The usage of 2D barcodes is an ongoing topic of debate at Rodgers Townsend. For more than 18 months we've been incorporating them into client work when the opportunity's been right. We even developed a fully integrated ad campaign to launch the AT&T Barcode Solution in 2010. Our clients have been happy with scan results, although barcode scans have been viewed more as a test in response tactics (at least compared to the aggressive goals for call volume or clicks that we're generally gunning for in response campaigns).
Still, this debate on 2D barcodes surfaces about once every few weeks when someone reads an article titled 'The Demise of QR Codes', or something as pessimistic. Surely you've read 10 - 20 articles with similar titles yourself.
The question debated most often is "Should we be using the newest technology?" Today it was Mobile Visual Search. (MVS as we may come to know it.)
My point of view is that 2D barcodes are a means to connect the user to content. Not dissimilar to adding a text code or a URL in your communication.
The benefit that QR codes have for marketers today is that while they aren't visually appealing (okay, they're ugly), the code draws attention. The code acts as a visual cue, or call to action, to access more content provided by the brand. [Soapbox moment… As advertisers and marketers it's our job to reward consumers for scanning by delivering compelling mobile experiences that will reinforce their behavior to scan again.]
Today, visual search doesn't have the same advantage as QR codes. Visual search is the ability to access more information via a mobile device for essentially anything. The results I've experienced are similar to what you'd expect to get if you searched on the classic web. Google Goggles is one example of MVS. You take a picture of an image, building, etc. within the Google App and the app searches the web for the image. You may get a result some of the time but not all of the time, which may create frustration or disinterest in trying again.
One other key difference is customization of the outcome. A barcode can be unique to whatever it appears on, leading to a relevant outcome/mobile experience. This gives the marketer flexibility and control. Visual search recognizes an image and delivers relevant search results. I would expect GPS location and a few other data points known by your device could tailor results, but I haven't experienced this level of relevance.
The opportunity to connect physical and mobile experiences is being defined and evolving, but there is no doubt that other technologies will emerge. We'll continue to explore and evaluate.
One thing is for certain; the onslaught of mobile devices has changed the way we access content, where we consume it and how often. As marketers we have an opportunity to connect with customers in new ways. If we build our strategies around our customers and business objectives the technology solutions will be available.