If you drew a line to represent the adoption curve for QR codes it would look like a very short roller coaster or the back of a Bactrian two-hump camel. Basically, it’s been a wild, bumpy ride.

Once heralded as the next big thing and the future of marketing, it never quite realized the big hurrah that marketers were anxiously awaiting. Pre-2010, there was a lot of discussion about how QR codes were dominating the advertising landscape in Japan and it wouldn’t be long until they were everywhere in North America. And then there was a little fanfare, a bit of fizzle, a flash in the pan.

Part of the problem with first-wave QR codes was the functionality. Users had to download an app to read them and hover their phone over the code until being redirected to a website. Hopefully, the destination site would be built in a responsive design. There was the branded QR code trend, where the centre square would be a tiny logo or the QR code was created in a colour from the brand’s colour palette. As marketers, we tried hard to make QR look cool and fit into advertising’s look and feel. As a consumer, I would sometimes spot the usage disconnect such as a QR code on a cereal box at the grocery store shelf. Would users stand in the aisle scanning to find out what compelling content awaits and ultimately purchase?

In the first-wave QR denouement, I wondered if the lack of pickup was a technology or timing disconnect. An example of both would be Twitter’s micro-video offshoot, Vine. It never really caught on and TikTok is currently all the rage.

Snapchat made QRs cool again in 2015 when they rolled in an update allowing users to create their own scannable and unique codes. By sending Snapcodes users can add friends, unlock filters and connect to content. In 2017, the next levelling up for QR was the IOS 11 update that allowed users to scan codes directly from a phone camera–no more clunky apps required.

Fast forward to 2020. Augmented reality can be served to users through the use of AR codes, which are similar to QR codes but with augmented reality javascript. QRs are 2D codes that deliver a website link, image or text. AR codes produce a digitally enhanced view by adding in 3D animation or video content.

Fashion designer Jason Wu recently partnered with 1-800-Flowers to showcase a collection of five elegant bouquets using augmented reality that enabled users to see the bouquets in 3D. This created an opportunity to envision how the bouquets look in real life through an understanding of scale, and for Apple Pay users to proceed directly to checkout.

Outside of social media, there has been wider adoption with the use of QR codes in ticketing, e.g., airline tickets. While most of us have not looked at a plane ticket anytime recently, during COVID and the touchless world in which we currently live QR codes have seen a renaissance and a renewed relevance. If you and your bubble have ventured out for socially-distanced patio dining over the summer, the server may have greeted you with a laminated QR menu.

With the ease of payment via QR, the curving adoption line may now be a full circle. PayPal’s QR payment solution means you no longer need to touch cash, a debit machine or a credit card again: simply download the app, scan and pay.