Shazam, the company that started out as the thing that made you want an iPhone in 2007 when you saw your friend find out what that song was that was playing when you were at Starbucks that one time, is launching Shazam for Brands. That’s a formal initiative that will let consumer product companies add QR-like codes that can be scanned by people’s smartphones to unlock some kind of exclusive information or other content.


QR codes have always been undervalued and underused. They’re confusing to use, have no clear value proposition and more. One of the big hurdles to usage has always been the confusion around what app to use to unlock the content that’s hidden behind them.

That’s where Shazam could come in and salvage if not the technology then at least the idea. QR codes make a lot of sense in that they create a call to action that rewards mobile users immediately with something extra or exclusive. You’re at an art exhibit or sitting in a restaurant booth and hey, scan this and get that. But what app to use?

It’s much easier to say “Shazam It!” or something similar on a sign or label than to say “make sure you have one three or four decent QR reader options, then open it and scan this.” It’s proprietary and even if people don’t already have the app (which many do) then they at least know which one to download to find out more. So it’s taking the QR concept and effectively branding it for easy adoption and broader usage, both of which are good in a mobile-first world.

Of course it’s bad in that it’s a single company largely laying claim to a particular technology. That kind of environment has a tendency to stifle innovation and make maintenance of that technology dependent entirely on a single company and subject therefore to its whims. QR codes may not be completely open source but it is a format that anyone can use and any QR code will work with any reader.

That’s not true of Shazam codes or even the already-existing Microsoft Tags that “compete” with QR tech. While I’m happy to see marketers get a tool that allows people to take an immediate action that rewards them with something, even if it’s just more information, I would have been more happy to see this come as the result of better education around QR tech, not by the co-opting of the concept by a single company.