Happily Never After with QR Codes

QR codes – they were a marketer’s dream, to be able to connect real-world media directly with online channels and digital metrics. But they’ve failed – pretty spectacularly – to catch on.

According to digital industry analyst Heidi Tollliver-Walker writing in What They Think, there are some specific reasons why the QR idea never caught on … and it comes down to one simple factor. The intended user just doesn’t see the point.

“One afternoon, I had the opportunity to sit with four professional, tech-savvy Millennials and one Gen Z and ask about their perception and use of QR Codes,” Tolliver-Walker writes. “Listening to all five respond to my cross-examination answered a lot of questions I had about why QR Codes have not gained the traction I would have expected.”

The conversation revealed five key problems with QR codes, starting with the fact that they are too much work.

“When asked about QR Codes, two didn’t know what they were and the other three described them as being ‘too much work.’ When they described the process and why it was so much trouble, none of them described it accurately. They added steps, talked about ‘taking pictures,’ and used other language that showed that their understanding of QR Codes was tangential at best,” Tolliver-Walker explains.

This is no doubt exacerbated by the fact that QR scanners never evolved to become native to our devices. Even so, people are typically willing to exert a bit more effort is there’s a payoff … but marketers found no way to illustrate the benefit and couldn’t connect those dots for us.

“Why they would scan a code when they could just Google the information instead? If there was unique content they were missing out on, or if scanning a QR Code was faster and more efficient than the process they were using, they didn’t seem to care,” she continues.

Throw in that fact that voice search now makes finding the info we want infinitely easier, and you’ve got an uninterested and unmotivated audience.

The idea was great; the execution failed to materialize.

“When it comes to Millennials and Gen Z—at least these five—QR Codes serve no purpose, so when they see them, they aren’t even curious,” Tolliver-Walker continues. “Even if the marketer includes a well-worded benefit to scanning the code, they will probably miss it because they’ve already tuned out. If they’re wrong, they don’t care. They’ve got their own way of doing things, and that’s good enough for them.”

While brands may still like the idea of a simple scan to deeper engagement, the audience has spoken and we have our answer.