SEO and PPC vs. QR and AR

June 21, 2021 | By Paul Mackenzie Ross | Filed in: marketing.

In digital marketing circles I still see QR (Quick Response) and AR (Augmented Reality) receiving so much reverence and they’re still touted as on the edge of being “the next big thing”.

Only this morning for instance there was a piece in the online industry publication The Drum. Their piece, titled How do you solve the problem of AR apathy? was interesting.

There were quotes such as:

“In OOH, I think we’ll see large-scale outdoor AR ‘leaping off the poster’ to use the public realm as its canvas…”


“The next generation of smart glasses will naturally keep you in the moment and enhance the physical world, making them the true way to experience this amazing technology.”

plus also

“AR offers great possibilities to close the gap between conversation and conversion in the path to purchase.”

I’m an eternal optimist but, as the piece quite rightly points out, QR codes have been around for over twenty years and we’re still not doing much more exciting than having the codes in places where we log our presence for the purposes of Covid-19 track & trace.

Twenty years! I was working in the warehouse of a Japanese multinational just over 21 years ago and QR codes were cool and useful back then. We also had Kanban and kaizen, but they’re not ubiquitous either.

Around 12 years ago I had an AR app on my iPhone which I used for a valid real-world purpose. I got off the train at Winchester and immediately needed access to a cashpoint. The app manged to show me an AR street view with pointers to the nearest ATM. It worked a treat, quite literally showing me on screen, wherever I pointed my phone, to where the “hole in the wall was. But 12 years later I can’t remember the name of the app, and I’ve not used such a thing since, except on phone-based AR games Pokémon Go or Wizards Unite and that’s it.

The quotes above are all about what some marketing heads think AR might do in the future, about the next generation of smart glasses, even though Google effectively killed off its much-touted and yet despised Glass project as far back as 2014/2015. Yes, it’s still going but we’re still not seeing uptake in great numbers.

And THAT is the issue.

QR codes are great for:

  • scanning parts in the automotive industry,
  • brilliant for track & trace,
  • excellent for seeing if what you have in your hand is the winning lottery ticket, and
  • rather useful when placed in the windows of physical stores when it’s out of hours.

QR scanners are now built in to our phone cameras, you no longer need a dedicated app to scan one, and QR codes are useful. But QR and AR are still much-exalted solutions to problems we don’t have.

There’s the old adage that “when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. And that’s the crux of the matter. AR, QR, marketing automation – they’re all tools in our marketing toolbox. When you have a marketing project in front of you, you’re instinctively drawn to use the right tools for the right job, the marketing tools that your many years of experience and insight will get you the results your client needs. I’m still using SEO for mid-to-long-term success, PPC for the quick hits, content marketing all the way, with landing page design, CRO, web design and development, always occupying the lion’s share. Email? Occasionally. Print? Once in a while. Digital brochures? Yes, they have their place too.

Look at how mobile phones took off, how WiFi is everywhere, film and TV streaming is the norm, the television itself is no longer a box with a dozen buttons but an all-in-one, gigantic screen with connectivity, cars are electric and 100,000 were registered in the UK in 2020 alone.

QR and AR are still nice things to consider, but why waste our mental resources on trying to convince everyone they’re the future, when that future’s already been here for twenty years.

QR  codes are great, especially when scanning my lottery tickets, but I much prefer NaviLens codes, far more user-friendly and colourful.

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