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Oh QR code, how did you fall from grace so soon?

Perhaps it was around the same time that advertisers started putting really tiny ones on posters, plastered on Underground walls on the wrong side of the platform, thereby making users dangle their arms over the train tracks smartphone in hands, oblivious to an oncoming train about to rip their arms off.

I might have made that last bit up, but if you live outside of London you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s true.

Perhaps I need a more scientific approach to gauge popular consensus on the use of QR codes.

Here’s a flow chart recently shared around the internet that helps companies decide if they might need a QR code or not.

That clears that up then.

Why the antipathy?

Graham Charlton covers a few hilariously ill-advised examples in his article QR codes: the good, the bad and the ugly including…


I have a deep-seated fear of running the wrong way on a travelator since a particularly grazed knee incident from my childhood.

Scan for terms and conditions…

Who cares? I mean, really… who cares?


So wrong. For so many reasons.

Oh wait, I was wrong…

I genuinely thought I was making that Underground example up.

There are so many absurd examples of bad QR placement, check out 10 examples of QR code madness for some of my favourite examples, including the death inviting back of a lorry.

Erroneous and at times dangerous placement isn’t the only misuse of the QR code. Too often QR codes lead to sites that haven’t been mobile optimised, or to landing pages different from what was initially promised.

QR codes are a victim of rabid technological excitement. An interesting idea that has been pounced on by the late majority without any proper planning or thought and turned into a gimmicky butt of all marketing jokes.

So that’s QR codes ruined then. What’s next?

Here are some alternatives to QR codes…

Augmented Reality

AR is no longer just for enhancing advertising campaigns, there are now many more practical applications of the technology

Ikea has introduced an AR app to enhance its 2014 catalogue, all the customer needs to do is place the 2014 catalogue in any space within their home, activate the app, and they can see exactly how a virtual Billy bookcase or Ektorp sofa fits into the real-time environment. 

Marvel has played a large part of the push to build a bridge between print and digital content since mid 2012. 

With the Marvel AR app, you read through your physical comic book, looking out for the small symbol in the corner of a panel, then hold your smartphone or tablet over the page and quickly you're transported to exclusive content and behind the scenes footage.

You don’t need to point or scan at any point in particular like with the QR code, you just generally hover over that page.


Near field communication is the term used for the information exchange between two devices. It’s short-range, low powered and highly accurate way for your mobile phone to act as a credit or debit card, a loyalty card, a travel card and more.

For instance, Orange’s QuickTap that let’s you purchase sandwiches from Pret a Manger or EAT with just the tap of a smartphone. NFC tags on adverts and posters in shops or in the street can offer you discounts or information based on your preferences by a tap of your phone.


iBeacon is Apple’s version of NFC. It’s a brand name that will likely fall into our general vocabulary as the popularised term for NFC. If you have an iOS7 enabled device, you already have an iBeacon and an Apple account. Once you’ve downloaded a specific app, this is all iBeacons need to work.

Apple has introduced this into its stores. Customers are greeted on their iPhone as they walk through the door, are shown product information, offered promotions and the ability to pay without queuing.

Major League Baseball in the US has been using iBeacons too. Micro-locations were created inside and outside of stadiums, where fans who had the specific app installed, could be sent relevant content. Team information, map of the stadium, a digital copy of their ticket and merchandise offers.

Clickable Paper

Much like AR this technology, introduced a couple of years ago by Ricoh, lets you click on an image rather than a tiny little code.

The related information is displayed as an overlay across the image, with multiple tabs linking to different types of links, media or social buttons/ 

Google Goggles

Google Goggles is an app that allows the user to find out all kinds of useful information about anything they take a photo of. Imagine something like a reverse Google image search. 

Take a photo of a painting or a landmark, you will then be served results on that object in the same way that a text search would. You can also scan business cards in and add them to your contacts. You can even translate foreign text with it.

Although it doesn’t work on animals yet.


Managing to combine the twin buzz terms of SnapChat and hashtag in one piece of branding, this mobile marketing app is different from other bits of tech by adding functionality to a company’s own logo. 

This basically turns your brand’s logo into an adaptable tool, that can be scanned anywhere a user sees it and taken to any marketing message, link or promotion a brand wishes to direct them to.

If you have seen any more decent examples of alternatives to QR codes, please let us know in the comments below.

Christopher Ratcliff

Published 22 May, 2014 by Christopher Ratcliff

Christopher Ratcliff is the editor of Methods Unsound. He was the Deputy Editor of Econsultancy. You can follow him on Twitter or connect via Google+ and LinkedIn

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Comments (3)

Dale Cadle

Dale Cadle, Digital Solutions Analyst at PZ Cussons

I'm really surprised not to see Blippar in this round-up - as many massive brands are using it for their products, including Heinz and Pepsi. We've met them a few times and their product really is impressive.

over 2 years ago

Luke Brason

Luke Brason, Head of User Experience at Grass Roots

Great article / great examples + possibly the best flow chart I have ever seen ;-)

over 2 years ago


John Wood

Looking at this article the definition of iBeacon and it's relationship to NFC (Near Field Communication) is very misleading.

NFC is a short range communication technology that is highly location specific typically with a range of around 5cm or less. Within a marketing setting an unpowered NFC tag is used to store data such as a web address (URL) which is shared when scanned by an NFC phone. There are three key points to understand.

1. The user must choose to interact with an NFC tag, payment terminal or device and therefore is a form of 'pull' marketing.
2. NFC phones can scan NFC tag straight of the box; no application is required.
3. NFC tags are typically less than $0.25 per tag in high volumes or in other words very cheap!

iBeacon functions using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and is in no way a 'version of NFC'. By comparison to NFC their are three point to consider.

1. iBeacon is long range (up to 50m) and will interact with a consumers phone (providing Bluetooth is turned on) whether they want it to or not. It is 'push' marketing and therefore the interaction by comparison to NFC is totally different.
2. iBeacon's must be powered and in the majority of cases requires the user to have downloaded the application for the specific retailer.
3. iBeacons typically cost more than $20 each however for any normal retailer this outlay is very small.

The key take away point from this is that both technologies are useful however NFC is 'pull' marketing and iBeacon 'push' marketing. Which technology you use will depend on how you wish to interact with your customer.

over 2 years ago

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