Declining Popularity of QR Codes in Japan

Matt Swain
Jul 22, 2011

When I was in Japan last year, it seemed to be relatively easy to encounter QR codes. My colleague, Jim Hamilton, posted a blog last week entitled “Tokyo 2011 Observations,” which included a discussion about a virtual disappearance of QR codes. Since I was in Tokyo this week, I decided to further investigate his observation. Here is what I found:

  • Upon arrival, I casually reviewed posters, banners, and other marketing material in the airport and I did not see any QR codes
  • There was a QR code on the Internet access instruction pamphlet in the seat pockets of the express train from the airport to Tokyo
  • There was a QR code on the outside of one of the city buses outside of Tokyo station, but not on any of the other 7-10 buses we walked past
  • One booklet on the brochure rack at our hotel had a QR code on the cover, with no other codes readily apparent inside of the other brochures
  • A temporary aquarium erected at the Sony Building in Tokyo had a prominently placed sign with QR codes linking to My Sony Club
  • Toyota Megaweb (their self-proclaimed car theme park) had a QR code on a poster at the entrance linking to their website
  • I did not see any menus at restaurants with QR codes on them, whereas last year these were easy to findÂ
  • Upon returning to the airport, I saw the pillars at the train station had the same wrap as last year with a large QR code linking to the train’s homepage

Altogether, I saw no more than 25 unique QR codes in three days when I was actively searching for them. In fact, marketers appeared to be leveraging the suggestion of mobile search to initiate their cross-media initiatives much more frequently.The subway cars were literally blanketed with posters that included keywords to search in a mobile browser. Here is a picture of a poster promoting Head & Shoulders products. In the lower left-hand corner, the advertisement shows that you can follow them on Twitter and also tells you to search “H&S”

Head & Shoulders Poster in Tokyo Subway (keyword search versus QR codes)


It would be much easier for me to search a keyword on my phone while riding on the subway than to try to take a picture of a QR code, and it appears that Japanese marketers have come to the same conclusion. QR codes work well in some environments, and should not be used in others. That said, the challenge with using keyword searches is ensuring that they are going to get the prospective customer to the right information. For instance, the top two Google search results for “H&S” were tied back to H&S Manufacturing Company’s homepage and one of its top-selling products, manure spreaders.

When I arrived back in Boston yesterday, the first poster I noticed was for Bristol-Myers Squibb with a prominently placed QR code. Next to the code was a box that read:

Innovation starts here
Scan this QR Code with your reader.
Don’t have the app? Search for QR code reader in your smartphone app store.

Actually this innovation started in the early ’90s in Japan, but now seems to be fading in popularity in that market. It will be interesting to see if the U.S. experiences a similar peak in usage of QR and other two-dimensional barcodes. For now, Japanese marketers appear to be placing their efforts on keyword searches versus counting on a user with a steady hand to download an app and snap a picture.

InfoTrends is launching a study this month entitled “Mobile Technology: Making Print Interactive.” The study is designed to determine the importance of combining print and mobile technology to activate, cultivate, and engage customers. Amid a sea of marketing messages that are bombarding consumers every day, this study will explore marketers’ intentions for creating integrated marketing campaigns that leverage the only two forms of portable media print and mobile.

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