral video posted on Facebook.

A great use of viral marketing, but it missed the chance to take the marketing further for greater market penetration.

It should have started with a QR code on an ad for the car model in the video with copy that celebrated the futuristic technology, and a reference to Star Trek. The video should have finished with a QR code to a web page for the car model, explaining the standard and optional features available.

Those who discovered the video through the ad would have posted it to social media channels, and those who watched the viral video would have had a link to see more about the product. THAT is the proper use for a QR code!

Speaking of cars, what do you do when you need to park at a street meter and don’t have any change? Some meters will allow you to use a credit card, which invites card fraud.

There’s a growing use of QR codes for paying parking.

Parking QR Code

A quirky advertising campaign in Japan would be perfect for QR codes.

Japanese Legs



Instead of just these quick look ads, a QR code would give men a chance to scan the young ladies’ leg and go to wherever the advertiser wanted the consumer to go (probably a used women’s underwear sales site, if I know male Japanese consumers).

QR code tattoos are risky, however. If you go that far, make sure the code is recyclable.


When there’s not a lot of room for information that is vital, use a QR code. This plant has special needs, so a QR code gives the consumer all they need to decide if they can actually keep the plant alive for more than a week.


And those medical bracelets people wear to identify allergies and medical conditions are uncomfortable and have limited space for what might be a long list of problems.

With a neoprene QR code bracelet would include:

A full Medical History
Emergency Contact Information
Organ Donor Status
Last Will and Testament


These bracelets are also being used in hospitals for patient identification bracelets for comprehensive up-to-the minute information.


Do QR Codes Demand Different Thinking?

The basics of marketing will never change. Only the tools available will change and evolve, but basic principles of marketing will always be the same — make it easier for the customers to know and purchase the product. So, don’t blame the tool when it doesn’t work. It’s not the codes but how they are used.

Speider Schneider is the chief blogger for, with offices in the U.S., Argentina, and Italy. He also writes about web design, technology, social media, and business ethics for global blogs.