Why You Think QR Codes Suck and Why You’re Stupid

The following is a guest post by Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of SMS provider Tatango.  You can reach him by phone at (206) 334-4012 or via email. Have you noticed recently the abundance of QR code marketing hate out there? Don’t get me wrong, there has always been QR code haters, but recently it seems like these numbers …   Read More

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QR CodeThe following is a guest post by Derek Johnson, Founder & CEO of SMS provider Tatango.  You can reach him by phone at (206) 334-4012 or via email.

Have you noticed recently the abundance of QR code marketing hate out there? Don’t get me wrong, there has always been QR code haters, but recently it seems like these numbers are starting to multiply at an alarming rate. I can understand the hate towards the design aspects (design is always subjective), but you’ve gotta be stupid to think that marketing through QR codes isn’t here to stay, in a big way.

When I speak to this ever growing mob of QR code marketing haters, all of their arguments can usually be boiled down to three points. While I usually refrain from arguing with people that don’t know what they’re talking about, in this post I’m going to make an exception because someone has to stick up for the QR code. Below are the arguments against marketing with QR codes, and why these people don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

Argument #1

“Derek, consumers don’t know what QR codes are, they don’t know how to scan them, and they aren’t interested in scanning them.”

You are right in that only 6.2% of consumers have scanned a QR code, but that’s a vanity metric, a metric that is interesting to look at, but has no weight. You want the real metric, the one that means something to advertisers. Nearly 40% of consumers age 25-34 have scanned a QR code, even better is that 1 out of 3 consumers that have scanned a QR code have a household income of at least $100,000. If the 25-34 year old age demographic is any indication of what is to come for other demographics, QR codes could quickly become the holy grail for mobile marketing.

Those numbers also don’t take into account that only 40% of consumers have a smartphone, meaning that 60% of consumers, even if they wanted to scan a QR code, aren’t able to at this time. As smartphone adoption continues to creep up, the majority of consumers will soon be exposed to QR code engagement.

Argument #2

“Derek, QR codes are going to be crushed by Near Field Communication (NFC).”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m just as excited about the adoption of near field communication (NFC) as the next person. I can’t wait for that moment when I can replace my bulky wallet with my mobile phone, and I think NFC will get us to that place. You’ve gotta be stupid though to think that NFC will ever replace QR codes in marketing.

While there will be certain situations where marketers will be able to replace QR codes with NFC, the majority of QR code scans come from marketing channels that don’t work well with NFC (either from a technical or cost function), such as printed magazines/newspapers, product packaging, websites, posters/flyers, business cards, storefronts and TV. I just don’t see magazines or newspapers installing individual NFC chips in each advertisement, do you?

Argument #3

“Derek, like bellbottoms in the 1970’s, QR codes will be the marketing fad of this decade.”

A”fad” is defined as something that is short lived, but with a direct correlation between smartphone and QR code adoption, this would mean that smarthphones will be short lived as well. Seriously, smartphones short lived? Have you seen reports on growth of smartphone adoption, or even recently how many new iPhones have been purchased? If you truly believe that QR codes are a fad, then you will also have to believe that smartphones are a fad, which would make you more stupid than I thought.

This whole thing reminds me of the story my father told me where back in the late ’80’s he tried to expense a mobile phone to the company he was working for. His bosses response after seeing the expense, “a mobile phone isn’t a business expense, it’s a toy… you can’t expense toys to the company”. Like his boss back then, and QR code haters now, you will eventually look back at your comments and think to yourself, how could I have been that stupid? Maybe it’s time to stop hating and start embracing, the consumer-engaging and soon to be ubiquitous Quick Response Code.

In this article


  1. wayne

    Derek your stupid (u deserve that since the title of your stupid article called me stupid)
    why qr codes are dumb, first I had to see what the hell they were, then when i tried to scan 1 i stood there like an idiot for 10 minutes with my "smart"phone trying to get it to work.
    results: just another stupid "advance" in technology that doesnt work, I wont waste my time again.

  2. MikeH

    QR codes are just as dumb as using audio detection to communicate (like Shazam or all the new flavors of synchronoization technologies to build companion apps to linear streams).

    Any time you are using a camera or a microphone to communicate data, you're doing it wrong.

