Sunday, November 20, 2011

QR Codes: MUST or BUST?

The author is a graduate student of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC) at Northwestern University’s Medill School, focusing on innovative techniques in the field of marketing analytics, and direct and interactive marketing.

QR codes are everywhere in the US: billboards, magazines, lotion bottles etc., but does anyone even scan them or at the very most take notice of them? Lately, there has been talk as to whether QR codes are a must for American marketers or just a plain bust. There are numerous links on how to utilize QR codes to improve marketing efforts, but there are also links on why QR codes are already obsolete. So which is it?

Picture adapted from two images found on 
Some countries, like many European and Asian countries, have taken well to those pixilated blocks of black and white. Just look at England, where members of a Greater London football team went to great lengths to shave QR codes into the back of their heads (Link). QR codes have been around for over a decade and yet the US still hasn’t embraced them in marketing (or haircuts), as much as other countries. The use of QR codes in the US may be increasing, however, as some companies are trying to find new ways to utilize them in the upcoming holiday season. Just look at Cola-Cola, which has only recently announced its first QR program in the US, even though it has been using QR codes in other countries for a long time. In partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, Coca-Cola will place QR codes on all 7-Eleven cups in an effort to help polar bears in the Arctic (Link). J.C. Penney has also brought in QR codes for the holiday season. The large retailor has created a limited number of QR codes called “Santa Tag” stickers to give away with each holiday purchase (Link). Using a smartphone, recipients can scan the QR code and listen to the purchaser’s recorded message. The QR code becomes an audible holiday card for recipients (although it may not be suitable for all gift receivers).

Time will tell as to whether QR codes have a place in US marketing or even as a gifting fad (is Hallmark paying attention). With major companies and brands finding and embracing new creative uses for the QR code, the QR code may soon breathe new life in the United States. Then again the next big thing could easily replace it, before those pixels become inseparable with our smartphones. In either case, one thing is certain; I don’t expect my hair stylist to be offering QR code cuts any time soon!

Rachel Greenberg
Graduate student at Northwestern University’s Medill IMC
Follow me on Twitter @Ragreenbe

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