Fast Company

Americans: Y'All Love QR Codes

The QR code is an acquired taste. But just as the tech is primed to be overtaken, America is going nuts for all things QR.

victorias secret QR

Forget the bad press, the QR code seems like such a clever idea: Like a smarter barcode for the 21st century, it hooks up through your smartphone or computer's camera to some code that reads it, and translates its spotty pattern into a URL, or a phone number, or a passage of text, or a digital business card--all instantaneously. They've been used all over the globe for ages, but the tech is having a moment in the U.S.

Check out Victoria's Secret's new "Sexier Than Skin" ad campaign--I bet it already grabbed your eye. It's new, undeniably clever, certain to tempt many a viewer into trying QR codes in a way that perhaps no other ad ever has, and it's so "meta" (with the tech itself acting as part of the visual joke) it's hard to imagine the ad campaign working any other way. By holding a smartphone up to the ad, snapping the QR code and waiting to see what happens, the interested "viewer" is automagically taken to a URL for an image that fills in the gap, not with saucy pink pixels but with saucy underwear.

Then check out the odd news from a recent survey by Vizibility Inc. of legal professionals in the U.S. in July and August. Among the various results: 85% of legal marketers surveyed were aware of QR code technology; 35% already use them; and a further 45% plan on using them in the next 12 months. That means 80% of legal professionals could be using QR codes inside a year. In the data-rich world of lawyers in the U.S., the codes are useful for marketing (so a simple advert can link to rich biographical data and contact info) and also enable a simple paper business card to link to a website, or transmit useful contact details directly to a prospective client's cell phone.

This summer that most august of organizations the United States Postal Service ran a two-month promotional campaign to try to convince its commercial mailer clients of the benefits of using QR as a marketing tool, and just the other day the agency's manager of marketing mail deemed the campaign a success, noting he was "very pleased" and that results beat expectations. The USPS had been offering a 3% posting discount on letters and flat parcels for clients who put a QR code on the front or inside the mail--a bold step, but it's designed to demonstrate the continuing usefulness of physical mail in an increasingly online era, because commercial mailing partners can actually add value to their packages from an end-client point of view.

A firm called Pet Check is taking dog walking into the 21st century, with clients able to track their pooch's progress around the walking route online, via GPS. QR code tags are a crucial part of the model, enabling hassled walkers to quickly "check in" a dog and check them out again at the end of the walk. The firm just launched in California, and has plans to go nationwide.

In the fashion world, iconic American fashion brand Polo Ralph Lauren was a super-early adopter of QR codes for use with mobile shopping and marketing.

Quaker, a food firm you may not necessarily think of as being hugely 21st century, has just launched a QR code-enabled promotional campaign to push sales of its Chewy Granola bars via a digital personal message from Nick Jonas. The clip is accessed by a QR code printed on the box, and the campaign's pinnacle is a personalized message to the buyer's child for a birthday or good luck message in which Jonas uses the child's name.

Temple City Chamber of Commerce just installed its first QR signpost--the first of many planned--as a way of sharing information about the city, and navigating tourists and locals to relevant parts of the city's website. Microsoft is embracing the tech as a dynamic and super-swift way to link game data from a console like the Xbox 360 to partner games on a Windows Phone smartphone. And there are countless other companies of all sorts, right down to real estate agents in the U.K., inspired by rapid adoption by U.S. firms, that're rushing to embrace the tech.

There's one simple reason for this: The smartphone revolution. We're buying them by the billion, and pretty much every one comes with a camera that's good enough to quickly and easily snap a photo of a QR code and pass the data to a relevant app--instantly linking a real-world piece of data to a digital portal for enhanced content. Yes the technology is about to be replaced--with a bevy of alternatives, from RFID-tagged stickers, posters, and products to real-world object recognition in augmented reality smartphone apps. But QR codes, now seemingly booming in the U.S., aren't likely to be going anywhere soon.

Compared to some alternatives they're super-simple to integrate into products (requiring merely a spatter or two of ink, and thus easily incorporated into typical printing runs) and cheap too, especially compared to RFID systems that typically need a fine wire loop antenna and a tiny slice of silicon chip. And as we highlighted previously, in comparison to AR object recognition in which a real world object is unidentifiably "tagged" until it reveals itself in an app, QR codes are visible and self-advertising...consumers know what to do with 'em. Millions of consumer, in fact--14 million American souls in June 2011 alone.

Chat about this news with Kit Eaton on Twitter and Fast Company too.

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18 Comments

  • David Hancock

    I see a lot of mixed thoughts on the QR code. As an author, they have really enhanced the relationship I've been able to develop with my readers. Quick and Easy. I love them. 

  • Antony McGregor Dey

    Hey David. We work heavily with publishers in this area, including HarperCollins, Hachette & Random House. As an author I'm interested to learn how you are using Codes to connect with your readers?

  • Scott Clark

    Using a QR code is like scratching your a-- with your elbow. The image at the top of the article is a little miss leading. For one. Most phone cameras can't focus on something as far away as a billboard so the code is useless. Second if that billboard was toilet paper no one would scan the code. QR codes like social media isn't for every brand. Third, if a unique experience isn't the reward for going through the hassle of scanning the code you'll have a really hard time getting someone to scan your codes again. And if another client demands to have a QR code an email layout...

