QR codes are dead, long live QR codes…

As you know dear reader, more often than not, the latest shiny widget hailed as the new-new-thing in the digital marketing world, dies a rapid death and is soon forgotten as the next new-new-thing takes its place. Google glasses being an example.

And so it was with QR codes. Relegated to the digital dustbin, they had a short life mainly due to the hassle of downloading an app for scanning the code. Not all apps scanned all codes. Some were proprietary to certain code types – for example those used by magazine publishers to link you to more of the story on a website.

Sometimes they just didn’t scan easily, and not all phones worked with the apps as the phones weren’t so smart back in the day – mid-90’s to early 2000’s. So inevitably, frustration and impatience eventually killed off the humble QR code.

Then along came a global pandemic. Who’d have thought hey?

Thanks to smart phones and contact tracing, QR codes are now ubiquitous in our lives. Every retail store, cinema, theatre, restaurant et al, requires the humble punter to scan the QR code upon entry. Right now we cannot live in society without QR codes, so it’s only natural marketers tap into this new habit.

Publishers, religious organisations, real estate agents, packaged goods manufacturers and more have jumped at the opportunity to use QR codes as a response device – or should that be ‘engagement device’ for those limited to marketing to digital channels.

Ironically, in a digital world, QR codes are helping to lead an already resurging interest in direct mail – the codes appear on the envelope, letters and brochures as the response device that takes you to customised landing pages. A seamless measurable link between the real and the virtual worlds.

The smartest B2Bmarketers know, direct mail is by far the best performing media channel to generate hot leads – always beats LinkedIn, email and online advertising hands-down. Until QR codes, the mailings linked to PURLs (Personalised URLS) – but you had to enter the PURL into your keyboard. But who wants to type when it’s much easier and faster to scan and link to the PURL on your phone?

Here is an example from the Jehovah’s Witnesses for an Easter mailing that arrived in my letterbox this week:

The QR code in the letter links to landing page…
The QR code in the brochure also links to the landing page

Here is the landing page:


Here is a real estate sign in my neighbourhood – though why you would restrict your marketing to just social media is beyond me:

Why limit your marketing to a single channel?

My local Mayor uses a QR in his letters to the constituents:

A modern mayor…

This is a mailing I did two years ago to promote an event on how to use direct mail. The QR code linked to a landing page to buy tickets.

Everywhere you look there is a QR code being used to encourage consumers to scan and link to a landing page, website, app or shopping cart. Or even to start a bit of virtual reality – though the VR experience is still a tad frustrating.

Just as the barcode changed retail as we know it, the QR code is here to stay and I suspect all brand advertising will start to include QR codes to encourage response.

However, there is also a seedier side to QR codes that I will reveal in the next article. I’ll share how some brands are using the codes to steal customers from their existing retailers. Retail is going to get nasty.

As they say in adland “Watch this space“…


  1. Great article Malcolm.
    You wonder why the real estate agent would limit marketing to one channel. The answer is…
    – Real estate is currently a seller’s market. There is a shortage of property on the market. Buyers are keen and looking at everything.
    – Realestate.com.au and domain.com.au cost thousands to list on.
    – If you as the estate agent can sell via social media, you save those thousands – either for you or for your client. (I know at least one real estate agent who covers advertising costs out of his commission.)
    Note also that they say ‘before we list’ – so if it doesn’t sell, they’re going to fork out the dosh.

    • Thanks Bridget, yes it is certainly a sellers market, the house sold for a ridiculous amount of money. But if I was the owner I’d be asking for more coverage than just social, as I might miss some bigger cashed up buyers. Sounds like it suits the agent more than the vendor:)
      Hope you’re well…

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