QR Codes: bringing a second dimension to the mobile web

I recently struck up a conversation with our Ad Agency at work about using QR Codes in our coming campaigns, and it got me all excited about them again. In 1994, Denso-Wave created a two dimensional code called QR codes (QR for Quick Response), which are currently the leading type of 2D code used in Japan. Having skipped the pond, they are starting to get more of a foothold in the Western part of the world.

So what is this goofy looking thing?
QR CodeUnlike barcodes which have only vertical lines, QR Codes have vertical and horizontal lines which allow for a far greater amount of data to be contained within the pattern. They can vary in size and have few restrictions on generation. The registration boxes have to be present; it should be black and white with a white background and like 5px worth of padding around it. The code to the left is an example of what they look like, and if you were to scan it, you would be whisked away to https://www.floggingenglish.com. You may have seen these before on some products as they have been floating around for a while; but not widely used. Okay, so they still aren’t widely used – but they are gaining more traction as cell phones become more and more able to run a greater variety of applications, and providers become more willing to include more applications on them. QR Codes can contain:

  • website urls
  • text
  • phone number
  • text message
  • even files (i.e. ringtones up to 2,953 bytes)

Neato; so how can I use this?
The basic premise is to generate a QR Code and place it on a print ad someplace where folks will see the ad and be able to scan it with their cell phone camera. Contained within the code could be a URL, an SMS message, text and even an image. Here’s an example: Woolllaston Estates has been marketing wine in Japan where there is a QR Code printed directly onto the label of each bottle. The interesting part about this campaign is that they are adding value to the purchase; or potential purchase by allowing customers to scan the code and gain access to wine reviews before they buy the wine.

Vespa Canada is also running a promotion using QR Codes to enable customers to get discounts on products and accessories. But this is really just the start.

The Pet Shop Boys even jumped into the QR Code arena with the release of their Disco 4 album. The poster had various codes which all led to other websites that either related to the album or the bands musical interests.

Another really cool use of QR Codes are Commando Nerd Patches, which allow you to buy a patch and put it on your laptop bag or something, displaying your geek-dom with machismo. Check them out over at p8tch.com. Once you get your patches (like me), you can edit the destination on their website using the passphrase sent with each patch.

Given the fact that this code format is open source, meaning completely free, as enabled just about anyone to use the technology for any crazy idea they have. There are groups playing tag where folks will wear a code on the bag or pack and no one knows who is playing until they happen to see a code on the streets. Or a code based scavenger hunt. The code readers and generators are also free like these from Kaywa.

There are other 2D codes available like those from Shot Code (which are proprietary and not free) and DataMatrix which is ISO rated.

Implemented properly means placing the code in a location so it makes accessible additional information about the product, promotion, or event to the viewer at the time when they are most interested. Location is also a consideration since mobile devices don't always have connectivity, so placing an ad with a code in a subway, or a basement may not be the best location due to the lack of strong or any cell signal; if they can't scan and save the code, then it has just failed to work for that viewer, so it's best to amke it is a simple and straight forward as possible.

The possibilities are pretty wide open. Unfortunately I do not know of any US or Canadian companies that have any phones with the scanning software preinstalled, so we are still behind the curve a bit. That just means it’s a good time to look at this as a way to build recognition into a new market.

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