  • Leslie-Ann Drummond

    Canadians love QR codes too, eh. Personally I like Mobio as a scanner...no need to niggle around with trying to square the code up perfectly in the frame...just get the frame kinda over even a corner of the Code and zap..you're taken right to your target url. (BTW, I'm NOT affiliated with Mobio in any way)

  • Brian Badillo

    It's VS, so I get no logo or contact info but no URL?  My guess is that its part of a larger strategy to educate people to take action when they see QR codes on their promos. Genius application, but seems like an expensive way to utilize the technology with still fairly low awareness.

    Are there any results posted anywhere?

  • Tom Ellis

    And now QR codes are revolutionizing customer feedback.  Combine QR codes with smartphones and leading-edge research and you have a customer feedback system that is far superior to comment cards and traditional customer satisfaction surveys.  You have a system that people should enjoy using and that businesses should love because it gives them actionable information they can use to improve their customer service and operations.  See this happening at www.feedbackrevolutionqr.com

  • Marek Zareba

      Try i-nigma as the QR reader app. it's the quickest and most versatile. For some reason there are a ton that do not read QR codes well. Hope this helps!

  • tt

    First off I'm not going to lie, that's not the worst  view in the world.  Now on to the criticism, let's start with the fact that Victoria's Secret's didn't even have an age verification...."please check here to confirm that you are 18+ years old...etc." on a mobile landing page. Strike one (lawsuit est...$5 million settlement).  Strike two - why would they not customize the QR code????  Make it sexy, seriously, the black and white matrix is out and way too 2000's....please refer to our  QR Code in NY Times: custom  created for Ralph Lauren - the same brand that we helped run the first successful  QR campaign in the US:

    http://redfishmedia.com/news.p...

    Strike threee.....VS didn't even activate a text message from the QR scan, didn't even opt users in according to MMA guidelines (mobile marketing association).  That's a huge waste, why not have an opt-in call to action when you expect so many people to scan your QR?  Doesn't make sense...you are just wasting information on a novelty idea for a non-trackable ROI application....

    So there you have it folks, I for one can say that I enjoyed the content stored on the VS code, but feel that the brand could have done much, much more....if you disagree or have any questions, check out our website and ask for Tim.

  • Antony McGregor Dey

    At @linkmecrm:twitter we've seen some fantastic results with QR codes in the publishing space, particularly with Teens. We place codes on book jackets to link to bonus content like interviews with the authors, deleted chapters etc, much like 'DVD Extra's for books'. We've seen 'registration' rates of readers scanning the codes as high as 18% of the total number of copies sold. For older demographics on titles like Freakonimcs we're still seeing about a 10% - 12% response rate with a heavy skew towards BlackBerry users. If you want to know more please email - info (at) link (dot) me - and we'll send you some case studies. 

    Antony McGregor Dey
    CEO
    Link.Me

  • Greg Koenig

    QR codes are ugly. But this is a very creative way to use one. I'm surprised that there aren't more alternative ways that people are using QR codes.

    I created a piece of art using a QR code. Check it out, and make sure to try the code! http://society6.com/burb/NEVER...

  • Dhariana Lozano

    The benefits of technology in marketing and customer management is astonishing. Theres a great conference geared towards this. Social CRM Go Live in Chicago. Info here:  http://bit.ly/nqB2fl

  • Debbie Colangelo

    I publish a quarterly commercial real estate directory here in South Florida.  While the availability changes often, readers can access real-time availability data by scanning the QR Code associated with that particular building: http://www.cre-sources.com. QR Codes have given new life to print publications.  I also publish the codes up to 6 feet square for use on property signs and construction banners.Debbie ColangeloPresident/PublisherCRE-sources, Inc.

  • Kaleb

    There are some nice examples in there. I think the doggy check-in one is very cool and quite attainable for the small business entrepreneur.

    However, if people don't use this technology to add something of great benefit to the user then QR codes will die a pretty quick death as they can be fairly cumbersome - have to download a reader, not all readers are reliable etc. For example the Temple City Chamber of commerce take the user to their website. IMO that adds almost nothing to the experience and could turn me off scanning codes in future.

    I've written a couple of posts on my blog about how best to use them to get maximum benefit. Hope you don't mind me posting the links.

    Thanks again for the article.

    marque.co.nz/qr_code_marketing

    marque.co.nz/qr-codes-best-in-...

  • Antony McGregor Dey

    At http://link.me we work with book publishers to deliver bonus multimedia content such as interviews with the author, much like 'DVD extra's for books'. We've seen some fantastic results in this space especially with Teens. With Lauren Conrad's LA Candy series we've seen a 16% check-in rate against the total number of titles sold, Freakonmics has seen about a 10% check-in rate, during the recent Comic Con we saw close to 2000 check-ins on promotion materials over the 4 days during the conference. The best part? We use this channel to help publishers build a direct connection with their readers, something they haven't had visibility on previously. This technology is here to stay, we arw actually seeing scans going up per month rather than down. If you're interested in finding out more email info (at) Link.me and we'll send through some case studies. 

    Antony McGregor Dey 
    CEO
    Link.Me 
    @linkmeCRM:twitter