By Amy Phillips, Creative Director
There’s never a dull moment in ad agency world when it comes to technology and new media applications. So one might ask, “what’s up with all the hubbub about QR codes?”
Short for Quick Response, QR codes were originally created in 1994 by a subsidiary of Toyota for tracking vehicle-manufacturing parts. Today, QR codes are quickly becoming more popular than traditional (vertical line) barcodes. Why? Because QR codes can hold up to 7,089 characters, whereas the traditional codes only hold a maximum of 20 digits. With their horizontal and vertical designs, QR codes not only hold more data than a traditional barcode, they can take up about one-tenth the space. Small QR codes are called Micro QR codes. Another big advantage to QR codes is that they can be scanned from any angle, which makes for much faster reading.
How do they work? Any smartphone equipped with a digital camera, along with decoding software can transform the data into meaningful content. The most common uses are to connect to a web address, dial a phone number, start an email with an address in place, and download an MP3. These actions happen at lightning speed.
Where do they work? Any medium where a QR code can appear or be printed. So, beyond the obvious, like magazines, newspapers and business cards, QR codes may appear on buses, signage, t-shirts, bar coasters, even tattoos.
So how can they work in branding and advertising? “QR Codes can definitely be used to enhance your marketing. These codes are useful for connecting with customers, capturing data, sharing exclusive content and increasing engagement. However, when the thought process of how and why consumers will use or be motivated to use QR Codes is not considered – then we’ve lost our way.” — Nathan Smoyer
An example of poor usage is placing a QR code in a television commercial. The idea that anyone is going to watch TV and wait to capture/scan a QR code is ludicrous. Rather, give the audience a simple URL and direct them to web content. This makes a lot more sense.
The medium is the message, right? So, placing a QR code in an outdoor environment like on a bus, subway, or poster where the target audience has time to see and scan the code could work well. But you have to make sure the audience riding those buses matches the target and has smartphones. More importantly, still, make sure that you are directing the audience to a user-friendly (mobile) site. And make sure it’s worth their while. This audience can tweet a negative remark about a company in a few seconds.
Interestingly, misuse of QR codes in marketing has triggered some negative sentiment toward the technology. Commenting on the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity this year, BBDO top creative and juror Dan Fietsam described work for Samsonite by JWT Shanghai as “beautiful creative” that was “contextually right” and didn’t have a “freaking QR code on it.”