Are QR Codes on Path to Extinction? —Mark Michelson

QR codes were once wildly heralded as the best way to add interactivity to a printed piece. And, with QR (Quick Response) code readers accessible via users’ smart phones, conventional wisdom would dictate few impediments to consumers actually using them. But, an insightful blog, “QR Codes Are Dead,” posted by “Today on PIworld” enewsletter contributor Sabine Lenz, really struck a nerve with many readers about her contention that QR codes are becoming yesterday’s technology.

The new darling is Image Recognition (IR) technology, which enables a printed page to link to a video, Website address or virtual experience without the need to print that strange, sometimes ugly, code.

A survey conducted by Nellymoser on the use of 
mobile-activated editorial and advertising content at the top 100 U.S. magazines seems to bear that out. Image recognition and augmented reality were the dominant activation vehicles with a 60 percent market share, compared to the 24 percent that used QR codes. On the other hand, QR codes remained the main driver of advertising-based experiences within these publications.

When deployed for marketing purposes, perhaps an even bigger problem with the use of QR codes is that some lack a call to action. While marketers may like QR codes to promote their brands, studies have shown that consumers want a direct benefit—like discounts and special offers. Also annoying are links to Websites that are not optimized for viewing on a mobile device or, just as bad, a link to something that has nothing to do with the original call to action. Or what about that QR code appearing on a billboard deep underground in the subway, or showing in an airline magazine located in the seat pocket and being read at 30,000 feet, where there is no wi-fi access?

As more printers delve into marketing services, it becomes even more paramount to monitor the competing technologies that enable interactivity, and what type of experience, if any, users prefer. My bet is that augmented reality, when used effectively and made more accessible as newer phones come to market, will become the biggest driver in ways that people interact with the virtual world via printed content. Ultimately, whether through QR codes, image recognition, invisible watermarks or augmented reality, the possibilities become endless.

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  • GinaTesta

    Great article, Mark! In my opinion, the most successful printed materials are the ones that utilize digital aspects that drive the consumer to get more information. Like you said, QR codes help marry print and digital, making a printed piece more collaborative – but they are only effective if they demonstrate a call to action. Marketers should use digital integrations to steer the individual recipient toward something you know they need or want. A well-designed, creative, innovative piece can drive a connection between a brand and a consumer, increasing their loyalty and possibly gaining new ambassadors. So, I agree – it’s augmented reality and other innovative technologies that will continue to bring new interactive capabilities and a future to print. – Gina Testa, Xerox US Graphic Communications Operations, @GinaTesta