QR Codes: Brilliant Innovation or Overhyped Bust? .. Or both?

Now your first question is probably why on earth are you writing/am I reading an essay about QR codes. My response on that is wait and see. This is not only an piece on QR codes, but on technological innovation.

The QR Code, abbreviated from Quick Response Code, was actually invented in Japan in 1994 by a Toyota subsidary to track vehicles during the manufacturing process. However, it iss not been until recently that we’ve seen QR Codes appear in everyday life. Now, it seems like you can’t get away from them, they’re on billboards, signs, doors, magazines, newspapers, and more. The question many people have is; what is this? What do I do with it? How do I use it?

The first key thing to remember about a modern QR code is that it’s primarily an advertising tool. You scan the code and you’ll be taken to a company’s website or some third party. The problem with using a QR code as an advertisement is that it’s difficult for the consumer to use it. A user must first have a smartphone, they must then download a QR Code reading app, and then they must scan the code using the app they downloaded. Having to fish your phone out of your pocket or purse, unlock it and then find the right app to open may just be to much for some people just to look at some website. Viewing advertisements should be easy and hassle free, like watching a TV ad or a banner on the side of a website. In fact, according to a study by Archrival, a research group that focuses on youth marketing, only 20% of college students who own a smartphone have ever successfully scanned a QR code. Even more, 75% of the students who owned smartphones said that they were unlikely to scan a QR code in the future.

It’s obvious that the tact that many advertisers are using isn’t working and is a waste of time. However,  advertisements are not the only medium that a QR code is used through. In the past two months, I have come across QR codes in two completely different ways and both worked brilliantly.

Boarding Passes

Last month while handing my boarding pass to an airline employee to scan to allow me on board a plane I glanced at the women behind me. She didn’t have a boarding pass out, all she had was her cell phone (and iPhone to be exact). I then watched, walking slowly down the aisle as not to take up space, her as she flash her phone under the scanner, heard the familiar beep sounding the ok, and went along her merry way down the aisle. Curious, I asked her what just happened. She said you could do an online check-in and instead of having your boarding passes printed, you could have them emailed to you with an attached QR code that you scan to get on-board. I thought the concept sounded great and promised myself to use it on the way back from my trip. The idea of how easily this worked really resonated in me. I then thought for a moment thinking back to a recent Apple press conference. They were unveiling a new in-house app called Passbook that was supposed to store all your cards and gift card balances in one online format. Furthermore, it was supposed to be able to hold your boarding passes for airplanes in this same, simple to use, QR code format which is just a scan away. I finally grasped the idea that confused me when I first heard about it. Apple’s Passbook app is trying to streamline your experience in a store or airport by using QR Codes (in the instance of the airport), and I think it’s really great.


While attending a large conference a couple of weeks ago (approximately 8000 people), I was introduced to the phenomenon which is Munzee. According to the company’s site, they release QR Codes into the wild (buildings, posters, websites, magazines) and people scan them to receive points competing on a virtual ladder to win prizes. The company’s definition of a Munzee is below:

Munzee is a real world scavenger hunt game where items are found in the real world and captured using your smartphone. You then level up and gain rank based on your score. Points are obtained by capturing other people’s munzees or when your deployed munzees are captured by someone else. Munzee is based off of the fundamentals of geocaching and adds another layer of fun to the hunt. Badges can be earned by unlocking specific achievements.

At my conference all participants were handed an original code to pair with his or her smartphone (Munzee app is necessary). The objective is to scan other peoples codes for points while in turn meeting new people and talking to them. While of course there were those who abused the system and only participated to win the prizes at the end, I personally got to meet many people that I would never have met otherwise playing this simple, fun, and dare I say addicting game. Now I’m not saying that this game has any sort of important relevance in the world, nor is it something that will appear in our daily lives. But it is an innovative and unique way to take advantage of what a QR Code has to offer and to allow human interaction that otherwise would not have happened.

In conclusion, the experiment of using QR Codes in the advertisement industry has been tried and has failed miserably. People either don’t know how or are not willing to waste the time to activate a code. However, QR Codes are being used in extremely resourceful ways  in other practices around the world. QR Codes have a high potential of being a part of our every lives and I for one think that they will. Count on it.


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