Linking Print Marketing with Digital: To QR Code or Not to QR Code?

If you don’t know what a QR (quick response) code is, don’t feel bad. They are those funny-looking barcodes that look almost as distorted as old-fashioned “snow” on an analog TV channel getting no signal.

If you’ve never scanned one in your life, or you don’t even know how it’s done, don’t feel bad about that either. Apparently more than 60% of Americans have never scanned one (okay, so 30-40% have … a glass 30-40% full perspective?).

It seemed like an awesome idea several years ago when smartphones were catching on. Advertisers said, “What if we put something on our print ads that take people directly to our website, just by pointing their phone’s camera lens at it?”

Unlike in China (more on that in a bit), here in North America marketers have not been able to sell the majority of the public on the usefulness of QR codes. Why not?

  1. You can’t just “point your phone at it” because you have to first download a QR code reader app to be able to utilize this technology. The function doesn’t come pre-installed.
  2. Even if you have a QR reader app, using it is kind of annoying. When you see a code, you have to load up your app, point your phone’s camera at the code, keep the code in the frame, wait for the auto-focus, then you’re at the web destination. By then you don’t even care anymore.

One major reason QR codes are all over the place overseas is because Chinese social media platform WeChat has purposefully integrated them into the user experience. When you download the WeChat app, you get the QR code reader that comes with it. You use it to follow brands on WeChat, enter contests, etc. Once brands know they’ve got a user base, they can get creative with not only linking the user to content, but to payment systems.

We don’t have that here in the U.S. Not yet, anyway.

So what do we recommend to link your print marketing to digital marketing, for now? The best thing to do is to include an attractive call to action for the viewer to go to your site, and make sure that site is optimized for mobile. If you have a long, awkward website name, you might consider using a service like or to create a shortened link people can quickly type into their phones.

Bottom line: QR codes may have a future here. We’ll watch for that. But right now, most people in the U.S. are comfortable just typing sites into their mobile browsers. Let’s keep it simple. Focus on grabbing their attention with beautiful print and tell them there’s more where that came from online.

When we see better than 50% of your target customers using QR codes, we’ll be ready!