Crack the power of WeChat: why ugly QR codes matter

13 Jan 2014


“Literally everyone single person I know, everyone I’ve met in China, is on WeChat,” said Hugo Barra at the recent LeWeb conference in Paris. “I don’t use email, I don’t use phone, I don’t use text messaging to communicate with anyone – only WeChat.”

Barra, former Google VP and Android exec, is the head of global operations at Xiaomi, the Chinese smartphone manufacturer that has proven extremely successful in 2013 and has recently made the news for selling 150 thousand phones through WeChat, proving the enormous potential of the platform to be the next e-commerce giant.

Among other factors, one of the elements that is turning WeChat into the ‘next big thing’ is the app’s capability to bridge offline and online world (O2O in marketing jargon) with – you guessed it – ugly QR codes.


QR codes in the West

Quick Response (QR) codes have gained a bad reputation in the West, as shown by hearted articles like this – The QR Conundrum on – where they were defined as an ‘impossible maze on a children’s placemat’. 

But hatred does come with a couple of reasons: firstly, an ‘abuse’ of QR codes by most marketers in the West that lead a number of O2O campaigns to be rolled out in places where it’s virtually impossible to scan a QR code, such as moving objects (check out hilarious Tumblr WTF QR codes for more).


QR codes


Secondly, the fact that users had to download a third party app to scan the codes, element that stopped these campaigns from ever reaching mass audiences.


QR Codes in China (on WeChat)

As you can imagine, things are very different in China, where scanning QR codes has become so seamless and natural to the country’s 500 million smartphone users that ‘scan me’ has completely substituted ‘call me’, ‘write me an email’ and even ‘follow me on Weibo’, as pointed out by Barra.

Thanks to WeChat’s in-built scan function, users can add friends but most importantly, follow brands and participate to marketing campaigns. Several retail brands are tapping into this opportunity in China – as we discussed on this post about marketing campaigns on WeChat – and using QR codes to bring digital efforts to life.

For example, Sandro, a French fashion brand that has recently entered the Chinese market, leveraged QR codes and WeChat during recent store opening in Beijing and Shanghai. Instead of simply using social media as a channel to announce the event and launch of the new collection, Sandro hosted a photo shoot session where consumers could be styled by a famous fashion blogger, while having a professional photo taken.

To receive the photo, visitors were asked to scan a QR code and give their details.


Marketing WeChat


After the event, every consumer received its own Sandro-look through WeChat, and was encouraged to share it on Moments – the Instagram-like social network embedded in the platform. Sandro then sent personalized incentives to each consumer, depending on what clothes they’d wore in the pictures.

Thanks to this, one third of the event participants purchased items from their Sandro-look, showing that social media management does actually have an impact on commercial results (more on this case study can be found on agency Firework’s website).



QR codes can be ugly. But in China, they have become the primary way for consumers to interact with brands and with each other. Are you ready to rethink your WeChat strategy?

Giulia La Paglia

Giulia La Paglia

A Sicilian accent, an Italian passport, a UK degree, a 4 years China digital strategy experience. Giulia works with Fireworks and loves talking about Chinese social media, making lasagne and connecting people.


2 Responses to “Crack the power of WeChat: why ugly QR codes matter”

  1. [...] to style the event attendees for a photo shoot. Guests were later sent their photo through WeChat and could share it on their own social [...]

  2. [...] to style the event attendees for a photo shoot. Guests were later sent their photo through WeChat and could share it on their own social [...]

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