Zoë Scorer, Director 

  • From humble beginnings
  • Building a bridge between physical objects and digital experiences
  • Functionality vs. creativity

First invented back in 1994 by Masahiro Hara of Denso Wave (part of the Toyota Group), the QR (Quick Response) code was originally created to track inventory of components in car factories. It was then largely (albeit half-heartedly) adopted by companies in America in commercial sectors to drive digital actions and payments. QR codes are clunky though – in the past, most people needed to download a specific QR reader app in order to use them – and take up in the UK was slow with many marketers disregarding it as a tool with little evidence of success.

Fast forward a few decades and a day doesn’t go by without scanning a QR code. Over recent months many of us will have seen first-hand the resurgence of the QR code – initially used by restaurants and bars to check-in, order and pay (for example, BrewDog) and now adopted by the NHS Track and Trace system. Getting our phones out to scan QR codes is quickly becoming the norm.

Belittled by marketers in the past, the QR code is now proving its worth in terms of its functionality and, because our smartphones now support native-QR code scanning, marketers are starting to see the benefits of considering the QR code in their next campaigns (not least because they are very cost effective!).

Perhaps this new wave of optimism for the humble QR code is simply because we’re all more accustomed to seeing them around or, and hopefully so, its impressive technology is finally being recognised. Rather morbidly, one company has even introduced QR codes on gravestones – perhaps not what Mr Hara had intended back in 1994 but an inventive application nonetheless.

What interests me is the bridge that QR codes can create between physical objects and digital experiences – for example, ordering in a restaurant, repeating a product purchase or making a new business connection all via QR codes. The point is that whatever the QR code leads the customer to needs to enhance the experience that the physicality of a menu, being in a supermarket or being handed a business card simply can’t do. I am yet to have a truly unique experience thanks to a QR code but I am liking some of the other applications I’ve come across. For example, Spotify Codes, which invite users to share and discover content (“It’s as easy as taking a picture”) and WhatsApp chats between customers and brands initiated via QR codes. The latter example is creating a hassle-free way to take customer service to the next level – customers don’t have to find the brand on social media or add it manually on WhatsApp to start a direct conversation. Businesses can even opt for pre-populated messages (similar to Facebook Messenger) to start the dialogue.

For me, the functionality of the QR code far outweighs the creative application at the moment in terms of use-cases. Having said this, and as a QR code sceptic, I am warming to the scannable image, BUT I am still holding out for the WOW moment.

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