Are you ready to incorporate QR codes into your communications?

Posted on September 7, 2010 10:43 am by | Advertising | Marketing | Mobile | New Media | Technology

The surge in smartphone ownership seems to be supporting a parallel rise in the use of QR tags. Marketers, advertisers and communicators should start incorporating tags into their planning now. The cost is minimal and the benefits could be huge.

A week or so ago I was shopping for a TV stand, that piece of furniture that supports a flat-panel television and the various devices (cable box, DVR, gaming console, DVD player, etc.) that stream content to the TV. At Best Buy, the small cards that displayed the price also featured QR codes. Using a free app called BeeTagg on my Android phone, I was able to scan the codess and get more information on each item than the price card could hold. (Google Goggles, which is also installed on my HTC Evo, would also have done the trick.) It was a lot easier than finding an available sales rep.

Shel HoltzYesterday, the Contra Costa Times (my local newspaper) featured a story about a new service of the Contra Costa Library and Tri Delta Transit, which are teaming up to display QR codes on all East County buses. Passengers who scan the codes will be able instantly to download any of 600 audio books the library is making available. The books will be deleted automatically after two weeks. The article quotes Paula MacKinnon, information systems manager for the library, saying that “This is bringing library service anywhere you can stick a two-inch code.”

The library is also making code readers for multiple smartphone platforms available to riders directly from its site.

Contra Costa residents have the 10th-longest average commute time west of the Mississippi, MacKinnon said, and is above the national average in smartphone usage. Tri Delta transit’s 69 buses provide 10,000 rides a day around East County, but commute times rarely exceed 45 minutes. The library hopes to bring Snap ‘n Go posters to buses that travel longer routes.

Eventually, the service will expand beyond buses to museums, cafes and hospital waiting rooms.

Best Buy and the library-transit program aren’t the only examples of QR codes finding their way into marketing and communication efforts:

Shel Holtz

  • Mashable reported earlier this month that wine owner-importer Lion Nathan Wine Group is adding QR codes to bottles designed to make it easier for everyday wine buyers to make better choices. Scanning the code will “pull up a mobile-friendly site replete with information on each wine. Scanners can watch videos about the wine in question, get video tours of wineries, discover food pairings, read up on harvest and tasting notes and check out reviews.”
  • In Canada, posters are appearing featuring a QR code that brings them to “a web page featuring a petition to protect the Flathead River Valley in British Columbia and the Restigouche Watershed in Quebec and New Brunswick,” according to a report in the Winnipeg Free Press. The campaign, from the conservation group The Big Wild, represents a way “to really connect the offline world and the online world,” according to early social media adopter Darren Barefoot.
  • In Manor, Texas, a QR code hangs from a fence surrounding a park. Scan the code and you’ll find information about the “the history of the land and its re-dedication from “park” to “SmartPark.” The SmartPark now boasts free Wi-Fi and ‘technology training classes,’ all a part of Manor’s government tech upgrade that began back in 2008,” according to an article on Switched.
  • QR codes will play a central role in providing fuel economy information on new car stickers, according to Consumer Reports.
  • Three film festivals are using QR codes in “newspaper ads, posters, passes, program guides, tickets, t-shirts, temporary tattoos, chocolates, cookies, cupcakes, etc.,” according to a press release. Scanning the codes will lead to trailers, video interviews, festival information and downloads.
  • C|Net used a QR code as part of an article introducing an Android app that would let users directly download the app to their phones.
  • BL Ochman reports that in July, QR Codes began appearing on the sides of 2,200 New York City Department of Sanitation trucks. “Scanning the codes with a mobile phone will take users to a video from NYC Media’s show ‘The Green Apple: Recycling,’” BL wrote.
  • A month or so ago, a massive QR code was displayed in Times Square. Scanning it took users to information about the “Be the One” Gulf cleanup campaign, including a video and a petition.
  • Forbes reports on Calvin Klein billboards in New York and Los Angeles displaying QR codes that “will pull up an exclusive, 40-second commercial featuring models Lara Stone, ???A.J.,??? Sid Ellisdon, Grayson Vaughan and Eric Anderson. After the spot plays, viewers can then share the code with their Facebook and Twitter networks.”
  • Bradley University’s billboards featuring QR codes promote “Study Abroad” opportunities.

