What the heck is a QR Code

QR codes are already on their way to being a dead technology. As NFC (Near Field Communications) chips become embedded in mobile devices, the need to use a scannable barcode to direct information is an outdated concept.

However, particularly in North America, the turnover in mobile devices is slow. While there are those that update their devices religiously (I’d be guilty of this), the mass market takes a much slower view of things. This is in part due to our predisposition towards long-term, subsidized mobile contracts. Interestingly though, 3 year contracts are now banned in the United States and the UK. A future of shorter contracts aside, one side effect of this slow turnover is that it will be years before a critical mass of NFC enabled phones are in market.

That being the case, QR codes are finally taking off in North America. I recently discussed their slow adoption here, but since then I’ve noticed a huge increase in the number of in-market QR codes I have seen. I am noticing them on websites (this is baffling given their purpose), in store signage, out of home advertising and in-theatre advertising. If you are interested in examples, I post photos of QR codes I see “in the wild” here.

What are QR codes

A quick primer for those who have seen these mysterious things, but aren’t familiar with them. QR code stands for Quick Response code. Originally popularized in Japan and Korea, they are one type of 2D barcode (the next generation of regular barcodes that you have been seeing for years). 2D barcodes are becoming popular because they allow for a greater degree of data density than their predecessors. Essentially, you can cram much more information into a 2D barcode than a 1D one. Most importantly, QR codes allow for hard-linking. They allow for something in the digital world (like a webpage) to be linked to something in the real world (a poster or ad in a magazine for example). They allow for a person with a mobile phone to quickly visit a website without typing in a long complex url on a tiny phone keypad.

Here is an example from Diesel Jeans. The QR codes allow customers at its Brick and Mortar stores to scan QR codes in order to “Like” products on Facebook. As I mentioned in a previous post, it is one of the best thought-out examples of QR codes in marketing that I have seen. I’d like to see film distributors like Warner Brothers start trying this “Like” strategy with movie posters.

Looking to dip your toe in the QR waters? Here are a few sites that might help:

  • bit.ly – bit.ly’s service is indispensable. They are the go-to url shortening service for a reason. Their User Interface (UI) also provides a handy auto-generated QR code whenever you shorten a link (if you are logged into a bit.ly account). This is free, so consider getting an account. The QR code at the top of the post was generated by bit.ly.
  • Mashable has a great post titled the 10 Commandments for Marketers. If you are considering any kind of QR code campaign, I highly recommend you read it here. Terrance Eden has a similarly themed post You Are Too Stupid to Use QR Codes Correctly. It also bears reading.
  • QR code Reader – this is the QR code scanner that I currently use on my iPhone. It seems to work the best of the free options. You can learn more about it here.
  • If you don’t have an iPhone and are wondering about QR code scanner options, check out this post by the folks at JSG Interactive.

Have a great example of a QR code “in the wild”? Take a snapshot and email it to me at blog@gregpoirier.com. Let me know the location and a few details about yourself and I’ll post it on my examples page. Have thoughts about the future of QR? Why not leave a comment below?

8 Responses to “What the heck is a QR Code”
  1. Andy Mabbett says:

    I’ve written about QR Codes here, and included a pic of my new, custom-made cufflinks, which have a QR Code for the URL of my website.

    They certainly attract comment when I invite people at meetings to scan them -and they work!

    • gregpoirier says:

      Thanks Andy – very sharp. Be curious to hear what you feel the consumer awareness/penetration is in the UK vs here in North America.

      • Andy Mabbett says:

        I’m certainly seeing more here, in the UK, this year than last year; and a lot more discussion of them.

        The cufflinks were made for me by Vanessa Pearce, who is @nesky999 on Twitter, BTW.

  2. theaardvark says:

    Google Goggles works excellently as a free QR Code reader and much more (I’ve used it to translate printed non-English language text).

    Visual search engines like this are going to become a huge thing, I think, and whilst they maintain support for QR codes I don’t think it will ever become dead technology.

    • gregpoirier says:

      Perhaps, but I’d argue that at the pace visual search engines are progressing, QR codes would still be obsolete. Even now I can scan the cover (not the barcode) of a book and have it recognized (Google Goggles was able to identify an Optimus Prime statue on my desk a few weeks ago, which was pretty impressive). In that world (say 2 years from now), what purpose would a QR code have – why not just a “Photograph this Poster” call to action?

      Now to be fair, QR (or 2D barcodes in general) will always have a place as actual barcodes for scanning of data (at a cash register, for parts inventory, document sorting etc).

Check out what others are saying...
  1. […] Have some great pictures of QR codes in the wild? Send them to me at blog@gregpoirier.com or let me know your experience in the Comments section below. You can also see more examples of QR codes (and learn a bit more about them) in a previous post here and get a beginner’s primer on them here. […]

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  • Interested in mobile payments, consumer technology and general geek stuff? Me too.

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