QR Codes finally come of age.

12 January 2012

Strange lines China
Just what are these lines in the Chinese desert?

In 2011 strange lines in the Chinese desert were compared to QR Codes across the media. Which is pretty good going for an odd looking marketing tool that has only been in use for a couple of years.

Originally designed by Denso Wave, a subsidiary of Toyota, in 1994 as a way of tracking vehicles during the manufacturing process, QR Codes weren’t considered until smartphones cameras made them more publically accessible.

Although still extensively used in tracking products, with over 20 million Americans accessing AR Codes (source ComScore) in October 2011, the QR Code has rapidly become an integral part of some very clever marketing campaigns.

An excellent example of this is Calvin Klein’s Jeans X campaign. Banners were placed in three locations in New York. The banners, mostly composed of the QR Code in bright red, teased passers-by with the promise of content that couldn’t be shown in public.

By carefully selecting their locations in the heart of a New York’s busiest shopping areas, the smartphones accessed a racy 40 second commercial that quickly went viral – the golden egg of new media advertising.

For those unfamiliar with the way they work, it’s incredibly simple from the users point of view. A QR Code (which is just one of 70 types of what is termed Mobile Tagging) is usually a black and white box with what appears to be badly printed pixel art inside it. Point your smartphone at it and (as long as you’ve downloaded the right app) your phone automatically reads it and takes you to a website to view new products, houses, special deals.

And once you start looking for them you quickly realise they are everywhere. From magazines and newspapers, which is a beautiful blend of new and old media, to websites, billboards, t-shirts and as part of graffiti on pavements and buildings. Some enterprising job seekers are even replacing old style resumes with a QR Code.

This is a significant leap forward because the gloss has gone off having a web address on a billboard or advert in a magazine – it just doesn’t cut it anymore. People like the idea of the new, there’s a seductive pull to be able to play with something different. Why type a long url when you can point and access the information almost instantaneously? You don’t even need to click.

And it is this speed of information transfer is at the crux of the success of QR Codes. With a smartphone people access the web on the move, as well as at home, which necessarily means they don’t want to click through several pages of a website to get to the newest pop video or get a great discount on their favourite make-up. They want it now, not in two minutes time.

QR code usage
Where are people accessing QR codes from?

There are 6.1 billion mobile phones (cellphones) in the world. Of those, according to leading mobile equipment manufacturer, Ericsson, 30% in areas such as the USA, Germany and the UK, are smartphones. And as this market share rises, so does the need to keep in step with the way people are using them. In the U.S. 20 million mobile phones scanned a QR code in a 3 month period ending October, is technophilic UAE scanning them? Well, the beauty is they are easy to track the effectiveness of in any marketing campaign using analytics.

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