These examples barely scratch the surface of the growing use of QR codes. As the codes are implemented in ways that make life easier for people, the word is bound to spread. More code readers will be installed, prompting more organizations to find uses for the codes. In short order, you’ll see them everywhere, from store windows to magazine advertisements, from business cards to shopping mall directories.

Given the ease with which QR codes can be produced—take a look at this free QR code generator, for example, or this one—it’s a no-brainer to add them to existing collateral.

The burgeoning use of QR codes also represents another example of the migration away from traditional websites explained in this month’s Wired magazine cover story, “The Web is Dead.” While the headline is provocative and not entirely accurate, the Chris Anderson-Michael Wolff piece makes an important point: “One of the most important shifts in the digital world has been the move from the wide-open Web to semiclosed platforms that use the Internet for transport but not the browser for display.” The article doesn’t specifically mention QR codes, focusing more on smartphone apps, but the use of the codes to direct people to discrete content fits the article’s premise to a T.

Have you incorporated QR codes in your communication efforts? Leave a comment—I’d love to know how you’re incorporating the codes into your plans.




  • 1.Dear Shel,
    Thanks for this excellent post! I run a charity golf tournament in Maryland at Queenstown Harbor (a double shotgun - 36 holes about 180-200 golfers, plus sponsors, over ten food vendors, etc.) and we are incorporating QR codes on all the tee signs!

    You probably know that each sponsor gets a small tee sign at one or more holes on the course during play. We are always trying to make this a more meaningful opportunity for the sponors and you would NOT believe the excitement over this! I have one tee sign already and as soon as I show it to a sponsor they are busy scanning and thinking about the possibilities! I am working with Jeff Davis of Sawmill Marketing on this project - and it really is surpassing anything that we had imagined.

    Outback Steakhouse, who cooks our dinner, is considering some form of special promotion - I sure hope they do it!! We will keep you posted about this and thanks again for your update and all the FIR podcasts!

    Charlie Birney

    Charlie Birney | September 2010 | Annapolis, Maryland

  • 2.You had me up until the Golf tee signs, Yikes and this will add how many hours to a round? OK OK just a little kidding their Charlie, for a tournament I can see but with a bit of seriousness, I do throw some caution to having codes on signs for regular play.

    Fire away QR people, phone carriers need smartphone sales now!

    Instead of being baffled by the technology, QR codes make you more knowledgable faster and give you information you can act on eg. discounts, info in a mobile condition that may change your behavior like route to work.

    One perhaps minor note is the potential spread between digital haves and have nots. I don't know if this spread is real, but the more we like to say technology saves money and makes us efficient, on an individual basis that may not be the case. Having said that, progress marches on.

    If you really want to play a mind game try this. The QR code is the next advancement from the audio stick. You know those devices used in museums. What's the next step from here?

    The phone and QR code, and scanner are really intermediate devices to some extent facilitating the transfer of information. Is there another intermediate step between this and say the mind meld? See you in the future : )

    Albert Maruggi | September 2010 | St. Paul, MN

  • 3.Hello Shel,

    There are a couple of examples from Glasgow in Scotland that might be of interest.

    The first is an trial I worked on using QR codes to deliver tour information about the great Glasgow Architects direct to mobile phones. (

    The Second has nothing to do with me at all but a local community theatre, called the Citizens, is using QR code discount vouchers to promote their production of a Clockwork Orange via posters around the city (



    Joe Walton | September 2010 | Edinburgh

  • 4.Hi Shel,

    We displayed QR code at an exhibition booth at the CIO Summit recently but uptake was really low. We know this will change in time but were wondering if we could have done more to encourage use.

    Does anyone have any best practice resources / tips/ webinars/ training for use at conferences and exhibitions?



    Sarah Perry | September 2010 | New Zealand

  • 5.Hello Sarah,

    When we launched the codes we asked the nice people at I-nigma is we could borrow their text message service for people unsure if their phone has a reader. Most do, but people are unaware they have the technology, even with low level smart phones.

    The number and instruction were included alongside the codes. All they had to do was text to receive a link that would take them to exact app for their mobile.

    I-nigma were very helpful as it helps them roll out their reader at the same time. I don't know if a similar service exist in the States but it can only help.



    Joe Walton | October 2010 | Edinburgh

  • 6.nowadays, it's not only scan the qr code with your iPhone or Android, but also generate your own qr code using a qr code generator for smartphone. Just like these:

    mark | December 2011

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