Why Is Image Recognition Better Than QR Codes?

qr code alternatives

Despite their obtrusive character and limited functionality, Quick Response codes have been overused in marketing over the last decade. But now they are becoming a thing of the past, thanks to the dawn of technologies like Image Recognition and Optical Character Recognition, which offer a better user experience in Retail and Advertising, becoming great QR code alternatives.


Let’s take a look at QR codes

The QR code was introduced in 1994 in Japan with the purpose of tracking automobiles during manufacturing processes. Since then, the use of these codes has expanded to commercial tracking and consumer-driven applications and has become a very popular marketing tool, parallel to the increased use of smartphones.

image recognition qr codes


The fact that the codes “stay” on the product package or print, even when the campaign has ended can lead to incidents such as Heinz’s scandalous episode, where the QR code they used for their  “Spread the word with Heinz” campaign between 2012 and 2014 directed users to a German porn site after the promotion ended.

It had been speculated that 2016 would bring the death of these unattractive codes. We’ll probably still see them around when redeeming event tickets or checking boarding cards for flights, but new technologies offer improved promotional tools that can replace QR codes.


What are the alternatives to QR codes?

Mobile activated magazines saw a growth of 55% in 2013 and it has only been increasing since then. In the meantime, the deployment of QR codes as a promotional tool fell from 68% to 24% already three years ago.

This obviously means that there have been alternative methods that started to overtake the role of these “ugly” codes. There are plenty of substitutes: near field communication (NFC), beacons, watermarks… But the one that seems to be having the biggest uptake is Image Recognition.

In fact, Image Recognition’s use in magazines went up from 6.1% to 60.3% in one year’s span in back in 2013, surpassing QR codes by almost 40%.




Comparing the differences: Image Recognition vs. QR Code

Image Recognition can activate the same kind of mobile experiences as a  QR code, but without having to place a graphic marker on your magazine or product. Basically, the whole object works as the activation code!

The technology can be built into branded mobile apps, identifying a unique set of inherent properties by using the phone’s camera – it is called “computer vision” and for the user, the experience does not differ from taking a simple photo.

QR code scanning functionalities are often sensitive to light and focus. Because of the close shot required by such scanners, some smartphones fail to produce good results or require the user to point to the code in a special manner. Advanced Image Recognition tech, such as that of Catchoom, is less sensitive to such technical conditions.

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There is one more key customer experience related benefit. Image Recognition also allows brands to overlay additional content such as Augmented Reality, transforming the image or object when viewed through a smartphone.

We put together a few key differences between Image Recognition and QR codes below.




Moving forward with technology

With engagement being the key component of today’s marketing relations, marketers must work on improving interactions between brands and customers.

The goal of QR codes was to provide a way for smartphone users to interact with marketing material in real time when there were no other options. Now, Image Recognition appears to be the logical next step. Why stick an intrusive 2D code on an item when technology can recognize the poster or product package itself?

There are many features that branded apps – with Image Recognition tech inside – can enable:

  • Offer personalized information and discounts.
  • Enable a scan-to-shop option for your products.
  • Create gamified experiences that can involve Augmented Reality.
  • Use geolocation for push-notifications or in-app messaging.


Image Recognition apps have been proved to be excellent QR code alternatives that allow you to improve customer engagement without jeopardizing the design of your print ad or product packaging. At the same time, it adds a myriad of possibilities and flexibility to better interact with your customers.