Bar codes were dreamed-up in 1948 as a means to track grocery items and until recently, were the domain of commercial enterprise. That’s changing with Quick Response codes. Instead of thousand-dollar commercial-grade bar code scanners, QR codes use mobile phones. QR codes empower consumers to discover the world around them in an easy, fun and personalized way while giving advertisers a new medium to engage target audiences.

QR codes enable consumers to find out more about a product or service by scanning a pixelated, black and white image with their mobile phone camera. The code is connected to a unique URL or web address, whether it’s a screen saver, video clip, news, information, game, promotion, coupon, etc. Unlike a UPC label, QR codes can embed several hundred times more information. US smartphone manufacturers, such Google, Microsoft and Apple are tapping into this emerging market with new smart phone apps: Barcode Scanner, Microsoft Tag and NeoReader, respectively.

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US advertisers are only now understanding the value in QR codes, where Japanese marketers and businesses have been using QR codes for some time. Why jump onto the bandwagon in the US? “The proliferation of internet equipped phones such as iPhones, Android and newer Nokia handsets gives advertisers a tremendous opportunity to reach a sizable and engaged audience,” said Scanbuy CEO Jonathan Bulkeley. Indeed, QR codes enable consumers to connect to product and service information directly, efficiently and immediately — eliminating the time gap between when audiences see a product and when they search for more information about it. QR codes link users to e-commerce sites and reviews while expanding product offerings:

Link to e-Commerce – Polo Ralph Lauren is among an emerging class of brands pioneering QR codes in advertising. The fashion company integrated QR codes into its billboards, banners and other print mediums as a new way to connect audiences to e-commerce sites and bridge the gap between offline and online interaction. QR codes directed audiences to videos, style web pages, online stores and other brand-related information.

Expand Product Offering – Beyond traditional media (i.e. videos, product descriptions, e-commerce sites, etc), QR codes can connect customers to additional product offerings. British popgroup Pet Shop Boys used a QR code as a link to download the single, “Integral.” As QR codes essentially translate an image to a unique URL, they can be used to link to downloads, coupons or additional product offerings.

Access to Reviews – San Francisco is known for its progressive attitude towards politics and lifestyle, but they are also progressive when it comes to tech as well. As one of the largest uses of QR in the US, over five hundred restaurants and businesses featured a QR code that linked tourists to Citysearch for reviews and other web-based content. The city-wide campaign demonstrated how QR code technology could be used on a large scale.

As smartphone adoption and user tech savviness increases, expect QR code technology growth to parallel Japan. “You’ll be able to walk past fruit at the supermarket, scan an apple, and see when it was picked and where it came from,” says Bulkeley. Or, QR code technology can be incorporate into social networking. Semacode is collaborating with Facebook to allow users to send people they meet a link to their online profile by having them scan a Semacoded “social card.” Moreover, Google developed a QR code generator, called ZXing, and its employees are using it on their business cards. QR codes have the potential to be the next major trend in the way we connect with products, brands and people.

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