"Should I Stay or Should I Go?" Is It Time to Stop Using Explanatory Text Around QR Codes?

Written by Heidi Tolliver-Walker
Print Industry Analyst
Recently, I posed the question to the industry: With QR Codes on everything from movie posters and direct mail pieces to Taco Bell meal boxes and Starbucks cups, is there sufficient adoption that marketers no longer need to include instructions for scanning the code? It takes up space on valuable marketing real estate. Is it still necessary?
The answer I have received from a variety of directions is a resounding YES!
Here are some of the comments I’ve received to this question. Only one person chimed in that the text is no longer necessary and should be removed. The rest of the feedback, whether included here or not, was that the explanatory text should stay.
Let’s look at a few of the comments.

  • [Remove it]: “I think [we can remove it]. If you know what a QR Code is, you know. If you don’t know, you are unlikely to download an app in the moment. But I do think the accompanying text needs to always include an alternate contact method!”
  • [Keep it]: “I always include it. As familiar as marketers are with this tool, there are segments of the population that aren’t. Not only do I include an explanation on how to use it, but I tell the benefit of snapping it (i.e., for a quick link to the website or to register immediately). The benefit needs to outweigh the bother of downloading the app [if one isn’t already installed on their phone].”
  • [Keep it]: “The explanatory text acts as a call to action. Even if everyone who might potentially use the QR Code is familiar with it, it never hurts to tell them what you expect/hope they will do when they see yours.”
  • [Keep it]: “It’s much more effective to have that text instruction, especially if there is a potential $$ gain at the other end of the code. “Scan for Specials or Discounts” gets a very high scan rate, especially on direct mail pieces.”
  • [Keep it]: “We hold an annual Xmas Tree Ornament Contest at our ad agency. My entry was a black-and-white QR Code without any instructions printed onto a 3×3″ card. The code linked to a YouTube video. Only one staff member knew what to do with the QR Code —not surprisingly, the youngest person who’s also our social media director.”
  • [Keep it]: “I agree in keeping the text instruction in place. The adoption rate for the technology is so diverse between different groups, that it probably makes the most sense. Also, if any customers are participating in the USPS’ incentive programs surrounding technology, the instruction has to be in place to qualify.”

Please chime in. What do you think? Is it time to remove the explanatory text from around QR Codes? Or is it still necessary?

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  1. Roger January 13, 2014 -

    Do you mean the explanatory text that helps people who may not know about QR Codes? Or do you mean the explanatory text that lets people know what happens if they scan the code?

  2. Heidi Tolliver-Walker January 13, 2014 -

    I would say the text that helps people who may not know about QR Codes and don’t know what to do with them. The text explaining the benefit of scanning the code (“Scan this code for great new recipes!” or “Scan here to get a your 10% discount right now!”) is a standard call to action and makes sense for any campaign whether QR Code or not.

  3. Roger January 13, 2014 -

    In that case the answer is no. It’s well over a year since I have seen a difference in scan rates between ‘text’ and ‘no text’. If a client feels the need to have the text it’s normally because the ‘offer’ is weak.

    The text explaining the benefit of scanning the code is important but not as important as the benefit itself.

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