RIP QR codes?
Illustration: Adam Fitzcharles

Where have all the QR codes gone?

It used to be that the 2D QR barcodes developed by Denso were everywhere on Japanese posters, magazine advertisements – in fact, anywhere where the advertiser wanted the reader to follow through with a visit to a Web site to learn more about the product or service. The idea was that customers would use their mobile phones’ cameras to take a pictures, and follow the Web site through to a long complex URL.

QR Code

After all, using a "10-key" keyboard (actually there are 12 or more keys, but some people run out of fingers) to type in is not that easy. Part of the problem is that Japanese domains are only available as one-per-company names. So if you are Umai Drinks, and you market a line of drinks like Ume-Kola, Matcha-Kola and Natto-Kola, you can’t buy domains for all of them, but they must hang off the end of your (or whatever stupid domain name your marketing guys bought for you at the start of the Web's use in Japanese advertising). Of course, .jp domains are available, but they don't seem quite so popular (and they're a bit more expensive than .com domains).

But now, there's been a new trend in print advertisements pointing readers to the Internet. Instead of providing a URL, the advertisement simply gives a search phrase (the name of the product, or a marketing slogan), and invites you to type it into a search engine. The QR codes have disappeared.

Why might this be? Well, one reason might well be the fact that mobile phone screens are so freaking small.

Even on "mobile" sites, the tendency of Japanese Web designers to use every single pixel on the screen fights against ease of use and easy comprehension of the contents. Having the long URL reduced to a symbol works on the phone, but what happens when you get back home and you want to see the whole complex site on your PC? Much easier to remember "Natto-Kola" than the long complex URL.

The other possible reason is linguistic. Until recently, non-ASCII characters were a no-no in URLs. So, how do you spell names in romaji: Saito? Saitou? Saitoh? for example. Sinjyuku, anyone? Or Shinjuku? But if the search term is in kanji or kana, it's much easier for the Japanese prospects to remember, and the name of the product, or the main marketing theme, at any rate, almost certainly stays in their heads for longer (at least that is probably the theory).

So it looks as though the QR code is dying as an advertising tool. A shame, really - it had a lot more potential in that field than simply replacing the typing of URLs. Or have I missed a crop of these things somewhere, or completely misunderstood the reasons for their seeming extinction?

Other posts by Hugh Ashton:


Hugh, I think you are right on the mark. QR-Codes might be practical to quickly acquire bookmarks on a mobile phone (and I think there still is potential for this), but as you said, when you're at home there's no easy way to transfer those bookmarks to your home computer, at least not with the mobile phones I used.

As far as ease of use, I think this is a good example for the fact that the most convenient way to do things is not necessarily the one most used by actual people. It's arguably easier to just quickly scan a QR-Code than to type a a few keywords into a search engine, but the latter gives you more control over what resource you will be going to eventually. Also, when you drive by an ad and there is no way to scan the QR-Code because of proximity constraints (after all, you have to be very close to be able to scan the code), you can still read and remember the keyword, and type it into your mobile.

Funny thing is, I have seen QR-Codes turning up in Europe recently, especially in trend- and youth-oriented magazines and other adolescent fare. They use it as some kind of symbol for being quick at picking up new trends from Japan to impress their readership, which of course is laughable as the QR-enabled hardware isn't available to buy (and no working app for the iPhone, yet, either).

It will be interesting to see if and when this trend dies off.


QR codes aren't being phased out at all. Why do you think so? For youth-targeted advertising they make a lot of sense and are utilized. Older people....not so much, but this is just my own thought on the matter.

As for the "search" ads, we wrote about these two years ago:

Basically, they're useful because no one is going to scan a QR code in a train, but they can easily search keywords on their handsets.

Yes, keywords are useful, but they aren't a QR code substitution and can't really be compared that way.


...but I wrote that article based on the QR codes I haven't seen lately and the growth of search terms (which I've been noticing for about 2 years, I suppose - about the time your article appeared). You make good points there.

I long URL doesn't need to be a problem with QR Codes - in fact the long URL can be changed (much like tinyurl) into a short one. It just takes some programming. We're working on that right now in our QR Code app. QreateBUZZ

Thanks for the article though. I enjoyed reading it.


Just use a Japanese domain. It is short, elegant, memorable and guaranteed to get you to the right website.

Something like: イケア.com

Later this year the .com portion of the name will also be in Japanese. Those that own the .com version (in English like above) will own the Japanese version as well. It would look something like: イケア.コム or イケア.企業 depending upon the transliteration chosen by Verisign for .com.

More information can be found in this article:

.com domains are inexpensive and companies are not limited to just one. A company can promote a different site for each brand with its own domain.

As a result generic terms are very valuable. They provide an SEO advantage for anyone lucky enough to own them as well as provide a constant flow of traffic even if the domain is not advertised.

Well, it sure keeps the black ships of foreign customers out of port, doesn't it? I think that non-roman URLs are an invention of the Devil, quite frankly, and the surest way to isolate yourself from the global market. At least you can push a Japanese Web page through a babelfish. But if you can’t even type in the URL, you are completely shut out.

Of course, what you say about the .com domains is already happening with [generic_product].com domains. But heaven help us all if they go into kanji.

