Five Reasons QR Codes Suck

By: Guest | January 24, 2012 | 

Today’s guest post is written by John Fitzgerald

A recent study revealed 79 percent of college students have no idea how to scan a QR code.

Let that sink in for a second.

Four out of five 18- to 22-year-olds don’t know what to do when they see an ugly barcode slapped on a print ad targeted at them.

If college kids can’t grasp a new technology at the crossroads of social and mobile, it must be a bust. Right?

Well, not exactly.

While it’s true the data is disappointing to anyone who has jumped on the QR bandwagon, I think it would be premature to write off the technology as a failure.

Following are five popular complaints and why they aren’t as bad as you might think:

  1. Only five percent of adults scan QR codes. True, but that’s still 14 MILLION PEOPLE! And don’t forget, only 35 percent of U.S. adults own smartphones, which means 65 percent of the population can’t scan the codes. Further, 20 percent of iPhone/Android users have scanned QR codes. As smartphones continue to proliferate in the market, QR code adoption should continue to rise.
  2. QR codes clutter printed materials. Funny, nobody says Facebook and Twitter logos clutter up everything from print ads to TV commercials. Which would you rather have sucking up valuable real estate on your printed materials? Another company’s logo, or an interactive, trackable call-to-action?
  3. QR codes are ugly. Sure, QR codes look sorta garish, but there are many ways to customize their look and there are many services available to make customization easy. For basic customizations, try QR Hacker. Mashable has published a few other QR code options. And of course, in matters like the ever-changing landscape of free and freemium tech services, Google is your friend.
  4. QR code apps are unreliable. I used to say that when I owned a Blackberry. Since moving to Android, I don’t think I’ve ever had an unsuccessful QR scan. iOS apps are equally reliable, but early iPhones don’t have the ability to autofocus on a QR code. Moving forward, autofocus seems to be the norm, so hardware and software on both platforms appear to be equally QR-friendly. It won’t be long until QR code software is bundled with new phones.
  5. Whipping out your phone to scan a barcode is a lot of work just to get to a website. I agree 100 percent with this complaint. However, the core of this problem is we aren’t being very creative with the technology… yet. As a video producer, I’m fascinated by the ability to link printed materials to videos and other online content thus adding a digital layer on top of a format with an established distribution system. But QR codes can do much more than link to a website or a video. I recently produced a series of videos for the Columbia University Catholic Ministry that includes a QR code which launches a text message when scanned. When the user sends the message, he or she is signed up for free news announcements from the ministry, all delivered via text message. You can see it here (the QR code appears at the end of the video). Beyond that, we’ve already seen very creative uses of QR codes in overseas markets, including the Tesco Supermarkets example from Korea.

One more thing… Remember back in 2005 when text messages were a failure because the U.S. hadn’t adopted the technology like Europe and Asia? The current state of QR code adoption strikes me as being very similar. As smartphone usage increases and agencies get more creative with their QR code integration, I believe we will see QR codes reach a tipping point.

Time will tell. What do you think?

John Fitzgerald is a documentary filmmaker and founder of BooDroo. He currently serves as a video producer and social media consultant to several pro baseball teams and non-profit organizations. You can follow him on Twitter @fitzternet.

  • neicolec

    @ginidietrich Have you actually tested as an introvert? I want to see the results. I don’t believe you.

    • ginidietrich

      @neicolec I have actually tested as an introvert. I’ve learned extrovert skills to grow my business. Ask Mr. D. He’ll tell you.

      • neicolec

        @ginidietrich Good for you. I tested as an introvert, too. I am also a Driver-Visionary….

        • ginidietrich

          @neicolec Me too! That must be why we like one another

  • I do agree with you. I personally do not like QR codes and do not use them. I’d rather find their Twitter handle and then track their website down through Twitter than scan their QR code. That’s also because I can instantly access Twitter & Facebook, add them and then move on.

    In fact, it seems like 80% of every QR code I’ve scanned has either failed or been broken in one-way or another. I’ve also never really gotten anything of use from them. They’re usually just ads, the same ads that I can find in the very magazine or paper that I just scanned.

    I do like it when I scan a QR code and then it adds their information to my phone. THAT is awesome.

    However, I do believe that QR codes will continue to develop and within a couple years, they could become a huge part of our day-to-day marketing strategy.

  • JimmyVinicky

    I added a QR code to my business card that instantly puts my contact info on that person’s phone. It has been a huge hit and even a great conversation starter. I love their future potential.

