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  • tkm9 says

QR Codes: A COVID Renaissance

When QR codes first hit Australia, marketing and advertising worlds rejoiced. Here was a tiny barcode that customers would willingly scan to engage with their brands on a deeper, more consensual level. Hooray! No more www or forward slash nonsense! 3D brochures! AR pop-ups! Quick app links for all!


We had a right to be excited. Asian markets voraciously lapped up and rewarded campaigns, installations, products - practically anything - that utilised these black and white matrix barcodes of branding gold. We were almost as tech-savvy. Surely it would work here too?!

And yet, despite creators' willingness to adopt; QR codes never really gained universal submission in western markets. Sure they were charming in a simplistic way, and clever (cue shadow barcodes for happy hours!), but they failed the mass distribution test.

Named after its function, Quick Response codes were supposed to be just that. But without a device capable of reading it instantly, QR codes became another breadcrumb in a clumsy process. Why download an app to read a code that tells you to download another app? To reap the benefit, you had to have a reader app pre-installed. As the saying goes: “You can lead a horse to water...”

With iPhones still in their camera functionality infancy, and similar smartphone manufacturers only making modest headway; devices were still a ways off making the QR code reading software that exists now.

So while Europe and the US (and even less so in Oz) dipped a toe into the QR pond, the fad faded like other tech flash pans - a digital memory gone the way of Vine (RIP) and mySpace (sorry MySpace Tom!!).

While we remained fixated on the Facebooks and Snapchats of the world; Asia had a head start. Call it a half marathon. WeChat created a built-in feature, and with millions of subscribers already online, gone went the Hansel and Gretel bread trail and QR codes became the tool they were always supposed to be - the visual shortcut to unlocking better content.


Fast forward to 2021 and young and old have been forced to evolve to virtual everythings: from Zoom meetings, to Whatsapp team chats and cloud-based collaboration tools. We can’t go more than 30 mins without seeing those pixel squares intruding on our lives. It took a global pandemic, integrated smartphone software, and stalker-like contact tracing for us to finally give them a second chance. When even your gran knows how to check-in, you know you’ve hit peak adoption.

So what’s next? Expect QR codes to act as a gateway drug to a new wave of tech integration. With a large portion of the workforce now commonly working from home, DM may experience a resurgence, while experiential spaces, specifically those in retail, will benefit the most. With physical stores looking to prove their relevance, this may prove the trigger to creating more immersive content and stories around products (pop up games, 3D brochures, AR or 360 video integration, as a starting point).

There will be a grace period where the average person is so excited to see QR codes used in a different way that uptake should initially be strong. It will be up to the creators to seize this new medium and make it a lasting one.

If you're ready to explore how QR codes can become part of your brand's story, we've got ideas about where to start - get in touch.

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