What’s QR-Up with the College Kids?

By | December 12, 2011

This weekend, I updated my aggregated QR code data report (QR Codes: The Data Speaks) again. This time I added some data from Archrival, a youth marketing agency that recently conducted research on the use of QR codes by college students.

In essence, the research asked 500 college students on 24 different campuses whether they had seen QR codes, whether they had scanned them, and whether they would scan them again. It also showed them a sample QR code and asked them to scan it.

The results?

  • 80% of the students surveyed had seen QR codes
  • 21% were able to successfully scan the sample code
  • 75% said they were unlikely to scan them in the future

What’s up with that? 80% have seen the codes but only 21% were able to actually scan them? Three-quarters wouldn’t try it again? Isn’t this supposed to be the most tech-savvy group of consumers?

According to Archrival, students struggled with the process. Some didn’t know a third-party app was needed to scan the code; many figured (mistakenly) that the code could be activated with their camera simply by taking a picture; and others just lost interest, saying the process took too long. Archrival claims that this shows that QR codes aren’t all that. After all, most mega-trends start here.

I’m not so sure about this conclusion. First, Archrival lost my confidence when the QR code it used as an illustration on the webpage reporting the results went . . . right back to the webpage I was already on. With such a lack of foresight, it causes me — not to question their data (after all, numbers are numbers) but their conclusions about what the data mean.

I remember when I was a college student. Life revolved around getting a date, getting to class, and scraping up change in the car seats to buy gas. I didn’t get direct mail. I didn’t have time to read magazines. I didn’t have the money to go clothes shopping or out to eat. Of my friends who did, most were using daddy’s credit card and couldn’t have cared less about downloading a coupon or getting a deal.

Times have changed, of course, but kids are still kids, even if nobody listens to A Flock of Seagulls anymore. The prime user base for QR codes isn’t college students. It’s post-college adults who are navigating the worlds of business and home for whom QR codes serve an immediate, practical purpose beyond the cool factor.

Hence my skepticism that just because college students aren’t heavy on the QR codes doesn’t mean that these codes aren’t an important response mechanism today. I think they are. Because of the way these codes are used (and who uses them and why) college students should no more be the barometer of QR codes’ future relevance than preschool-age students on the subject of hybrid cars.

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3 thoughts on “What’s QR-Up with the College Kids?

  1. Joe Manos


    Great post and spot on! I agree with your conclusions and more importantly, the target audience that is using QR Codes.

    The compounded growth of QR Codes in the US for 2011 is over 8000% and marketers are using these new marketing tools because they are opening up new doors of opportunity for new business.

    Yes there are many poor use cases but their are an equal number of successful campaigns. Regardless of the marketing vehicle in our Cross Media rich world, marketers (and service providers) still need to leverage Best Practice Marketing Methodologies when connecting with prospects!

    We have seen a major increase in the effective use of QR Codes by our customer base and the #1 reason why our customers are enjoying success is because they are tying the QR Code to a multi-touch campaign using a variety of media choices and the campaigns are connecting on a very personal basis providing an offer of relevant value to each prospect.

    Keep up the great work and posts! Thank you.

  2. Catherine Barton

    If we look at QR Codes as part of the evoluation in targeted marketing it makes sense. Right now, scanning a square code to take you to a more robust source for information makes a ton of sense! Wait till all the smartphones are equipped with RFID chips and we will then see the advent of NFC technology applied to marketing and promotions.

  3. Marc Zazeela


    While I agree that the target audience may not have been a fair representation of the market at large, I would still like to see the same survey of 20 – 30 year olds.

    I think there is a place for QR codes and their usage will probably grow. Or, maybe the next big thing isn’t so big after all and will be replaced by something more revolutionary?

    Remember MySpace?


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