The Skinny on QR Codes

Why they're suddenly everywhere, and how they can turn static content into interactive media.

You’re starting to see them everywhere. They look like jigsaw puzzles, sometimes in color, but most often in black-and-white. You see them in magazine advertisements, on posters and billboards, on business cards, and just about everywhere else. They are quick response (or QR) codes, sometimes called QRCs.

If viewers see something they like (an advertisement, the front of your t-shirt, etc.), they simply snap a picture of the QR code with the cellphones. The phone is automatically directed to a webpage, video, or other content. Static content suddenly turns into a dynamic, interactive medium.

What’s the big deal about QR codes? Why is their use literally exploding all around the world? Let’s take a look at some of their benefits:

• No charge: In their most basic form, QR codes are free to generate and cost nothing extra to print; just add them to your materials like any other image.
• Immediate response: As soon as an advertisement or marketing pitch catches their eye, consumers snap and view. There’s no delay between the interest and the response.
• Capitalize on mobile culture: The cellphone has been described as today’s laptop. Peoples’ entire lives are stored on their phones; it’s one device that’s with people all the time.
• Highly trackable: Not only are QR codes trackable themselves, but they provide tracking for other types of media, such as billboards or magazine advertisements that are not otherwise trackable. Because QR codes can be set up to record the type of phone used to read the code, they also give you passalong information. With the proper backend tracking, if five different people access the code, the advertiser will know it.
• Static media becomes interactive: Adding QR codes creates an immediate, interactive experience. Readers picking up the latest Harry Potter book, for instance, could scan a QR code on the cover to find out when the movie will be released.
• Actively involve viewers: The ability to immediately respond to what they see gets people actively involved with the brand. QR codes can send people to blogs or other communities where they can take surveys or post feedback to articles, events, or images. Many codes offer the ability to immediately Tweet or post to Facebook pages, enabling the campaign to go viral.
• Portable content: Once the information is on the cellphone, it goes wherever the user goes. This has tremendous benefits for shopping, event tickets, coupons, and more.

There, are drawbacks to QR codes, too, but many will diminish with time, including:

• Low level of market awareness: Relatively few consumers are familiar with these codes. Gradually, awareness is growing. The good news is that it doesn’t cost anything to add basic QR codes; the more marketers add them, the more people will begin asking questions about them and begin to use them.
• QR code reader installation: Not all cellphones come pre-installed with QR code readers. The first time a reader snaps a code, he might have to take the extra step of downloading the QR code reader.
• Lack of satisfaction in mobile phones: Understanding your QR code audience means understanding their phones. That’s because it’s not just who is operating the phone, but what the phone can and cannot do. Different phones have different screen sizes, screen formats, and different browsing and viewing capabilities. Your mobile content will not always be viewed the same way through every phone. Furthermore, not all readers work well with all codes and all phones. There is a lack of standardization that leads to some inconsistency in readability.
• Need for mobile websites: A best practice is to develop mobile-specific content for mobile marketing campaigns. Even with the best phones, mobile sites make it faster and easier to navigate them.

Excerpted from “QR Codes: What You Need to Know,” a report published by Digital Printing Reports ( and Heidi Tolliver-Nigro.

View more from this Big Picture issue