Ink is Cheap

I did something decidedly analogue yesterday; I withdrew cash from a machine.

I know, I know, I should have used my NFC enabled smartphone - or my chip & pin card. But it turns out most cab drivers prefer cash.

On the screen was one of those ghastly animated adverts. Rather than selling me a mortgage or loan, it was advertising a fast food chain. The ad concluded by telling me to download the app - available on Android, iPhone, Symbian, and BlackBerry.

I was about to snap a photo of the screen, when all of a sudden I noticed something much more interesting on the receipt.


This is why QR codes win again and again. Black ink is ridiculously cheap, and blank paper is in plentiful supply. No retooling is needed to create them, they work with every camera phone.

Can you imagine the cost and logistics involved in converting a cash point to use NFC? Given the achingly small number of NFC handsets what would be the point?

On the back of my cab receipt, I saw another QR code.


Neither campaign is without its faults, but they serve to illustrate how the open nature of QR allows megacorps and sole traders to tap into the same ecosystem.

QR wins because it's cheap to produce, easy to use, free (gratis and libre) and has wide consumer support.

7 thoughts on “Ink is Cheap

  1. says:

    Absolute nonsense! People don't use QR codes and most phones don't come with the support for it out of the box. They appeal to a tiny niche of tech savvy people and that's it.

    1. PaulS says:

      Link to peer reviewed, published research to support your sweeping statement please.

  2. says:

    Show people a web address and they know what to do. Show them a QR code and except for a niche audience- they don't.

    40,000 is a number without comparison to another metric so it's not really showing anything. Compared with the fact that there are 23.8 million journeys every day on London's transport network does that show that 40,000 QR code scans is a success or a failure? How many people walked past the advert? How many people might have acted had there been a universally understood call to action like a web address.

    If I have the choice of putting a clear call to action like a web address or a horrible black splodge on a poster, I'll choose the one that is understood by the widest possible audience and doesn't require you to go and download an app before you can even act.

    1. You could have made the same argument 10 years ago about web and email addresses on posters.

      I can't say whether 40k visits is good compared to any other poster campaign, what I can say is that it's a sufficiently large number to say it can't *just* be a niche audience.

      I would agree that posters should include both human and machine readable codes.

      As for them being horrible - a) I heard that about slashes and @ signs, b) QR codes don't have to be black splodges

  3. I stand by this thesis from a decade ago.

    The cost of adding QR to a billboard advert is zero. The cost of adding NFC is non-zero.

    Restaurants have QR on all their tables because ink is cheaper than silicon chips.

  4. Absolutely. I worked for a company that made NFC pucks for restaurant tables, but everything needed QR codes as a fallback anyway, so many venues just printed their own.
    Difficult to own the IP of a QR code.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *