Understanding what QR codes and Bradley Cooper have in common (and why it matters to UK charities)

Did you ever see the 2001 movie Wet Hot American Summer?

It wasn’t very good. The early reviews were scathing. It struggled to secure a theatrical release. And the whole thing looked certain to sink without trace.

But, bit-by-bit, Wet Hot American Summer was rehabilitated.

Despite the apparent awfulness, the movie developed a strong cult following. Many of the cast became big-time celebrities (for example, it was Bradley Cooper’s first film role and also featured the likes of Elizabeth Banks and Kevin Sussman). Its tenth anniversary was marked by a star-studded Los Angeles party. And, from 2015, it was resurrected as a Netflix mini-series.

These unlikely comebacks may not be that unusual in the world of entertainment. But, in the world of technology, they are practically unheard of. Once they’ve bombed, even the most capable of technologies tend to stay down – think of the laser disc, or the palm pilot, or the Pebble watch.

A rare exception is the QR (or Quick Response) code.

Back in the early 2010s, QR codes started appearing everywhere, promising a direct link between the physical and the digital worlds. Many of us were curious. So, we downloaded a dedicated QR-reading app. Struggled to get it to recognise its first code. Eventually found ourselves on an unremarkable corporate webpage (rarely optimised for mobile). And never bothered again. A little like Wet Hot American Summer, the QR code disappeared into apparent oblivion.

But do take a look around you. Because QR codes are back with a vengeance. As of yet, you may not have noticed them creeping up on you. But, once you do become aware of the great QR revival, you’ll start noticing them everywhere.

So, what’s the story?  Are QR codes still naff? Or have they found a new purpose?

In the background, there have been a couple of big developments.

Making new friends

While the marketing community in the west may have struggled with QR, the technologists in the east did not. Everyday, tens of millions of people across Asia now use QR codes, from stores and street food stands, to gaming, to social media apps, to business cards. Meanwhile, digital giants like Tencent and Alipay have launched QR-based payment systems – and, in 2018 alone, Chinese citizens spent over US$15 trillion with them, compared to nothing in 2013.

Success of this scale rarely goes unnoticed. So, for example, in 2014 Snapchat CEO Evan Spiegel went to China to see how WeChat was using QR codes. And, on his return, he introduced Snapcodes as an easy way to add someone as a friend on Snapchat, which soon became ubiquitous.

The snowball has been rolling ever since. As an indication, the research firm Juniper estimates the number of QR code coupons redeemed through mobile will reach 5.3 billion by 2022, up from 1.3 billion in 2017.

So, yes, we’re starting to seem many more QR codes around. And, as we go back to the future, we’re likely to see very many more.

Eliminating old enemies

Part of the problem with the first wave of QR codes was the clunkiness.

In the intervening years, everything has become much slicker.  For example, Apple has embedded a QR-reader within the cameras of its latest iPhones, so there’s no need to fumble with dedicated readers. Many other apps have introduced native QR functionality (hence Spotify Codes, Messenger Codes, and so on). And the quality of cameras on today’s phones makes reading the codes less hit-and-miss.

Meanwhile, beyond simply taking people to a webpage, companies have been thinking about the broader potential of QR. For example, Barclaycard has added codes to statements to simplify repayments. Brand brands like McDonalds, Tesco, and Starbucks have been using QR for highly targeted promotions. And everyone has been giving far more thought to the user experience and customer journey (so, in theory at least, no more landing on a seemingly random, non-optimised web page).

Charity donations. The most perfect QR application.

Some of the most interesting QR code applications are seen in the world of payments.

As well as being highly secure, the technology is incredibly easy to roll-out. Codes can be replicated anywhere (on vouchers, posters, advertisements, screens, you name it). All that’s needed to process them is a standard smartphone, with no need for pricey point of sale systems. And, besides China, QR payments are set to reach scale in countries like India, Pakistan and Thailand.


Here in the UK, it’s more about niche payment applications. And one that holds HUGE promise is charity donations.

Across the UK, cash is still by far the most popular way to give to charity. But, with people carrying less cash, they have less spare change, and charities are getting less cash as a result. In 2017, for example, 73% of UK charities reported a decline in the value of street donations. And, in the future, it seems inevitable the decline will continue.

Of course, one option would be to follow the high street and move to contactless.  But contactless collecting tins are seldom seen.  And, for smaller charities in particular, the costs and complexities of contactless card readers are prohibitive.

For Good Causes has therefore come up with a QR-based alternative. It needs to special equipment. There’s no complexity for the charity, and no set-up or subscription fees. Yet it allows anyone with a smartphone to donate any amount of money.

Here’s how it works:

  1. A participating charity gets its own unique QR code, which can be printed anywhere on anything.
  2. When anyone points their smartphone at the QR code, they are taken to the charity’s dedicated donation page.
  3. They select how much they want to donate, and a payment is automatically processed and secured using the smartphone’s in-built payment technology (like Apple Pay or Google Pay) or any payment card.

That’s it!  Quick.  Simple.  Secure.

The system is particularly good for fundraising events, like coffee mornings, or sponsored walks, or fun-days. But, the fact is, you can use it anywhere, anyhow, anytime. You can have as many QR codes as you like. And you can print them anywhere you want – literature, posters, adverts, anywhere.

Five tips for Quality QR-ing 

We’d encourage anyone and everyone to explore the potential of QR codes. And we think there is particular potential for charities. But, to avoid those QR pitfalls of the past, here are five tips:

1. Size matters

Make sure your QR code is big enough to scan easily.  It should be at least 1.25” by 1.25”.  Any smaller than that and it gets difficult to scan, which is no good for anyone.

2. Purpose matters

Make it clear why you want people to scan the QR code.  Explain the purpose, describe the benefits. Leave people in no doubt about why they should bother to scan your QR code.

3. Design matters

Have some fun.  Really integrate the code into the design of your leaflet or poster (or whatever). Make it big and bold and striking, and maybe integrate your logo.

4. Location matters

Be sure to put your QR codes in the right places. Think through where, when, and how people will be scanning your codes and make sure they are easy to access (especially important if you are opting for outdoor locations like posters and vehicles).

5. Testing matters

Don’t leave anything to chance.  Test and re-test the end-to-end experience across a variety of different devices – because different operating systems, phones and tablets can all have their own particular quirks.

And, of course, if you ever want any help or advice, please don’t hesitate to contact the team here at For Good Causes.  We previously worked in senior roles for companies like Visa, Accenture, Shell and Experian. So, we understand technology, payments, security, and marketing (as well as anything Bradley Cooper-related). And the thing that binds us all together is our shared determination to raise more money for more good causes.