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Raising the bar…code. QR codes – theory or really?

There’s an infection spreading across the world… All over adverts, brochures, websites, apps and more, small black and white dots are appearing, like like a rash across the marketing landscape.

Is there a cure? Or will this rash spread like a virus, and soon be a part of every bit of advertising and marketing material we see?

While chatting with a fellow marketer last week, the topic of QR codes came up. We’ve both used them in our marketing campaigns, with mixed results and were debating their use and effectiveness. “QR code?” You ask. OK, a quick lesson.

“A QR code (short for Quick Response) is a specific matrix barcode (or two dimensional code) readable by dedicated QR barcode readers and camera phones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be text, URL or other data.” (See Mashable’s article for more info).

Yeomans exhibition stand QR code

Yeomans exhibition stand QR code

Here’s one. Basically (with QR code reader app installed, such as Qrafter), you take a picture with your camera phone / smartphone and something happens. What that something is, depends on what info’s stored in the code. You could be taken to a web page, add contact details, download a document, pay for an item… the list is ever-growing. (This one we use on our exhibition stand; when we’re out and about it’ll take you to a landing page specifically tailored to our presence at that event.

They’ve been around in Japan since 1994 but have only just begun to really catch on in the US and over here. Or have they?

Thus was the crux of the debate between my friend and I. Are they taking off, or not?

Because they contain so much more information than a bar code, they can trigger many different actions, all of which have potential for today’s marketer. For example, connecting a piece of printed material with the online environment – enabling an advertiser to track direct response. The day after our debate, I caught this ad campaign on the Tube -

Sightsavers Tube Advert & QR code

Sightsavers Tube Advert & QR code

(Apologies for the poor photo) The QR code takes you to a specific landing page about trachoma and a clear call to action to donate. But would I have got there if I hadn’t known what a QR code was and how to use it?

As with anything new, people need educating and it will take time. If we as marketers want to utilise such technology, then we must take responsibility for educating our audiences and our peers. We ourselves must buy into new technologies, adopt and apply them accordingly.

Still not convinced? Here are a few helpful stats from a recent study in the US by Austin & Williams :
52% had seen or heard of QR codes.  28% had scanned one.  48% or people have seen them on adverts.  6% led to the purchase of a product or service.

I think that this virus is spreading and gaining momentum. We use them on adverts, exhibition stands, business cards and more. You’ll find them on food packaging, in magazines, car tax reminders, posters and, well just look around.


Just look around you, soon they’ll be on everything – after all with a camera phone in everyone’s hand and mobile data usage on the up by 240% , the ability to use QR codes has transcended the humble bar code completely. So if we show our audiences what they are, apply the usual incentives and rewards, we can close the door on them being a theory. Really.

QR codes visual from Jumpscan

(Psst – try scanning the images on screen too)

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