In the past year, COVID-19 has cancelled lots of things. But at the same time, many other things have been revived – like QR codes. 

QR codes – short for quick response codes – became popular back in the mid-90s, allowing brands a way to direct customers to more information about a product, event, or service using a special barcode. These machine-readable optical labels contain data that points to a website or app, and for years, were popular tools found everywhere from print ads, to postcard mailers, to conference trade show floors. 

But over the past 10 years or so, use of QR codes in marketing dwindled. Most phones required a downloadable program to scan and use QR codes, and consumers didn’t appreciate having to take extra steps to access information when they needed it. Fortunately, Apple’s 2017 iOS 11 update opened the door for QR codes to rise again by integrating a native QR code reader in its camera app. Android has also recently joined the fray with its newest rollouts: Android 9 and Android 10 have an in-built QR code scanner courtesy of Google Lens.

Cue the COVID-19 pandemic: All of a sudden, social distancing requirements and health and safety precautions forced all kinds of companies to get creative to reach their customers. And the need to take once-physical resources online to provide lower-touch interactions made the dying QR code a new and useful tool once again.

Here are five ways QR codes have made a comeback in marketing and advertising during the pandemic:


In Restaurants

Contactless ordering has been critical in helping restaurants stay afloat while adhering to COVID-19 restrictions – especially during the early days of the pandemic, when many places prohibited in-person dining. Today, eateries of all kinds are using QR codes on window clings, mailers, and on social media graphics direct customers to to-go menus, nutritional information, and ecommerce platforms that allow diners to order and pay for their food in a touchless exchange.

In areas where in-person dining has resumed, QC codes on table cards and placards also allow patrons to access digital or online menus from their phones, eliminating the need for restaurant staff to disinfect physical menus between customers or invest in environmentally unfriendly and costly disposable paper menus that have to be thrown away after each use.


In Hotels

The hospitality industry has had to find ways to eliminate the many physical touchpoints they use to communicate and share information with their guests.

To avoid the need to constantly replace paper resources between each stay, hotel brand design teams have come up with ways to direct guests to everything they need for their stay online – from instructions on how to use the the in-room coffee maker, to room service menus, to concierge service offerings and ways to book spa experiences. QR codes on in-room signage, lobby graphics, and digital board displays have proven to be a low profile way to point guests to this information.


In Healthcare

Since the earliest days of the pandemic, the healthcare industry’s need to be as touchless as possible was urgent and immediate. Health systems turned to QR codes on signage in waiting rooms to direct visitors to health screening questionnaires that could identify red-flag patient symptoms without exposing staff to sick individuals.

QR codes have also been useful in allowing providers to collect pre-visit patient information and insurance details in a touchless way. Some offices have even used QR codes attached to ecommerce platforms as a means for patients to pay copays without requiring an exchange of cash, check, or credit card, eliminating another potential point of exposure for staff and patients alike. 


In Events

In-person events are starting to pop up again – and event planners are very aware that touchless interactions make their attendees feel safer. At conferences, tradeshows, and conventions, QR codes open up digital components to exhibits or physical spaces, directing visitors to sponsor and vendor information without numerous paper leave behinds.

They’re also replacing traditional hard-copy sign up sheets, allowing event attendees to register for add-on experiences, embedded programs, and requests for follow-up sales calls without exchanging business cards or potentially contaminated community clipboards. 

Finally, event hosts are deploying QR codes as a way to collect post-event attendee information, directing registrants to satisfaction surveys, and even payment portals where attendees can sign up for next year’s event before leaving the exhibit hall.


In Commerce

QR codes have also opened doors in commerce during the pandemic. Shoppable marketing campaigns and in-store experiences are using QR codes to connect consumers to more information while they’re in-store, or even online. For example, potential car buyers might encounter QR codes on window stickers in the lot, directing them to scan the code to access technical specs, safety ratings, and more details in a touchless experience – and without directly engaging with in-person sales staff.

Have you used QR codes in your marketing during the pandemic? Share your favorite examples in the comments! 

Or, if you need help connecting with your customers (with QR codes, or without), contact us today!

Erin Witt Headshot

Written by Erin Witt

"She believed she could, so she did."