Decoding the QR Code Craze  

QR codes are starting to saturate my daily existence – I’ve started noticing these things EVERYWHERE…

• The back of my ticket stubs have been colonized
• Billboards are blasting them out from the side of Interstate 5
• The cafe down the street proudly displays one
• Business card backs are stamped with them like a Mission Beach coed

If you have no idea what I’m talking about, I hate to say it buuuut… you might be living under a rock.

And for those of you who are in fact living in that luddite xerox colony under that rock next to the fax machine, Quick Response Codes – commonly know as QR Codes – are 2D black and white square matrixes that can be scanned on your smartphone (iPhone or Android) by using an app (such as RedLaser).

When decoded, these UPC-like barcodes can prompt your smartphone to do nifty things like:

• Call a phone number
• Show you a plain text message
• Watch a video
• Send a text message
• Bring up a web page (homepage, facebook profile, twitter post, etc.)

The list of possible consequences goes on and on. You get the point…

Think of it like this: anything you can do on your smartphone can be prompted by the scanning of a QR Code. Can you say, “Advertiser’s Dream?” Large and small businesses alike have been starting to use these codes as the backbone of their marketing campaigns to engage with customers on a whole new level.

Some of the most creative ones I’ve seen to date are:

1) Victoria Secret’s “Sexier than Skin” Campaign

Scanning these QR codes entice users to unlock “Victoria’s Secret” and see what’s underneath the sexy pin-up girl images. Although unconfirmed, the billboards have been rumored to have caused a few fender benders…



2) “Get It Uncensored” Calvin Klein Jeans X Campaign

Calvin Klein really took the “less is more” approach to heart when launching their Fall 2010 Jeans campaign. No images, just scan their code. Passersby without smartphones had no way of knowing what these ads were all about. Suddenly, VIP status was given to smartphone users who could scan and watch CK’s racy, 40-second video instantly on their mobile devices.


3) New York City’s “The World Park” Campaign

This campaign is an amazing mobile interactive experience that creates engagement and raises awareness for city parks; basically turning New York City’s Central Park into a real-life board game. You could nerd out to facts about the park, discover scenes from movies shot there or unlock park history – all by scanning various “parkodes.” Balboa Park, take note!


4) Starbucks/Lady Gaga Scavenger Hunt Campaign

Earlier this year, the world’s biggest coffee shop teamed up with the world’s biggest pop star to launch “SRCH;” a digital scavenger hunt which involved scanning QR codes at participating Starbucks stores and searching out clues for a chance to win cool prizes (which coincidentally promoted Gaga’s new album and Starbucks’ new lattes) Check out this recap of Round 1 to get an idea of how the game was played:


5) Punchd! by Google

Punchd! is a mobile replacement for buy-10-get-1-free punch cards. Its an app that runs on your phone and keeps track of all your punches to ensure you get that free coffee/ sandwich / oil change you’ve been splurging for. No more toting around dozens of cards in your wallet or forgetting them at home. Simply scan the punchcode next to the register at participating shops to record your “punch.” I just scanned my first punch last week at Moto Fuco Cafe, what what!


So What’s the Payoff? Why QR Codes? 

Traceability: the best part about running a QR Code-based campaign is that they’re 100% traceable. By creating unique URLs you can easily track all of your QR code campaigns in Google Analytics. For more info on how to track your QR campaigns check out this post by Red Clay Interactive.

Bottom Line: Love ’em or hate ’em, QR Codes aren’t going away – especially with the iPhone 5 WAIT! I mean iPhone 4GS just out of the gates. I challenge all you Luddite laggards out there to stop judging the aesthetics of those funky digital labyrinths popping up everywhere…and start decoding!


And here’s a couple related links to get you talking QR Codes like a pro at that next nerd convention after party:

Wiki Definition

QR Code Generator

Getting Unique with QR Codes

DNA QR Code Art

31 Brands with Some of the Best QR Code Campaigns