QR Codes Go To College

by Don Aguirre 25 Nov 2011 Blog Post

By Don Aguirre, Bart Johnston, and Libby Kohn. Infographic by Michael Nielsen.

As a youth marketing agency, we’ve been hesitant about QR codes for some time now, especially when it comes to brands using them to engage young consumers.

In the midst of the growing industry pressure to force-feed these barcodes into the marketplace, we noticed a profound indifference being shown to QR codes by the one demographic that can make or break a trend – college students.

So, we wanted to explore this behavior a little deeper and find out first-hand what college students really think about QR codes. We used our sister agency, Axis of Awesome, and its network of brand agents to conduct a simple survey of over 500 students on 24 college campuses across the country.

Students were shown a picture of a QR code and then asked questions like: Can you identify what this is? Do you know how to use it? How likely are you to engage with these in the future?

Here are just a few of our findings:

  • 81% of students owned a smartphone
  • 80% of students had previously seen a QR code
  • 21% of students successfully scanned our QR code example.
  • 75% of students said they are “Not Likely” to scan a QR code in the future.

QR codes do enjoy a high-level of awareness among college students yet only a fraction (21%) could properly scan and activate the code. Why the discrepancy? According to our findings, students simply struggled with the process. Some didn’t know a 3rd party app was needed, many mistakenly assumed it could be activated with their camera, and others just lost interest, saying the activity took too long. This could be why 75% of students said they were “Not Likely” to scan QR codes in the future.

These are serious barriers marketers must account for and overcome if they plan on incorporating QR codes into any strategy that targets young consumers. Remember, when it comes to trends, especially those in the tech fields, adoption doesn’t trickle down to college students but rather the other way around. The college campus is what drives our popular culture – always has, always will. Without adoption or buy-in from this segment, a product will continually struggle for relevancy.

Unless QR codes become easier, more nimble, and can provide content that engenders a more meaningful connection to the brand or product, students will continue to shower them with apathy.