Errrr. If you are a Japanese firm marketing to Peru, you get yourself a .pe domain and build a Spanish website on it.

Why on earth would you not want japanese websites to be found on 100% japanese script domain names?

If you're worried Gaijin's can't find Japanese websites to buy stuff off because they can't type in the Kanji domain name, don't worry they just find them via google like they do right now.

Today, In Korea, ICANN finally approved the system the will see Japan able to use 100% Japanese domain names...

.日本 should be up and running around mid 2010, I suspect.

The whole concept behind Quick response codes is the fact you can just simply scan an interesting article / product there and then and get more information - wherever you are (on a bus, train, or whatever).

No need to remember trivial keywords or to cumbersomely type a url into a mobile device (quite a challenge). You don't have to remember a marketing theme or keyword. It's about getting more information there and then and making an informal decision.

You scan and digest the mobile based snapshot information and, if your interested, you then save the bookmark and refer to it when you get back home if you want to do more research.

Why worry about spelling Saito? Saitou? Saitoh when one simple scan can take you to the content ?

Good luck servicing your betamax video.'ve obviously looked through my junk pile. But I think that you've missed the point of my article, which was not to say that QR codes are useless - but that they have disappeared from view (as far as I can tell).

Hi Hugh,

Check out this link please:

Most websites you see were up in last 12 months. The trends are obvious there.

I agree to your point. Japanese domains are for Japanese people in Japanese market.

Hi Hugh,

In marketing communication industry this sort of "boom" often occurs. I've been looking at many companies who hustle in adopting advanced communication technology such as blog without effective/practical strategy development just to do demonstration or/and to pray it works.
Simply speaking, how many steps do you think we need to go to the site via mobile phone by taking QR code picture? It is not that simple as I don't want to imagine. In addition, it was developed for people on the go situation taking picture is not easy!
From people insight perspective, "Don't bother me with such a boring message" is the core. In many cases, QR code just only tries to take audience to the site where no surprise, no refreshment, no unique additional value prepared. People lost interest afterward.
Another factor on why QR code is leaving is that putting a search word is easier to motivate audience to go because it can be a riddle as the context of copy story instead QR code doesn't communicate anything.

- Mineo

QR is something I really been taking a liking to! I been using a website to generate my codes, they have a few cool functions, you can upload a logo to the center of the QR code, this is something I think is kinda cool. Hope to see more QR codes in the U.S ;)

All you need is a good domain name for your business, although search querries or QR-Code etc is useful when you do not have a meaningful and easy to remember domain name (so called good domain names, which are too expensive for most people).

Japanese IDN domain(地図.com etc)will be big. Good English dotcom domains have been so expensive. This is largely because that good English domains are easy to advertise in all types of medias, and are easy to remember and type in by English speakers. The Japanese IDN domain in Japan is equivenlent of English domain in Englsih world.

This is really interesting. Im from London and QR codes are beginning to pop up here. They seem very useful so I am surprised that they are beginning to die.

Does anyone know of any QR code based businesses that have been successfully launched in Japan?


Have a look at the following company. They have used the QR code as an integral part of their business model, which apparently is growing by leaps and bounds in Japan.

Don't know if you read Japanese or not, but these guys have created a pretty cool business model based on the cell phone and QR codes.


Culture changes at a very fast pace nowadays. I find what is in today may very well be out tomorrow.


I think by viewing QR Codes simply as a tool for marketing or advertising you are missing the true value of this type of technology. Move beyond marketing and you will find a whole world of uses and opportunities. This is a content delivery system pure and simple. It will continue to gain popularity among manufacturer and eventually US marketing firms will adopt the technology. If you keep up with current trends you know that many well known brands are beginning to test the waters in the US. QR Codes are from dying.


Qr-code in Europa is just starting.
The last year (2009) mobile internet in the Netherlands grew 50%. The next three years 50% of all the phone users are using internet.
The Qrcode is way to link people to Internet. Why should the Qr-code die? It's a nice, cheap and trendy way to give people information.
95% of the people from the Netherlands never heard about the Qr-code. The last year a few big company's (like T.N.T.) are using the Qr-code. The first news-items and commercials are on National television and also the governement is using the Qr-code to attrack people and advice them in health, food and living.
This week Google started a new campain and they are using the Qr-codes to attrack people for tourist information on demant.
More and more people are installing the free QR-scansofware on their smartphones. The software is plug and play and very easy to use.
In 2010/2011 Qr-code Qr scansoftware will be standard installed on smartphones.
So, to who say 's : Qr-code is going to die,
I like to say:
Wake up little suzie,
Qr-code is just born and healthy alive.
His name is : Yes!
sorry for my English

I will be back fore more about Qr-codes and mobile websites.

I've only really just found out about QR codes today, i've seen them on Pepsi bottles, but never persued them

If the technology starts to come out with the mobile phones then we'll start to see a lot more QR codes in marketing and the media


It's almost a year since this article was written. How do all out there feel about QR usage today?

Clifford Stein
Cliffords at

Thanks that they have produced and made this QR codes today. This is so helpful for a lot of mobile phone users.

Alice of