The QR Code Comeback | How Creative Marketers Are Finally Embracing Their Once Nemesis

April 29, 2022

QR codes. Amirite? In hindsight, they were just a few decades too early. Seeing one out in the wild in the 2010s was like a foreign encounter. For marketers, QR codes were considered faux pas—a black box on an advertisement that basically serves NO purpose because NO ONE uses them?! Ew.

Poor QR codes were just hanging out on the interstate billboard until technology and humans were ready to catch up. And we did! Yay, us.

In the span of a decade, QR codes have transformed from something no one understood to something that allowed restaurants and small businesses to survive a pandemic to a Super Bowl advertising star and now back on the table as a viable (and even necessary) marketing tool.

Welcome back, QR codes! So, what happened?

What Are QR Codes?

In the beginning while most people were busy strong-arming these elusive boxes, they did serve their purpose. QR – which stands for “quick response” – is a type of technology that allows someone to access information by taking a photo of a unique code. The user is then directed to click on a website on their device where they’ll find the information that was advertised.

This wasn’t always such a seamless process, but with advances in smartphone technology, it’s now as simple as point and click. That sounds great, doesn’t it?! Contrary to when QR codes first launched, it’s now part of our everyday psyche to use our phones to get any additional information that we need.

We used our smartphones even more when we had to stay home for a while.

Can’t Touch This

The COVID-19 pandemic was not easy for small businesses, especially restaurants. It was actually pretty dang hard. And for those that made it through, QR codes may have been one small way to adapt to the new normal of contact-free dining.

In lieu of a menu, the black and white pixelated box is usually right next to the ketchup bottle. All you have to do is take a photo and then wait to be prompted to click on the menu on your phone.

Because nearly everyone has a smartphone, this kind of convenience is a benefit to the customer. It adds to their experience rather than causing friction. So much so that even with a return to pre-pandemic living, many restaurants have permanently adopted the menu-free way.

The pandemic sped up the revival of QR codes in a really unique way. Doctor offices now use them to schedule appointments. Grocery stores use them for coupons. We’re seeing QR codes stick around.

They’re just….really ugly.

If you haven’t noticed, QR codes aren’t pretty. They look like they belong on an instruction manual, not on a classy advertisement. Designers and creative directors exist to make visually appealing advertisements, but there’s only so much we can do with a barcode.

If you would’ve asked us to put a QR code on an ad 10 years ago, we would’ve rolled our eyes (after you left the room) and tucked that bad boy in a corner where it belongs. However, this year’s Coinbase QR code Super Bowl commercial was really the first time the creatives in my network started to warm up to the idea.

When that ad aired, creatives (who were just watching the Super Bowl for the ads) were thinking, ”Do we like this? Hate it? Strangely, I think I loved it.” Then we heard the stats. A floating QR code generated 20 million site visits in a single minute.

And just like that, QR codes were cool.

Wait. It’s Cool…To Be Ugly?

As it turns out, Gen Z is not a fan of the millennial-driven perfectly curated aesthetic. If TikTok has shown us anything it’s that raw, “unplanned” content is what Gen Z wants. Appearing as if you haven’t taken yourself too seriously, but are in fact being intentional is the sweet spot. So what if QR codes aren’t beautiful?

The preferred aesthetic is simple, basic and probably using sans serif. While these things aren’t necessarily “ugly,” it’s far different than the beautifully curated aesthetic that has dominated the millennial-favorite Instagram.

From a functionality standpoint, QR codes are perfect for Gen Z, who much prefer digital communication to face-to-face conversation. But they’re also perfectly poised to solve a future problem.

The New URL

With the rise of video consumption on the internet, QR codes offer a dynamic way to access more information from an ad. Rather than seeing a URL or link on an ad, we may start seeing more QR codes used in their place.

As consumers of all ages become more accustomed to the benefits of smartphone technology, QR codes finally have their moment. If you’re ready to integrate more QR codes in your advertising, give the Commit Agency team a call or drop us a line, we’d love to discuss working with you.