A QR code is a barcode that you scan with your phone and takes you to a website or specific landing page. It is essentially a link but in barcode form.

The main advertising purpose of a QR code is move your customers online via offline advertising.  It also enables you to share different and more varied content than you could on a printed or outdoor advert.

At the moment, companies are literally putting QR codes on everything. The problem, though, is that few people know what a QR code is. There are also very few examples of them being used effectively, which is probably some of the reason their uptake has been slow by consumers.

This is a great shame, since the QR code is a fantastic idea if used creatively or effectively it can enable brands to engage with consumers.


I have been busily tracking QR codes across London trying to find an effective use of one. Very quickly I realised that placement is a huge barrier for people. When standing on a tube, for example, people look at you very strangely as you reach upwards (I’m quite short!) to scan the code on the ads above people’s heads. The other key problem with the tube is that there isn’t any signal, so you’re trying to send people online when they can’t access the internet.

Moving transport, like buses and taxis, are completely useless for obvious reasons. Shop windows are incredibly difficult as well, especially when you’re just walking past, head down. You don’t necessarily notice it.

Bus stops are quite an easy and effective placement. While waiting for a bus many people will generally play with their phones, reading the news or checking social media.

With an average journey of 12 minutes, the inside of taxis on the tip up seats give the passenger plenty of time to scan and read.

Magazine and newspaper adverts and advertorials are amongst the most effective placements, when you have the most time with the reader to explain the reasons for them to scan the code and how to scan it.


The main barrier to people scanning QR codes is that often the content isn’t worth it. Many QR codes simply take the user straight to their website. In terms of marketing this is unimaginative and doesn’t give the user any reason to read further or interact with the brand. Although you may have got the offline user online, a huge opportunity is being missed.

Here are some ideas and uses that begin to make the most of QR codes:

Twitter and Facebook pages
In the window of a shop near Sloane square they simply linked to their social media. I can see some technical and practical problems here – many people use applications to read Twitter and Facebook, which means that they probably won’t be logged in when the link opens on their browser. But, at least the content is useful and gives the user a reason to scan.

On Bikes and in Shops
@CarltonReid has written a blog post about this which is well worth the read:

In a Restaurant
On a recent business trip to Canary Wharf, we visited the Parlour. On each table was a QR code with a link to the specials list. This means that the specials can be updated everyday or weekly without having to print new copies – all they have to do is update the landing page. The Parlour website even has instructions: http://www.theparlourbar.co.uk/qr-code-how-to.php

To a Mobile Phone App
This one was on a tube advert, but, nevertheless, if I was really interested in the app I’d still have the address saved in my phone. The app was Kabbee and the advert had links to both iPhone and Android market places. It is a price comparison site for minicabs, so while you’re sitting miserable on the tube or dreading the bus at the other end of a long journey, you can be tempted by this clever app.

To QR or Not?

There are many more applications of QR codes and I will continue to document them. We’re also about to launch a campaign that we hope will be a fantastic use of QR codes.

My conclusions so far are that most people are using the codes badly and so it is difficult to judge their effectiveness. My feeling is that QR codes will be replaced by other technology soon, but the cost effective nature of the codes and their simplicity mean that their time is not over yet.

The most important aspect of using QR codes effectively is to remember to give the user a reason to scan the code, whether it’s a link to unique content such as video or a competition, there must be a use.