We’ve all seen the squares containing a blotchy-looking black and white design on printed ads, posters, and other marketing pieces. As most smart phone users know, these are QR, or Quick Response codes. Snap a picture of it with your smart phone, and a QR-reading application will open your browser and take you to particular URL. It’s called hardlinking – the practice of using a mobile device to connect to a web address by interacting with an object in the physical world.

How did QR codes originate? What do they mean for the advertising and packaging industries? How can they be used? Let’s try to answer each question briefly.

The technology was originally developed in 1994 by Denso Wave, a Toyota parts-making subsidiary. It was originally developed for tracking parts in vehicle manufacturing. As a variation on the familiar bar code made up of lines, the QR code offered the advantage of easy reproduction and readability, along with today’s huge advantage of being able to immediately access a website on your electronic device without the need to click on a text link, type in, or copy/paste a URL address.

In the world of marketing, the major impact of QR codes is that they simplify the act of getting a user to go directly to a particular landing page. Think of it as having the ability to add a hyperlink not just on a web page, or a blog post, or in an email but to add a hyperlink to a printed object that could be anything from a magazine ad to a poster on a bus. Beyond that, it is a way to better track where web hits are coming from and therefore measuring your ROI.

QR codes can be incorporated in your printed packaging design or labels. They can also be printed on decal labels for application to existing packages. They can even be added to business cards. Basically any printed piece or object where you would like the reader to visit a specific web page and can’t rely on the reader to actually key in a complicated URL. In other words, if your site is www.xyz.ca, you may get a reader to type that into a browser, but good luck getting them to type in www.xyz.ca/services/whatsnew–downtownposter.html

Put the latter in the QR code, however, and it will not only take the user to a specific area of your website that you are promoting, it will also tell you that this particular web hit came as a result of your poster campaign in the downtown area.

With the proliferation of QR codes, let’s not forget the function they were originally created to fulfill – the tracking of parts in manufacturing. A system of printing QR labels can be especially helpful with parts handling for mobile operations, such as a mobile technicians of every kind, from plumbers to telecommunications repair technicians.

We welcome your comments and questions. If you have already started using QR codes, let us know what you think. Are you considering using them? Have you thought about adding them after-the-fact with decals? Let us know. We’ll also be happy to answer any of your questions.