For over a decade, QR codes have been that small square of random black and white digitized designs you see on everything from signs to product packaging. But with the popularization of smartphone technology in combination with societal changes such as a global pandemic, we are seeing QR codes resurge in popularity and utility amongst consumers. In this article, we will dive into what QR codes are, why we are seeing a recent surge in consumer use, and the future of QR codes in direct-response marketing.
Let’s dive in!
History of the QR Code
The history of QR codes dates back to 1994 when Denso Wave, a member of the Toyota Group, was needing to develop an alternative to the traditional UPC barcodes to streamline the manufacturing process. Though barcodes were useful, their traditional 12 digit UPC numbers limited the number of iterations possible to make across items. Needing an alternative that could carry more information, the QR code was created, storing up to 7000 characters. The new design allowed the ability to transpose information both vertically and horizontally while using the same amount of area as a barcode. So the question still stands, if they were invented in 1994, why are we just now seeing a rise in everyday QR code use?
Long story short, while QR codes have always had great utility for businesses, they did not hold the same utility for consumers until recently. To use the QR codes, you had to first and foremost have the technology to read them. Though QR codes started to pop up on products and signage over the past few decades, the average consumer did not have that technology readily on hand. Additionally, consumers were not knowledgeable about what this funny-looking digital square meant or did. That is, until recently.
Increased Use of QR Codes by Consumers
There have been many factors that have contributed to the recent rise of QR code use by the everyday person. Firstly, the spread and affordability of smartphones aided in the ability for average consumers to use QR code services. Many smartphone developers now have QR code reading preinstalled on the cameras. Not only is this feature conveniently accessible on your phone, a piece of technology many of us constantly have by our side, it also is pre-installed without a customer needing to take any additional action to use.
The second factor that has impacted its popularity centers around the growth of understanding by the general public. Many innovative services now regularly use QR codes. As these services educated their consumers, QR code know-how became more commonplace. When services like Bird scooters and Citi bikes hit the streets, it taught users to scan and go. Over time, more and more consumer products and services have adopted QR codes within their user experience.
One of the biggest areas adopting QR codes has been the restaurant industry. Due to the pandemic, restaurants across the country replaced their physical menus with QR codes. This adoption not only has health and safety benefits but also allows businesses more flexibility. In a CNBC article by Amelia Lucas discussing this move by restaurants, Bitly President Raleigh Harbour said that in addition to not needing to clean menus after every table, restaurants are “able to adjust their menu offerings on the fly to account for elements like inflation, fluctuations in food and commodities prices, and other variables.” This is a great example of how QR codes have provided a win-win for customers and businesses. So how can marketers use this technology?
Future of QR Code Technology
In addition to QR codes having utility on e-scooters and restaurant tabletops, media companies and marketers are discovering areas where QR codes can be optimized across their programming and advertisements. Like how tech startups familiarized consumers with scanning QR codes to get a bike or scooter, TV stations are beginning to implement QR codes onto their programming. For example, many TV news stations are now implementing QR codes during their segments to drive users from their TV screens to their websites, apps, and more through their mobile devices.
In his Marketing Dive article, Robert Williams discusses the new movement of leveraging “second screening”, the use of a device such as a smartphone while simultaneously consuming media on another screen such as TV. He notes how “marketers have an opportunity to entice viewers to scan a QR code that appears in a commercial break.” Additionally, this action can be used on longer-form media and has the potential to achieve the similar trackability benefits of 800 numbers, but in a manner that is accessible to younger, more tech-savvy audiences. With consumers familiar with this technology, this resurgence has many companies looking at the various possibilities to leverage this tech to bridge the gaps between media channels. In this omnichannel world, this is a very enticing tool for marketers aiming to communicate and lead consumers through the buying process across platforms.
While QR code implementation on television content is still in its early stages, those who adopt this shift and engage with their audiences through this new manner have the opportunity to capture viewers and bring them further down the marketing funnel in a way that is useful, interactive, and trackable. As previously said, QR code technology has the potential to be the bridge between the past and president of direct-response TV, from old-school 800 numbers into the digitally-driven, omnichannel world.
Curious to learn more about how you can implement QR codes in your marketing strategy? River Direct can provide QR code applications to your ads, bringing your TV marketing to the present day. Contact us to learn more!
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