QR Codes: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

QR Codes aren’t new but they’re becoming more mainstream now. Many brands and destinations are using them effectively but users’ expectations are starting to change.

What are they?

A QR Code (Quick Response Code) can be scanned by a smart phone and will take the user to a website, a vCard or compose an email. Most of the uses I’ve seen take users to a website. For some basic QR Code tips, check out this #tourismchat highlights post on QR Codes.

How to use a QR CodeQR Codes 341/365

Don’t just slap a code on something. Even though QR Codes are becoming more and more mainstream, it’s essential to provide some type of educational steps for those users who have never seen a QR Code before. Even if it’s a one-liner that says “Scan this with your smart phone.” If you have more room, tell users to download a QR Code reader on their smart phone.

How are brands using them? (the Good)

One of my all-time favorite stores, The Home Depot, uses QR Codes on their flowers and plants. Scanning the code takes you to a site that lists more information about the plant, such as the light, water and spacing needed. Check it out yourself! Click on the photo for a larger image.

A great tourism example is the San Antonio River Walk Tour. The 1.7-mile stretch has 12 points with QR Codes that each link to an audio narration.

You can view a version of the mobile site on your desktop. My favorite part, other than the QR Codes, is the section containing historic photos and renderings. There’s nothing quite like viewing vintage photos and then comparing them to the present view to see how time has changed.

Another amazing example is The World Park campaign from New York’s Central Park Tourism. If you’re going to mimic a QR Code campaign, this is the one!

The goal was to attract younger, more-social visitors and provide to them an experience like no other.

The campaign launched on Arbor Day weekend of 2010 and received over 1,800 QR Code scans from tech-savvy visitors in the park.

With more than 50 QR Codes, Central Park was turned into an interactive board game where visitors could answer trivia questions about history, art and music as well as see movie location scenes, photos and fun facts.

The QR Codes (Parkodes™) carried through a park theme by resembling a digital tree.

What NOT to do (the Bad)

I received an e-newsletter that had a QR Code in it. Let’s think about this. The e-newsletter comes in my inbox so I’m already on my computer or on my phone when I read it. It’s much easier for me to click on a link rather than pull out my smart phone, scan the code and then try to navigate a website. Now if I’m reading the email on my phone, it’s not even possible to scan the code. Wasted effort.

I clicked on a QR Code from a flyer for a retail store. I was hoping for some coupon or discount but instead it threw me on their homepage. Even though the site was mobile-friendly, there was too much navigation and I couldn’t even find anything related to the information on the flyer. Huge fail.

Be smart (Don’t be the Ugly)

QR Codes are no longer shiny objects so be smart when and where you use them. Always incorporate the QR into something bigger like a campaign. There’s no reason to put them in your Visitor’s Guide just because it’s 2012.

QR Codes need to be on printed pieces and they need to link to mobile-friendly sites with easy navigation.

Don’t waste a QR Code by linking it to your Facebook page. Even worse would be linking it to a tab on your Facebook page for a contest which, depending on the Facebook app, is probably not even mobile-friendly.

If a user takes the effort to scan a code, lead them to a good site, preferably one that provides a discount or information that they wouldn’t normally see. Give them a digital experience similar to a backstage pass.

Learn more

If you’re looking for more information on how or when to use QR Codes as well as the many options available, check out these slides from interlinkONE’s webinar: Print, Mail, & Mobile: Understanding QR Codes

Troy Thompson also wrote a great post that shares 8 Tips for a Great QR Code Campaign.

Share the love

I’d love to see more examples of how QR Codes are being used, especially in the tourism industry. Please feel free to share examples in the comment section. They can be QR Code campaigns that you love (or hate) or examples that you’ve personally developed for your destination or organization.


  1. Bob Foley

    Make sure your designers know how they’re used. Placing them in spots where there is no or low cell signal, or where they are hard to scan, such as on a highway billboard, isn’t useful.

  2. Tom

    QR Codes are hideous. When I see an ad with them, I immediately look away or rush to change the page. I refuse to get the app to be able to use those disgusting things.

Leave Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *