The Truth About QR Codes: They’re Stupid

Have you ever heard the expression, “A solution without a problem”?  That is exactly what a QR code is. It’s a solution without a problem.  The perceived problem is that your audience doesn’t know how to navigate to your app or mWeb site without first scanning a multi-dimensional barcode.  Let’s first examine if this is truly a problem by analyzing the steps required to download a new app and the steps required to navigate to an mWeb site.

The steps required to download a new app are to:

  1. Open the App Store or Google Play
  2. Search for the new app
  3. Download the new app

The steps required to navigate to your mWeb site are to:

  1. Open your phone’s browser
  2. Type in the URL

If a QR code is solving a problem, I’m having a hard time figuring out what the problem is.  In the case of downloading the app the problem could only be finding the correct app when searching.  In the case of navigating to the mWeb site there isn’t a problem, not one.  So let’s assume the problem is with downloading the app and a QR code is going to save the say.  Let’s now examine the simplicity of the solution, the QR code.

The steps required to scan a QR code are to:

  1. Open the App Store or Google Play
  2. Search for a QR code scanning app
  3. Download the QR code scanning app
  4. Launch the QR code app
  5. Scan the QR code
  6. Download the new app

It’s just that simple.  See, QR codes made our lives way easier!  Actually, it didn’t and that’s why when you’re out in public and you see QR codes everywhere you’ll never see one person scanning it.  That’s why you’ve probably never scanned a QR code in your entire life (I did only once at Home Depot).  They simply don’t work in practicality so don’t use them in marketing.  QR codes used on television are my favorite misuse of QR codes.  Just try to rationalize the practicality of that for a moment…

"Honey pause the TV so I can scan it real quick"

“Honey pause the TV so I can scan it real quick”

What works better you may ask?  Well, start by building a really solid mWeb site.  A significant portion of your users will first and foremost find you by launching their mobile browser.  Next, create a “Vanity URL” for the mWeb site.  You’ve seen these before, they look like  That’s not the actually URL for that page but one that if a customer types it in they’ll be redirected to the full URL.  Finally, code the page so if it detects a mobile device is loading it then it will redirect once again to your mWeb page.  That will ensure the mobile version of the page is displayed.  This might all sound really complicated but to the end user it’s extremely simple.  Now that you have a vanity URL which will launch a great mWeb site place that URL on all your marketing collateral.  Users will be far more likely to pop that URL into their mobile browser than scan a QR code any day!


9 thoughts on “The Truth About QR Codes: They’re Stupid

  1. Great post and I can totally agree I have never scanned a QR code despite having a smart phone. I would rather manually enter the code, go to the site or download app.

  2. Gotta tell you, I like’m. I downloaded the QR Reader app after the reading in Mansfield’s book and even if I could type as fast as most (I can only use one index finger at a time) this app is one click to open it, it opens the camera, recognizes the Q, takes the picture and opens the url all automatically. Takes all of 2 seconds.

  3. I have to agree with Randall. If I were only marginally interested in digging deeper into an ad I’d found somewhere, I’d be much more likely to check it out on the spot if there were a QR code than if I had to type in the URL.

  4. @rfobrien2014, they’re definitely slick to use once you have the reader. The problem is 99% of people out there don’t have a reader and the book made an assumption that people do (or will so soon). So right now the barrier to using them is higher than not using them; when you think about adoption that’s a problem. People adopt lower barrier technology first, no necessarily the better technology.

  5. I particularly like it when I can download the QR code as a “mobile boarding pass” for air travel. Saves paper and makes it more likely that I won’t misplace it! Otherwise, I don’t really use them…

    • I agree, they’re much more acceptable when they’re worked into a process that already has a long adopted technology solution. In this case, the idea of going online to check-in and print boarding passes existed for 10 years before the introduction of the app which read QR codes. That’s totally acceptable. What I’m cautioning here is not to use them as the means to drive initial engagement which is what people tend to use them for and what the book implies as well.

  6. I always wondered about QR codes. Didn’t even know what QR stood for until this week, and I’ve never used them. But I might try what Sharon mentioned and use them next time I travel.

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