    • @JimmyVinicky Very cool. What website did you use to create the code?

      • JimmyVinicky

        @fitzternet I used Vistaprint. Give them the information and they put together the QR Code, it was super convenient.

        • CristerDelaCruz

          @JimmyVinicky@fitzternet I love that idea – putting it on a business card. How many of us HATE going to networking events and business meetings and immediately you’ve got a gazillion cards with info you need in your phone. And who has the time to key all that in? Awesome. @JimmyVinicky – any glitches or downside to it? Or is the QR -> smartphone transfer seamless?

        • JimmyVinicky

          @CristerDelaCruz @fitzternet Exactly! I haven’t had any issues yet.

  • I think that QR codes have potential, but we haven’t stumbled on them et. For example: I was shopping for garden plants and noticed Home Depot & Lowes both include QR codes on their plants so shoppers can learn more about the plant they’re considering purchasing. What struck me was there was no information about pet safety or child safety available anywhere! Not on the tag. Not on the QR code landing page.

    I think companies need to get smarter about what kind of information is available on the landing page.

    • @Suzi_C I agree completely. A QR code without relevant info is like a website without good info. Actually, it’s worse because you’ve taken the time to whip out your phone and scan a code for NOTHING. Very annoying.

    • KevinEkmark

      @Suzi_C Totally agree. If you use one, it needs to take you some place intentionally and not just a Facebook wall or homepage. I want a QR code that says “HEY! Thanks for scanning our code! Here’s a free blah blah” or “here’s content JUST for you!” I need QR codes to serve a real purpose.

  • The problem with QR codes is they came out of no where and with no explanation. What is a consumer walking down the street supposed to think when they some Matrix-y blog on a bench or at the bus stop. I think you can extrapolate that its some sort of advertising tool but it’s asking a lot from people to first know what they are and then know how to access them and be motivated to scan them. There is still a long way to go before they become a profitable endeavor.

    • @Anthony_Rodriguez True, but I still can’t find the manual for Facebook and Twitter. I think word of mouth and watching someone scan a code will alleviate some of this.

      • @fitzternet [In my deepest manly man voice] Manuals are for sissies 🙂 Just give me the parts and I’ll figure it out.

        • @Anthony_Rodriguez Well then, I guess that makes QR codes the IKEA of marketing tools. Or something…

  • AskAaronLee

    awesome post! I love QR codes. I prefer to scan stuff than to type the entire address down. Of couse they have to make sense for me to scan it. Problem with most qr codes is they serve no purpose rather than going to the website. WHY should i? Until they do, I wouldn’t scan it. I remember seeing a QR code for a contest, when you scan it, it leads to the contest with more information and allows you to join instantly. It was good seeing i was at a shopping mall and might forget to join when i get back.

    Another thing is, not many companies takes the time to educate people about QR codes, a short “download a qr code reader from the app store and scan this to win etc’ might work better than just a boring old ugly qr code. My dad asked me about qr codes the other day, when i showed him, he took out his mobile camera to snap a photo of it. LoL! it was funny but now he gets it.

    “Snaptag” has more potential than a qr codes. Too bad its a little costly. If it was free, it would be bigger than qr codes.

  • joejanish

    they do, and they don’t, and the contradiction is explained here RT @fitzternet Five Reasons QR Codes Suck:

  • ginidietrich

    @borderlinephil Hey! How the heck are you?

    • borderlinephil

      @ginidietrich all rhythm, no blues! how’s everything going w. you? IRL time soon.

      • ginidietrich

        @borderlinephil Ha! About the same here.


    Good post John,

    Personally, I’ve never been a big fan of QR codes. They seem like a novelty to me – definitely overrated.

    Having said that, I still follow relevant discussions about them because “who knows . . . I may actually be wrong” : )

    • Thanks! I’m actually a recent adopter of QR codes, but I love the potential, especially with integrating video with text/print. Of course, I’m biased.

  • ginidietrich

    When I speak, I do a section on trends and QR codes is included. A couple of months ago, a man in the audience told me his company makes headstones (yes, on graves). And they’re seriously considering offering QR codes to be engraved on headstones so all you have to do is scan it and get the person’s obituary or life story or whatever the heck they want you to have. I LOVE this idea! Of course, 100 years from now, someone may be in the cemetery and say, “What the heck is that?” But it’s cool for now.

    • @ginidietrich I’ve actually think of that everytime I drive past a cemetary. I think someone is already doing it though, because I must’ve gotten the idea from somewhere.