    It's a bridge technique that will look as silly in ten years as carrying a pager does today.

    The right answer is to allow one device to communciate direction to the other, like NFC, without having to rely on some phyiscal analog to fill in the gaps in our current technology.

    Remember when OCR was big? Digitize your documents! Well now documents are digital to begin with and OCR is less important because if you're actually printing or faxing documents as a way to get information to someone else, you're doing it wrong.

    Argument #2 says "NFC won't work with printed media". How many of the younger demographic cited in argument #1 are reading printed media?

    I use QR codes as a marketer because the right way of doing it hasn't become practical yet. But wasting space on screen with these silly and ugly looking blobs will not last.

  3. Grant

    I entered the mobile industry in Australia 4 years ago. I thought QR codes apwere amazing when they were demo'd then. 4 years later and research indicates that only 1% of smartphone owners had scanned a QR code… Clearly it's never going to happen.

    Looking forward to NFC, far less clunky.
    it's quicker to open safari and type a URL than it is to launch a QR reader, point and shoot… QR = ridiculous

  4. Derek Johnson

    I think if you actually read my post, you would see that I'm not criticizing them for only catering to smartphones, I'm criticizing them for not catering to both. I never said anywhere here that QR codes are to be used as a stand-alone marketing vehicle, right now they should be always used with an SMS call-to-action. Have you read our guide to SMS marketing with QR codes, this should help http://www.tatango.com/blog/beginners-guide-to-sm

  5. Scott

    In this other article, http://www.tatango.com/blog/chipotle-sms-marketin… you blast Chipotle for targeting only smartphone users which eliminates 60% of the market. But here, you tout the greatness that is the QR code which also REQUIRES A SMARTPHONE. Hypocrisy, thy name is Derek.

    1. wayne

      Derk merely points out that retailers only car about 25-34 yr olds who make in excess of $100k and the rest of us older or people with "stupid"phones dont matter.

  6. Andrew


    I have to disagree on all your points but most of all point 2. The fact of the matter is the mediums that you are saying won't / can't use for a vareity of reasons such as technical / cost are already starting to use NFC. JC Decaux in Australia just signed a 2 year agreement with a company called Tapit as did Clear Channel in Singapore.

    Installing business cards with NFC is already being done as well and it won't be too long until newspapers and magazines start to see the advantages of the incorporating NFC into their production chains (have you ever seen post-it notes stuck onto the covers of Newspapers).

    As for on-pack, same again, if there is value opportunity for brands to supply and connect consumers with their products brands will be more than willing to invest.
    My opinion is that QR will die because it is too hard for mass market, think about the steps involved:
    1. Get out phone
    2. Open App
    3. Point camera at QR code
    4. Directed to website.

    1. Get out phone
    2. Tap
    3. Done

    The analogy we use is taking the stairs vs. the escalators, the mass market take the escalators every single time. Why? Because we want to get where we need to quickly & we're a lazy species.

    In the end the consumer will vote by either scanning or tapping and my money is on NFC slowly phasing out QR codes because they're easier and a more simple alternative for consumers.

    1. Derek Johnson

      Your argument is flawed Andrew as I would rather scan than type on my smartphone when I see a call-to-action. Also, I've tested speeds and for me it's much quicker to scan than type. One this scanning technology is built into the camera, it's going to be even easier.

    2. Stein Strindhag

      In a secure implementation the steps would be the mostly the same:

      1. Get out phone
      2. Open App
      3. Point camera at QR code
      4. Display url or data
      5. Click to confirm doing anything

      1. Get out phone
      2. Activate NFC (open app, hold button etc.)
      3. Tap
      4. Display url or data
      5. Click to confirm doing anything

      Doing anything without user interaction is a security hole (and for NFC would waste lots of energy too).

  7. Wardell

    Great post! I've written similar arguments in favor of QR Codes. http://blog.wardelldesign.com/tech/qr-codes/
    I really don't understand the hate either. Number don't lie and the use of QR codes continues to increase exponentially quarter after quarter. Some of the arguments against them that you mentioned in your post are fair even though they don't hold up against facts, others just make my brain hurt. I don't understand how someone can honestly think that holding a camera in front of a qr code and then clicking a button or a link is harder than pecking away at a mobile keyboard to enter in a website url or other information.

