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As a tech-savvy lot, many of you will already know what a QR code is or at least what it does, but as more and more advertisers turn to using it in print and even TV ads, we thought we’d try and come up with a short post of what, when, how and why QR codes are becoming so popular.

QR codes (short for Quick Response) first became popular in Japan, having been created within the Toyota group back in the mid 1990’s as a way of scanning and identifying contents and parts at high speed. Yet, it is only really the past 12 months that Uk marketeers really appear to have jumped onboard their usefulness.

A matrix barcode the uptake of smartphones mean more and more people have the ability to read them at home, in the office or on the move. A unique identifier they can be used to embed text or almost any data but their main take-up in recent months has been to pictorialise a URL.

The success of QR codes is thanks in part to their international standard (ISO 18004) and the fact that the division of Toyota, Denso-Wave, who invented them has chosen not to exercise the intellectual property rights it held although the term QR code remains a registered trademark of Denso Wave Incorporated.

A standard QR code can contain up to 7089 characters, although not all QR readers can accept that much data and as ever in the modern world’s strive for smaller and better, the Micro QR code with its ability to hold 35 characters and takes up less space, is gaining in popularity.

The ‘geeky but cheeky’ look of a QR code also means it has become popular amongst graphic artists, being used on t-shirts, on canvas, even as personalised tattoos. In Japan they have even reportedly been used to mark graves of loved ones, to keep mourners in touch with each other.

QR Codes have the ability help track and direct your customers to a single location with simple imagery. It pulls upon the concept of gamification and is an unobtrusive way of getting an additional message into any print ad. So why then are more people not using them?

It appears it is simply a lack of understanding of what they are. Many see them, many possibly know what they do, but few seem to be taking the plunge to try them – although that is changing. With Smartphones expected to become the norm by the turn of the year, almost half of those carrying a mobile phone will be able to read QR codes. Expect to see a lot more splodges and blobs appearing before your eyes as the year wears on.

Do you scan and react to QR codes? Have you used them in your own marketing campaigns?

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