There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed our lives for ever. Even when things are back to normal (whatever normal was), the effects of the crisis will be felt for a very long time and seemingly, if the media are to be believed, they are mostly negative. Certainly, the economic impacts (both for individual households and nationally) and devastating effects on physical and mental health paint a very bleak picture.

However, often times of crisis can drive changes that are positive, especially in technology. To take one example, the humble QR code has now become the cornerstone of the country’s (and indeed many other countries around the world) test, track and trace system to attempt to control the virus and is now a key marketing tool.

QR codes (short for Quick Response) were developed in the early 1990s in the Japanese automotive industry and while their use grew, they were never widely adopted; in fact, they were once touted as the next big thing in the mid 2000s with codes being printed on business cards, marketing flyers and even tombstones. However, there was always a considerable stumbling block to their adoption – a third party app (often with a fee) had to be downloaded and opened each time you wanted to scan a code.

This was removed in 2017 when first Android and then Apple added a QR code reader into the camera apps on their smart phones. But it has not been until the global pandemic struck this year that QR codes have become commonplace and expected to be used; it has taken less than a year for them to grow in use meteorically.

There are several advantages for using QR codes, normally to direct users to a website:

  • Time – it is much easier to scan with a camera (which most phones now how have) than to type in a URL
  • Ease of set up – there are many generators of QR codes freely available
  • Ease of use – without the need to download an app first, they can be quickly viewed on a smart phone’s camera in seconds
  • Data – a lot of data can be packed into a QR code (a lot more than a barcode for example) which means very specific tracking can be put in place for where the code was scanned from or on what sort of device, and it can also provide a personalised experience for the user
  • Linking to specific items of content – where a URL might be very long if linking to specific items of content (like a video or a page within a section of a site), a QR code doesn’t take up much space and can contain a very long URL behind it


A menu card with a QR code being scanned by a mobile phone

The hospitality sector has been a quick adopter of QR codes, being used for checking in with NHS Test and Trace, as well as accessing content such as menus and even ordering to avoid the need to have physical menus or avoid face-to-face contact altogether.

A Royal British Legion poppy collector with a collection tin and a poster with a QR code to donate

For this year’s Poppy Appeal, the Royal British Legion added QR codes to collection tins in supermarkets and shops across the country to avoid the need for donors to handle cash. The codes contained location tracking data and linked to a streamlined version of our goDonate donation funnel with digital wallets such as PayPal and Apple Pay enabled, with the aim of emulating the speed of putting money in a collection tin. The funnel gained thousands of donations that otherwise would have been missed.

QR codes in newspapers - promoting the 2020 US election and an advert for a housing development

Newspapers and companies advertising in them are now using QR codes to link to digital content. The Times have recently done this on adverts for their coverage of the US Election and property companies advertising new developments. This means that if the right tracking is put in place in the code, the success of advertising in different publications can be assessed and targeting can be refined of which publications to advertise in in the future.

A still from the Camden Hells TV advert with a QR code included

With television being watched more in lockdown, companies such as Camden Hells Brewery are using QR codes during high audience advert breaks such as in football matches. The advert shows a QR code that if scanned, links to a page where users can enter their email address to be in with the chance of winning a box of beer. This both promotes their brand awareness, and also serves as a data capture method for contacting potential customers later down the line.

If you’d like to get in touch about how you might be able to take advantage of QR codes in your fundraising or wider digital strategy, please get in touch.