    I also find it odd that people are still saying consumers don't know what qr codes are or how to use them. In my personal experience most people who have had a smart phone for more than a year know what a qr code is. The technology behind them is about as old as the web itself. Other countries where mobile phone usage began to take off way before it did here in the US have already been using them for years and because many of us here are late to the party we choose to try and label it as a fad.

    1. Derek Johnson

      Just read your post, I liked it, great writing. These haters are all pin-heads, avoiding the facts/statistics and telling us how they "feel". I don't care how they feel about QR codes, if the numbers don't back them up. Thanks again for the comment.

    2. kwamie

      Your a pinhead moron, I dont like those stupid codes, wont ever use them, they dont work.

  8. Dave Saunders

    Remember the 1D bar codes from the late 90s and the QueCat bar code reader? That offered the same underlying service as QR codes. Some pretty big companies threw all their weight behind the idea that consumers would much rather scan a barcode than type in a URL. I also remember some big "thought leaders" who thumbed their noses at the detractors. Luckily the QueCat has been saved from the landfills by creative groups like LibraryThing who taught the sucker how to read ISBN codes on the backs of books.

    While the adoption of QR codes is made easier with smartphones, I think the jury is still out on whether or not mass adoption will happen, or if it will last.

    1. Derek Johnson

      Dave, I can't say I remember the QueCat as I was just entering high school in the late 90's… hahaha I did some research and they looked interesting, definitely ahead of their time. Every technology though has someone ahead of their time that gets screwed, it looks like they were the ones when in comes to mobile barcodes. Thanks again Dave for your comment.

  9. Nash

    I've got one!

    Derek, why use QR codes when you can have an SMS keyword which anyone can interact with on any phone without any app and will be quicker?

    1. Derek Johnson

      I say have both… if I'm presented with both options, it's much easier for me to scan than type.

    2. Shawn

      It's does not matter if its quicker, its the process people like. They like the fact that they can scan something and it delivers something. I agree with you that for the most part it is quicker but people just like the act of being able to scan something with their phone.

  10. Joe Beaulaurier

    Nice post Derek. I can be considered "mostly" a hater (yet not anonymous here – wth?).
    My angst comes from encountering early adopters placing codes in store aisles, next to product, at point-of-sale and, gasp!, at checkout. I found placement at tradeshows annoying too (though I can be accused of committing that crime – is young and impulsive a defense?). My point is use in such high-traffic areas is prone to fail. But a hardware implementation of a point-and-scan button with a "read later" capability might address this somewhat.

    Additionally, I suggest not to use QR codes to drive people to the front page of a website. Take them to a specific offer page, product page, video, graphic, recording or even download a vCard file with your contact information (with an embellished “Note” field stating all the reasons you should be in their address book).

    1. Joe Beaulaurier

      QR codes could also be part of a great contact information collection mechanism if the adept smartphone user is the target demographic. I'd imagine a hotel placing a QR code near the physical entrance with "Save 10% on your first night. Scan here to take advantage of this offer." They will be taken to a web page that asks for their contact information and permission to send them future offers. Note I didn’t say to place this offer at the check-in desk.

    2. Derek Johnson

      See, there's a true man… someone that comments, but isn't anonymous 🙂

      Agreed on your comment, how the QR campaign is done makes all the difference in the world. Unfortunately with early adopters, it seems like most of them screw it up right now. Thanks again Joe for the comment.

  11. Kelly McIvor

    I wonder if the hatred of QR codes is misdirected. That is the haters may actually just hate the typical experience of being directed to a non-mobile web site or a video that doesn't play. The QR code itself isn't the problem – it's the lack of good execution.

    1. Erik

      I agree, Kelly, Aside from poor integration with Smartphones, QR codes have been poorly implemented for the most part. If you are going to implement QR codes you should follow some basic rules:

      1) Use it to add value to the consumer. QR codes should provide a deeper level of information beyond what is possible on a poster, statue or bottle. Don't use it to provide more marketing hype. I'm interested, I scanned, so give me the details, not the spin.

      2) Place the Code somewhere people can actually scan it. (not stuck to a post by the side of a busy road).

