QR codes are the future. But, for real this time.

QR Codes are the future of digital marketing. Does that sound like deja vu? QR codes have been around for over 20 years. The first push to integrate QR into digital marketing campaigns fell flat and fast. But this time, QR use is skyrocketing and doesn’t look to slow down. Why are QR codes finally taking off? What does the future hold for QR code integration in marketing campaigns? How can your brand utilize QR codes in compelling ways?

What’s different this time?

QR, or ‘quick response’ codes, were developed in 1994 by the Toyota subsidiary DENSO WAVE after mass manufacturers called for more advanced barcodes that could hold larger quantities of data.

Marketing professionals quickly saw the potential for QR integration to link paper and digital marketing campaigns. However, QR codes were not easy for customers to use. The disconnect came from the lack of software on mobile devices to read these codes. At the time, most Apple and Android products required third-party software, something most people lacked trust in.

Everything changed for QR codes 2017. First, a popular social media platform, SnapChat, used QR codes as a shortcut to add new users and open websites within the app. That year, these QR codes were scanned around 8 million times each day. Then a few months later, mobile device creators released a new software update to include a built-in QR code software.


Fast forward to 2020, 11 million U.S. households scanned QR codes. An exponential increase from 2018, when Statista reported a total of 9.76 million QR scans.

Current uses for QR codes

The COVID-19 pandemic contributed significantly to this boost in QR code use. In a mad dash to keep people safe and doors open, businesses and governments entities turned to QR codes for contactless ways to share information and sell products. Of all the adaptations made during the pandemic, touch-less interactions are guaranteed to continue.

Commerce has already headed in this direction.  First, the opening of Amazon Go Grocery. Customers can grocery shop without having to wait in line to check out. Instead, walk out of the store, and an advanced technology system scans all the products in your cart and sends the bill to shoppers’ online accounts. Another example is the checkout system in Apple Stores. Customers can scan the barcode on a product in stores, then pay for it using the Apple Wallet saved on your smartphone. There is no help needed from a cashier.

Many businesses in China have already switched from cash or credit card to payment through QR codes. In a 2020 report from China UnionPay, 85% of smartphone owners used QR codes to make purchases. One New York Times writer says, ‘don’t even try paying cash.’ You can read that first-hand account of the customer experience in China here. The future of QR codes remains bright as it becomes a part of daily consumer activities.

Keeping QR codes interactive

Right now, marketers use QR codes in a static way: building direct connections with customers, collecting data, and driving traffic. Continued use of QR codes in post-pandemic life welcomes innovation in user experience. It’s time to stop looking at QR codes as the final addition to the corner of an advertisement. Instead, think of QR codes as a digital extension to physical objects. To take QR codes to the next level, the marketing strategy should translate to the goals of the QR code.

Ideas for interactive QR code use:

Go Big! 1,500 drones light up Shanghai to promote the launch of the role-playing game Princess Connect! Re:Dive. (And yes, you can scan this photo)

  • Digital, interactive brochures in addition to print copies
  • Interactive maps and virtual tours for cities or communities
  • Construction company project site posters feature QR codes leading to the plan for the building, 3D interior tours, timelapse of construction, or photos of the finished project
  • Exclusive youtube series page or social media content
  • QR codes within blogs that link to resources or specific information, examples of topics in action, or social media pages
  • QR to incorporate virtual reality experiences and platforms
  • Link to playlists in Spotify, Apple Music, etc.


You want to intrigue people with a promise. You should assume the consumer knows that following a QR code leads to information related to your business or this product. However, present the data in an unexpected and engaging way. 

We are in the age of digital-first thinking. Marketing campaigns already lead with this philosophy, and QR codes should be a part of that. If your content is engaging and valuable, it will be successful. 

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