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Hold the phone for QR codes

Apr 1, 2010 12:00 AM

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When I think of Arkansas, I think of Bill and Hillary Clinton, Hot Springs and those fashion forward Razorback fans with their Hog Head hats. But hats off to the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism for pushing the print envelope.

Last fall, the tourism division introduced Quick Response (QR) codes into all of its social media marketing efforts. “It's simple. You see an ad, you scan the code, and a world of information is at your fingertips. Arkansas is taking the consumer from print to the Internet in one click,” says Dena Woerner, communications manager for the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism. “We are very excited about this new information offering.”

For those who might have been spelunking in the Ozarks for the past couple of years, I should explain that QR codes are 2D barcodes that take advantage of the proliferation of smart phones. Here's how Wikipedia puts it: “QR codes storing addresses and URLs may appear in magazines, on signs, buses, business cards, or just about any object that users might need information about. Users with a camera phone equipped with the correct reader software can scan the image of the QR code causing the phone's browser to launch and redirect to the programmed URL.”

Common codes

Chevrolet put QR codes on the Camaro, Volt and Cruze vehicles it displayed at this year's South by Southwest festival. When photographed using a camera phone, the QR codes launched a dedicated microsite with key features of the vehicle.

Japan's Denso-Wave created the first QR code in 1994 to track parts during the vehicle assembly process. Free readers and code generators are widely available from sites such as BeeTagg (, QR APP ( and Kaywa (

Getting started with QR codes is easy and economical. “It's not like there is magic involved,” says John Foley, president and CEO of interlinkONE ( “Denso-Wave made the [code] open source, so people can create the tools around it for 2D bar codes. When we work with printers, we don't say, ‘Go sell QR codes.’ That's not it. We explain that it's another marketing channel, a response mechanism that can improve or extend your marketing campaign.”

QR codes can incorporate URLs, phone numbers, text messages and even video links. “Data capacity generally is upwards of 4,100 characters,” says Foley. “You can put a lot of information in [a QR] code — much more than a standard barcode.”

Only a user's imagination seems likely to restrict potential code applications. Foley cites real estate as a natural fit for QR codes: The agent could include a code on the “For Sale” sign — interested home buyers (and nosy neighbors) with smart phones would have instant access to the standard listing details as well as driving directions, school information and more.

Warbasse Design ( brings graphic arts flair to its codes. The firm creates “designer” QR codes for placement on movie posters. According to the company, these codes are “branded and morphed from the original code in ways that allow them to still function correctly while maintaining aesthetic standards established through brand identity.” Potential ticket buyers can access and view movie trailers on their cell phones and other handheld devices. Posters promoting the movie “9, ” for example, had QR codes that let users view the movie's trailer, look up show times, and buy tickets and merchandise.

Remember the CueCat barcode debacle in the late 1990s? Proponents of QR codes say that smart phones (vs. the CueCat's dedicated scanner on your desktop computer) provide a flexibility and user friendliness that the much maligned CueCat couldn't.

Tracking activity

Foley acknowledges that users will have to educate consumers about QR codes. “When younger people see them, they know they can take a picture of it and something will happen. They don't know they need a reader.” He suggests putting borders around the codes or including some brief directions with them.

He stresses that the QR code payoff for printers and other marketing service providers is helping their clients show ROI. “Without a tracking mechanism, why bother?” he asks. “It's one thing to drive people to stores and other things, but where do you measure that someone scanned the code? [As a printer] your ROI on QR codes is the ability to track that it was used or at least assessed via another marketing [component] you might have done, such as an e-mail or PURL.”

You Tube

See QR codes in action:

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