QR Codes… Here They Come, Ready or Not

Regular readers of Printips will remember our first issue on Quick Response (QR) codes in which we introduced what was then a very new idea in cross promotional marketing. Since then QR codes have been popping up in television ad campaigns, in magazine display ads, on real estate signs, and even on menus. And now that major corporations have begun using QR codes, public perception is accelerating. We expect that some time in the next 12 months we’ll reach the tipping point where QR codes become firmly h established as an information source.

To remind you, QR codes are a two-dimensional (2D) graphical representation of information – often of a URL (uniform resource locator – the Internet address of a web site) but also phone numbers, e-mail addresses or other bits of data. Developed in 1994 by the Japanese manufacturer Denso-Wave, the first use of QR codes was inventory tracking of vehicle parts. Early on, Denso-Wave, who holds the patent and name trademark, freely shared the code specification, allowing others to expand the use of QR codes to other applications. The specifications for QR codes were adopted as ISO standard 18004 in 2000.

In the United States and Canada the introduction and adoption of QR codes has been slower than in Japan and Europe, mainly due to immature technology for mobile communication. Compared to Japan and Europe, there are a smaller number of camera phones as a percentage of all mobile phones. Also, QR reader software must be obtained from third-party vendors (rather than coming installed in mobile phones) and is device-dependent. According to a survey conducted by North American Technographics of a randomly selected sample of 42,792, less than 1% of mobile phone owners used a 2D barcode scanner in Q2 of 2010.

Predictions are that this is about to change. In 2010, some major US marketers, including Calvin Klein, Chevrolet, Allure Magazine, Verizon Wireless, Heineken, Entertainment Weekly, The Weather Channel, Starbucks, Nike, and Warner Home Video, all had campaigns based around QR codes. And as camera phones increasingly replace older mobile phone instruments, the use of QR codes will spread.