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QR Codes – how reliable are they?

Note: This guest post was written by Brandy O

If you pay attention to the packaging on your favorite products, you will notice strange square symbols that somewhat resemble bar codes. If you haven’t heard by now, these two-dimensional, ultra-scannable, and highly practical little grids are called QR codes. First developed by the automotive industry in Japan as an easier way to keep organized and store data easily, QR codes have began to pop up in marketing, advertising, and all sorts of other organizations.

Are QR codes really all they are cracked up to be, or are they just another type of fodder for graphic designers and industry professionals?


When you scan a QR code with your smartphone, there is no telling what you will get. Sometimes you are taken to a website or URL, sometimes an IP geolocation service will check you into Facebook or FourSquare, and sometimes you might open a document in the notes application of your smartphone.

One of the biggest problems with QR codes is the inability to scan them. Even people equipped with the iPhone 4S or Samsung Galaxy S2, the most powerful mobile devices, stumble around with QR scanning apps and the inconsistent ways they read the QR data. There are options to take photographs instead of using the scanning feature on most apps, but an advertisement or website needs to really captivate and capture a viewer in order to get them to take a snapshot.

QR reader itunes

People who lack smartphones will often have no idea about the cultural relevance of QR codes. Unless they are technology bloggers or refuse to update to smart devices, there is no way the average consumer is going to know what a QR code is on a website or advertisement. This might confuse potential customers and take sales away from a business instead of adding to the bottom line profit margin.

QR code shirtAs stated earlier, QR codes are a type of fodder for graphic designers and advertising professionals. While this may sound like a snide swipe at the profession, there are actually some really innovative ways people are including the technology in ad campaigns, point-of-purchase displays, and promotional posters. For the people who do know how to use QR codes, advertisers who use them can wrangle in an extremely tech savvy market. Because of the extremely customizable nature of the codes, they can fit into almost any advertisement.

It is hard to fit all of your contact information, experience, and other information on a business card. Most professionals have taken the minimalist approach when it comes to designing their personalized business cards. Instead of having a lack of information or a non interactive URL, companies have started to place QR codes on their cards in order to give people an easier way to access detailed information.

It was recently announced that Starbucks will begin placing QR codes on billboards. While this is an innovative marketing strategy, can you imagine the chaos and havoc that will ensue when drivers try to retrieve information from them? Can you say 40 car pile up on the highway? QR codes are a cool and fun innovation, but until there is a clear use for them, they will remain just a novelty.

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