Over the past few months, more and more of you may have noticed strange codes that look like something from Space Invaders popping up in magazines, newspapers, posters and television adverts. Odd looking as they are, QR codes are set to become a major part of marketing in the UK in the coming months.
QR codes are effectively a URL that has been scrambled into a series of squares. Using the camera on a smartphone, and a free app, these codes and be scanned and unscrambled, taking the user to the website hidden in the QR code. As long as the website is mobile friendly, those who scan the codes can be taken to any form of web content, such as videos, music, Facebook pages, company websites etc. This offers marketers the ability to transform print media into interactive media at the push of a button. Most smartphones released within the last 3 months already have a built in scanner in the camera, but for all other devices a free scanner can be downloaded (find one for your phone here)
Any company can use a QR code for something. Over the past year QR codes have become popular with marketers in America, and have been used by many major companies. QR codes have been used to promote film releases such as Iron Man 2 and District 9, Calvin Klein replaced billboard adverts deemed "too racy" with a QR code that linked to a promotional video, Nike placed QR codes in store windows taking people to their Facebook page to encourage "likes", McDonalds in Japan placed QR codes on their food packaging which, when scanned, brought up the nutritional information of that product. This Christmas you can even by QRapping paper, the wrapping paper has over 50 QR codes on it, each of which takes you to a funny Christmas video on YouTube.
The codes are beginning to appear in the UK as well. Tesco used QR codes in posters promoting the release of Call of Duty: Black Ops, which took people to a site where they could pre-order the game. More recently, Waitrose became the first UK company to use a QR code in a television advert. When the code is scanned it takes users to a mobile website that has special Christmas recipes from their chefs Heston Blumenthal and Delia Smith, as well as a link to their Christmas mobile app.
Although QR codes have been around since the mid 90's, advances in mobile internet and smartphone technology mean that they are can now valuable marketing tools. The use of QR codes offers the opportunity to transform printed media into an interaction with consumers. Social sharing features can be built into the mobile site, so users can share the campaign with their friends helping to generate free publicity, as well as build anticipation for a product release, or generate a new buzz around an existing company or product.