QR (quick response) codes seem to be popping up in more and more places these days. These 2D barcodes, scannable by smartphones, were originally created by Toyota subsidiary Denso-Wave in 1994 for tracking vehicle parts. Now they are being used by marketers everywhere: on food packaging, billboards, magazine ads, clothing tags, real estate signs and car stickers at dealerships. They’re appearing in museums and galleries, even in some unusual places–like on tombstones.
According to a survey by JumpScan.com, 52% of participants had seen or heard of QR codes. Of those who use social media, 57% of Facebook and Twitter users said they have scanned a QR code at least once in the past year and as many as 40% had done so five or more times in the past year. From July to December of 2010, there was a 1200% increase in the scanning of QR codes. The OS used most to scan QR codes is Apple (68%), followed by Android (26%) and Blackberry (4%). The world’s largest QR code was 159 square meters and created by Audi to celebrate 100 years of car manufacturing (see video below).
Starbucks is using QR code technology to make it possible for you to pay for your daily caffeine hit with their mobile iPhone app. It works like this: punch in your Starbucks card info, verify some details, and the iPhone app becomes the gift card. A secure QR code is generated for the barista to scan when it comes time to pay for your coffee. Starbucks is now taking iPhone app payments in over 1,000 Target stores nationwide.
Another smart use of QR codes is on food packaging. Scanning the QR code on Tanimura & Antle’s lettuce packaging takes you to a website with recipe ideas and gives you a chance to enter a sweepstakes to win $250 each week. Other food manufacturers are using QR codes to provide information on the region the produce or food originated from, expiration dates and other nutritional information.
Cellar Key and the Lion Nathan Wine Group have teamed up to make it easier for consumers to shop for wine. These QR codes are featured on the neck tags of wine bottles, shelf displays and wine menus. Consumers can use their mobile devices to scan codes and pull up detailed information about a particular bottle of wine, watch videos about the wine in question, get video tours of wineries, discover food pairings, read up on harvest and tasting notes and check out reviews. It is a brilliant marketing tactic to help consumers engage with bottles of wine that may otherwise blend in with all the rest on the shelf.
Fashion designers and retailers like Ralph Lauren and H&M are using QR codes in magazine ads and billboards to provide apparel information, launch the designer’s website and allow users to purchase items right from their phone. H&M even uses semacodes on their actual clothing (semacodes, pictured right, are similar to QR codes but require a different reader).
While the idea of integrating scannable codes into clothing design is an interesting one, word is out on whether or not it’s a good idea to make yourself a scannable target. The QR dress to the left, designed by artist Marguerite Charmante, makes it possible to “scan” potential dates and look at their Facebook page or blog before you ask them out.
Perhaps one of the most practical uses of QR codes can be seen in the real estate and car industries where consumers demand instant information. Real estate agents can add QR codes to sign riders to give potential buyers a fast and convenient way to get additional information about the home while standing in front of property for sale. This makes the problem of running out of property flyers a thing of the past–QR codes will direct buyers to a detailed website with photos, video tours, comprehensive descriptions and property disclosures.
In Japan, QR codes are even being used on tombstones. A company called Ishinokoe makes specialized tombstones that incorporate a QR code that families of the deceased can scan to view photos of their loved one.
While this is just a sampling of what QR codes are being used for, there are many more opportunities for marketers to integrate QR codes into their marketing strategy.
Step-by-step instructions on how to download a QR reader and scan a code:
1. Download software–Go to the App store on your smartphone, search for and download a QR reader such as ScanLife or i-nigma on the iPhone (others listed to the right).
2. Scan–Launch the app and point smartphone camera at or hover over QR code, which will automatically read the code and redirect you to a website, video, other destination or contact information.