      Either way, it’s a really cool concept. I’d love to see similar for buildings and other large structures. But you could probably do that with a GPS location app.

      • @ginidietrich “I’ve actually think…” Hooray for me.

  • DiFrancescoLyd


    I agree that QR codes will become more widely used as people understand them better. However, I think a major part of the reason for why people do not scan QR codes is that there is no clear call to action associated with it.

    I recently highlighted this as one of the things NOT to do when using QR codes:

    Marketers need to create a compelling reason to scan the code and then provide excellent (and unique) content as you mention in point #5.


  • dharrison

    The Miami Marathon have a great use for QR codes. They posted this on Facebook today to the runners: QR Code Race Results On Your Smart Phone Using your smartphone, simply scan the QR code printed directly on your Full or Half Marathon race bib and you will be taken to your personalized race results page that will be updated throughout the day!

  • kennettkwok

    I agree with most of the points listed above. I’ve yet to see a compelling reason to use QR codes. In my opinion, QR codes are very similar to website links on print advertisements; it takes time to pull out the phone and input the information. However, QR codes present a bigger problem because we can’t really fathom where it will take us. They might take us somewhere that is a complete waste of time – that alone is enough deter people from using them.

  • Nichole_Circus

    @DanielleWarby @FFAGirlsFC the soccer fields here, anyone for kayaking?

    • DanielleWarby

      @Nichole_Circus @FFAGirlsFC It’s a bit like that in Sydney too. Looks like my 6-a-side game will be cancelled tonight.

  • There is no doubt that QR codes might well be the next big thing. But then, they really don’t come with explanation. Just Matrix like things all across. And it freaks out people… I was terrible during Matrix class time! And I am hoping there are other freaks like me out there.

    Also, how viable is it. How many people actually have smart phones. Many. But many more don’t. They need to work on improving QR definitely. Everyone has a system now. Launch something, let it become addictive, then let some critics come and tell them what’s wrong, then work on it… then bring the changes, then become more addictive… vicious cycle!

    QR definitely needs to smooth its edges, but like you said, time will tell!

  • jckreidel

    @potterfg You almost had me there, Gary. I love QR codes!

  • Nice overview…although I was totally prepared to read why they truly suck! I use them with certain clients and just recently recommended for a ball valve client (yes, I said it) encouraging the code placement on the valves so that when/if someone has to work on the valve or repair them, they scan and voila, they can connect with customer service or sales or a help desk or the website, whatever the most appropriate fit might be. ‘

    At the moment, they’re a ‘nice to have’ not a ‘have to have’ for lots of my clients, but since they’re free to cheap to do well, they’re also easy to test and use for tracking targeted campaigns. Thanks, John! Enjoyed this very much.

    • @EricaAllison Thanks Erica! You’re right – they are free/cheap and easy to use in a way that adds value. If enough businesses use them to add value (rather than using them just to say they’re using them), QR codes could avoid becoming a fad.

  • SpinSucks

    @rachellai83 The only reason I have, is to see if someone is doing it well!

  • Yupperdoodles.

    I have found little to no use for these in practical terms. They are more about looking cool, which might be important for some bizzes, but not the ones I work with.

    Maybe someday. We’ll see.

  • Weltbrand

    @Soulati @ginidietrich Title alone gave us a chuckle!

  • IABCyyc

    @wtigley @spinsucks Try it sometime Will. I know with my Blackberry the QR codes don’t always load. Don’t know if they have much value. ^SA

  • fitzternet

    @IAmAdamGreen thanks for the mention! #garishlittlecodes

    • IAmAdamGreen

      @fitzternet My pleasure. Enjoyed the post.

  • Kudos to you. I’m usually all for bashing QR codes… it just seems to come so easy (case in point, on our company blog:

    But you bring up some really great points here that made me think (especially about why we aren’t concerned FB and Twitter logos are cluttering up our space). And I agree it’s too early to call them a failure. There are definitely some adoption hurdles we need to overcome and best practices we need to implement first.

    – Danielle @ Atomicdust

  • Love this post @fitzternet! Though I’m more on the side of truly believing QR codes suck, I have seen some successful QR code campaigns. But honestly, the majority of them are total failures. But that’s just my experience with them.

    I talk (well.. maybe rant) a bit about them in a post I think you might find a fun read –

  • omrilachman

    @ShellyKramer @tinu @ginidietrich I can think of way more than 5, but thanks for sharing. Nice piece.

  • so what the solution to solve your “suck QR”?

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