The Great QR Code Comeback

QR, or Quick Response, codes rise and fall, and rise again is an interesting case study in technology that came before its time and how it can be repurposed to shape not only our marketing strategies for the future, but the global economy.

To appreciate the QR code comeback we’re seeing today, we must first understand where they came from. Let’s go back in time to see where they started versus where they are now.

History of the QR Code

It was 1994. Denso Wave, a Toyota subsidiary, needed a better way to track vehicles and parts during the production process. They developed a type of barcode that could encode various types of data at once and hold 300x more data using the same amount of space!

Fast forward to the early 2000s. Other countries across the world found the marketing value in QR technology and brands like Pepsi, CitySearch and EventBrite launched hugely successful campaigns using QR codes. The rise of QR codes in the US was a little slower to catch on and it wasn’t until late 2009-2010 that brands latched on to the idea.

Eventually, you couldn’t go anywhere without seeing a massive QR code covering a flyer, a t-shirt or a sidewalk. They became a pivotal part of meme culture that contributed to some pretty prolific pranks called, “Rick-rolling”. Even entire websites, like, were created to make fun of them.

It gained quick traction, but just like The Harlem Shake, Gangnam Style and Foursquare, it gave us a laugh, then faded into our memories.

Why didn’t QR Codes work?

By 2013, QR codes were scarcely used and it appeared their day in the sun was over. So, what happened?

Several things led to their decline, but the amount of friction caused between consumers and conversion was a major problem. Using a QR code was cumbersome, lengthy, and, oftentimes, not worth the pay-off as it required a separate app to read them. Because of the mad dash to utilize this trendy tech, marketers weren’t putting the thought and strategy behind what they wanted to accomplish, resulting in half-baked landing pages and broken links.

It’s important to consider, too, that smartphones weren’t a global phenomenon yet; most people couldn’t afford them and WiFi wasn’t easily accessible. Therefore, the tech needed to support the potential of the QR code was yet to be globally adopted.

QR Codes Now

On September 17, 2017, the Age of the QR Code finally arrived with the iOS 11 Update.

Apple gave over 700 million iPhone users the ability to scan QR codes with just their camera. With all major smartphones now having the same capability, consumers no longer had a barrier to convert.

From there, brands started putting robust strategies into place surrounding their QR code usage. Companies like Snapchat, Pinterest, Youtube, Spotify and Venmo use QR codes to make sharing information and adding friends easier than ever before. China pioneered the use of QR codes as a major player in their mobile payments shift—completely transforming the way their citizens interact with stores and online shopping.

For the US, the biggest catalyst for our national adoption of QR codes, outside of app usage, was the COVID-19 Pandemic and social distancing practices. All of a sudden, we had a reason to rely on our personal devices more and the need to transfer data between devices quickly, efficiently, and touch-free.

Today, QR codes are a cornerstone for marketing professionals cross-industry, and are widely accepted by consumers.

Ways QR Codes Are Used Today


If you’ve been to a restaurant in 2020 or 2021, you’ve probably noticed that physical menus have largely been replaced by quaint QR codes. This was originally a means to reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus but turned into an invaluable digital touchpoint for restaurants.

Restaurants can instantaneously update menu prices or specials, while also expanding their ability to capture immediate feedback from customers right from the table.


Everyone likes getting paid instantly. A quickly growing use for QR codes is for instant payments. Whether it’s a QR code on the bottom of a bill, or a QR code sent as an invoice, this type of payment processing is gaining popularity alongside the shift towards cashless societies and mobile wallets.


In the same vein as payments, QR codes are wildly helpful in collecting donations. A 2022 report found that donations made through mobile devices have increased by 50% over the past year. QR codes can be put on anything and take donors straight to your donations page, leaving no room for static or friction to interrupt the conversion.


The ever-present mantra ‘make your packaging work for you,’ has never been easier than with QR codes. Finally, an easy, practical way to incorporate physical or printed materials into packaging designs. From assembly instructions, tutorial videos, to warranty registration, QR codes offer versatile ways to cut down on printing production costs by giving your customer the power to hold all the information about your product in the palm of their hand.

Trade Shows

There’s a reason the tote bag is the most coveted piece of tradeshow swag you can get—so you can put all the business cards and flyers you get in one place. Luckily, QR codes make it easy to give your tradeshow visitors your companies’ contact information and marketing collateral straight to their phones for easy access. QR codes can also be helpful tools in giveaway or raffle entries as well as connecting on social media with fellow attendees to grow your internet presence.


A less common use for QR code marketing, but worth a mention nonetheless. In April 2021, a Chinese video-streaming company, Bilibili, hosted an innovative light show that featured a giant QR Code made up of hundreds of drones to celebrate the first anniversary of a popular video game, Princess Connect! Re:Dive.

The audience, no matter where or how they were viewing the performance, was able to effectively scan the QR code with their phone and go directly to the game’s homepage.

Watch the performance here:


Sometimes, innovative tech makes its way into marketing before it’s ready. But, because of innovations in other areas, and things that are entirely out of our control, the QR code comeback reminds us why marketers love to do what we do—to connect people to brands.

At TG, we leverage our expertise in marketing to generate the results our clients need to stay ahead of the game but arrive in front of their audience right on time.

Contact us today to learn more about how we’ll help you reach your marketing goals!