      3) Make it clear what the QR Code is for. I am NOT scanning a link if I'm not positive I know what it is for.

      4) Have it link to mobile formatted content with a clear value (Detailed information) or an actionable call to action. (Don't link me to a page that tells me to call to place an order or find out more! I could have done that without the hassle of the QR code.

      The sad part is that many executions of QR Codes fail on almost all of the above. Which certainly isn't aiding adoption.

  12. Robert

    Insulting your audience may be a valid tactic to garner response, but it's no way to write over the long haul. I don't appreciate being called stupid, even by someone personally invested in their attack due to business reasons; which is assumed in this case.

    I don't believe that QR codes will catch on. Just because a group of people have done something does not mean they will continue to do so. I've scanned a QR code a few times; it was not easier or more informative than other ways to find a mobile website.

    Much of your argument assumes continued or increased QR code usage based on direct correlation between smartphone adoption, yet you have no data that supports a correlation to that end. If you have data that shows the usage rates in that or other demographics over the span of time since QR codes have been openly used, that would add value. Some good questions to answer would be, is QR code usage increasing in the base of users who have given it trial? Is the base of QR code users growing at an exponential rate? If the answers are no, the technology will likely be subverted by a more visceral offering.

    BTW you have a typo in your post, "smarthphones" in argument #3.

    Note to editors: This kind of writing represents your website poorly.

    1. Derek Johnson

      Seriously Robert? You really felt insulted by a blog post title?

    2. wayne

      Seriously derek, when u call ppl stupid u expect them NOT to get offended?
      Even if it is written by a nobody.

  13. Ian

    I have sold my mobile platform, with QR codes as a key element, to over 250 Real Estate offices representing 10% of all Canadian Realtors since January. These people get it, along with huge retailers like Best Buy, Canadian Tire and the world's largest liquor retailer, The LCBO. For those of you who believe this is a fad…my clients thank you! This gives them more exclusive access to the all important first time buyer demographic!!!

    1. Derek Johnson

      Exactly Ian, thanks for the comment on this post.

  14. Dan Trigub

    Derek – Great post! About time someone stood up for the QR Code and I am glad you have spoken to the haters. I too have been seeing / reading a lot of hate about them of late.

    I agree with everything you have said…except for one thing. Your argument that NFC will not work well with printed magazines/newspapers, product packaging, websites, posters/flyers, business cards, storefronts and TV is something I think is flawed.

    NFC will on the contrary work very well with these mediums…it is just a matter of time. An NFC chip is as thin and flexible as a piece of paper and tiny in size. In fact it will be very easy to integrate with print media and storefronts and that is the beauty of it. NFC is a perfect tool to link physical objects with a rich online experience for the simple fact that they can be put on anything. NFC, without question, will one day be on business cards and magazines/newspapers and today is already on storefronts and out of home media displays. From a cost perspective it is not cost effective yet for print media…but just a matter of time before costs go to pennies. And as we know…unlike QR Codes, you don't need to open an app, take a picture or enable your phone to use NFC…it just works with a tap – that simple.

    The biggest issue with NFC versus a QR Code today is simply that not many phones can use NFC today…though this is rapidly changing. A very important stat you missed is that according to Mercator Advisory Group: By 2014, 70% of U.S. consumers will have QR Code compatible phones and 52% of those will be NFC-capable. Though, today it is still a small minority who can use NFC.

    The point being – QR Codes do work great alongside with NFC and should be considered together as a great tool to reach a wide variety of handsets.

    1. Derek Johnson

      Thanks Dan for your comment! I'm glad I'm not the only one noticing more QR code hate than normal 🙂

  15. tom

    this is only US data, people in the UK do not scan QR codes

    1. Quay Morris

      Um, I think you're wrong there, Tom. It's been seen that QR codes are more popular across Europe than they are here in America:
      http://blog.infotrends.com/?p=1624 http://www.comscoredatamine.com/2011/08/in-eu5-mo

    2. Derek Johnson

      Quay, I was just about to post similar statistics… I guess Tom is just another QR code hater 🙁

  16. CHF

    You're stupid, Derek. How can you compare the adoption of QR codes to the adoption of smartphones? That is the dumbest comment I have ever heard, well, almost. It is much easier for a consumer to type in a URL or keyword, than it is to open the QR scanner and actually scan the QR code to receive the information being stored in the QR code. It is a stupid fad, and it will pass. What does NFC have to do with QR codes? The hype around NFC is for payments… People know what QR codes, they just don't want to wasted their time scanning the stupid thing.

    1. Derek Johnson

      CHF, why then have 40% of consumers age 25-34 scanned a QR code if it's easier to type in a URL or keyword? Your logic doesn't make any sense, or the numbers don't correlate with your logic… Also, that's a preference to scan or type, I love to scan, much easier in my opinion.

      You do realize also that you can't scan a QR code without a smartphone? You do also realize that there is a direct correlation between smartphone growth over the last few years and adoption of QR codes? How can you argue this?

    2. Kurotsuki

      Scanning QR Code: Open QR Code scanner -> snap the picture! And the scanner apps will open the browser and directly go to the url specified by the code. That's 2 actions.
      Typing URL: Open web browser -> Typing the url! And the browser go to whatever url you type. We have the same amount of steps. 2 steps. But if we count the actions, it's definitely more than 2. You can't possibly typing url with just one tap of keyboard key (alphabetic keys if you don't know what I mean), can you?
      So which is easiest? To me and my logic … it's scanning the code.

  17. preacher

    I hate the codes because the only time i ever see them is on the subway, where i have no data.

    1. Derek Johnson

      Good point, I've heard a few people tell me that has happened to them in the past. Marketers definitely need to be aware of where people are scanning these QR codes. Thanks for the comment!

  18. sonicrick

    You might be missing the point buried in inarticulate people's complaints. What I think most people would posit is that handset makers need to embed the software for scanning right into the device software natively. This would eliminate hurdles and give QR codes a serious boost. I know that may be happening in Android but where is Apple?

    1. Derek Johnson

      Damn, I forgot about that, even though it was in my notes for this guest post. The carriers could crush the rise of QR codes pretty quick by not installing on actual hardware, but they are (everyone but Apple right now)… long live QR codes!

    2. Rob

      Even though the camera is used to scan, photography and scanning should be kept separate. What's less evident on first thought is that if you're on an iPhone with QR code scanning built-in for example–you'll still be opening an app (photography) to successfully scan something. I think a lot of consumers are already conditioned enough to know that QR code = separate channel, thus separate function on my phone (i.e. downloadable app).

  19. Leo

    Indeed Derek…you summed it up very well.
    QR Codes have their place and so will NFC in about 3 to 5 yrs.

    I'm located in Quebec Canada and started to deploy at Retail Chains, QR Codes for Consumers with our without smartphone. Canada is positioned #3 vs USA #1 in QR Code adoption.

    QR Codes are Powerful…it's the 1st permission-based 1:1 CALL-to-ACTION, which connects a consumer with a brand on their 24/7 personal device! However small the number of consumers scanning (which is on the rise – not going away) and merchants are NOW connecting with the new mobile consumer…which is on the rise.

    => Play Video:
    SCAN QR Codes & SCRATCH Mobile PROMOs – Retail Stores http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wiSU-D72Q6E&fe

    => Learn more – Interactive Mobile Marketing…simplified! http://www.promomee.tv/products.php

    => Real QR Code Projects http://www.promomee.tv/blog

    Thank you

    1. Derek Johnson

      Thanks for the comment Leo, not sure about the first 1:1 call-to-action though, wouldn't SMS marketing with a short code and keyword be first?

  20. NSS

    I'm stupid? This is one of the most poorly written pieces I have ever wasted time on. Have you graduated 5th grade grammar?

    1. Derek Johnson

      I like how you hide behind anonymous comments to say things like that…

    2. Shannon

      I have to say I totally disagree with YOUR stupid comment. As an owner of a very successful website and marketing company with 30+ employees. I have to read and stay on top of a lot of happenings in this industry (and we are pushing QR codes ) But that being said I LOVED! Derek article found it real, fun, informative. There is so much BS out there it's ice to connect with someone like that. Thanks for the article Derek keep it up.
      Roadsidemultimedia.com aka. not anonymous

    3. Gottabe Kiddingme

      Yes anonymous, you are stupid. No one has ever "graduated" 5th grade grammar.

Comments are closed.