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Hughes blog post: To QR or not to QR?

5 December 2011    

QR codes – abbreviated from Quick Response codes – are a type of barcode that started out as an invention for manufacturing tracking, but like any good invention soon found other uses.

These days, QR codes are found in a whole range of places ready to be “read” by you and me – using our smartphones.

By downloading a QR code reader application for your iPhone, Blackberry, Android or other smartphone, you can read QR codes and “unlock” their content. By “reading” a QR code on your phone, the data within the QR code then prompts the phone to take an action – be it go to a website, play a video, share a message on social media websites, draft an SMS message or even receive payments and donations directly through the QR.

You might have seen QR codes on billboards, promotional materials, coffee cups, wine bottles, posters or even as temporary tattoos!

There’s some debate about the effectiveness of QR codes. Firstly, QR codes are really only accessible to the population that uses smartphones. While this is a legitimate concern, it’s worth considering not only the percentage of the population using smartphones, but the percentage of your target market using smartphones. Statistics vary of course, but earlier this year Telstra predicted that smartphone ownership will reach 60 percent by year-end.

I was surprised recently to hear someone denounce QR codes because they didn’t understand why someone would want to be exposed to more advertising. But what this generalisation dismisses is situations where you really want to find out more information, or engage further with the creator of the communication. Some examples:

  • A poster for a music festival has a QR code, which you can scan to be taken immediately to a timetable of the musical acts
  • A wine bottle has a QR code which you can scan to be taken immediately to tasting notes, vintage report and technical specifications
  • A billboard for a well-known charity campaign allows you to scan a QR code to donate immediately, transferring money to the charity’s PayPal account with their mobile phones

All of the uses of the QR code can also be tracked, allowing you to analyse exactly how successful your communication has been.

So, should QR codes be used for communications and marketing campaigns?

I believe they are an effective and easy way to give your target audience more information, but like anything they are not a “one size fits all” solution. I wouldn’t put a QR code on a wine bottle that was intended to be cellared for 10 years – you never know what technology will replace the QR code and it may be a passing trend!

But in an age where people are bombarded by hundreds of messages a day from advertisers and organisations seeking publicity, QR codes can be effective when you’re asking consumers for a call to action (such as recruitment, petitions and competitions). The consumer can take that step on the spot while the idea is still fresh in their mind.

When creating a QR code, make sure you use a tool that allows you to change the destination of the scan such as This will ensure your campaign is flexible.

Give them a try – if you have a smartphone, download a QR reader and next time you see a QR code, scan it to see where it takes you. You may discover some unique and innovative marketing using this technology.

UNICEF appeal using QR code

- Kate Potter