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Are QR Codes for Real? —Sherburne

January 2010
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BACK IN August, I wrote about personalized URLs (PURLs) and provided some examples of campaigns that have used them to blend print and electronic media, and to make print more interactive. As we start the new year, I want to talk a bit about QR codes. Some industry pundits think QR codes will make PURLs obsolete; others are touting the ability to combine the two ideas.

First, you might be wondering what the heck a QR code is. Simply stated, QR codes are high-density barcodes that are readable by cell phones and simple PC cams. Recipients can quickly and easily interact with the QR-enabled documents they receive or see by pointing their camera at the QR symbol.

They are then instantly connected to a QR-encoded Web page without having to remember any information or type in numbers and promotional codes. The Web page could be a sales video, a coupon or a product promotion encoded with the specific recipient's demographic profile. It could even be a PURL.

QR codes are creating a lot of buzz, but they are not new. They were actually invented by Denso Wave Inc. in Tokyo in 1994. The history of barcodes goes back even further—in fact, nearly 60 years. We all see them most commonly as the UPC codes scanned at the supermarket. These are linear, or 1D (one-dimensional) barcodes.

QR codes use two-dimensional barcodes, or 2D barcodes, that can use patterns of squares, dots, hexagons and other geometric patterns within images. Sometimes these are called matrix codes. QR means Quick Response.

Interestingly, Denso invented them for tracking parts in vehicle manufacturing, but now they are used in a much broader context. How broad? A Google search for the term "QR Code generator" resulted in nearly 100,000 results.

I picked the first one, which happened to be, which offers me the ability to generate QR codes for free. They can be a Web URL, text, a phone number or even an SMS. If you point and click with a QR-enabled cell phone at the resulting code, it will take you right to the site. Don't know if your phone is enabled? Many phones are being shipped with the software these days but, if not, a Google search came up with nearly a million hits—many of them free.

Okay, so the code is not that attractive, but nonetheless, it offers some interesting opportunities for enterprising print and marketing services providers, not the least of which is a new topic of conversation with customers. Try doing your own self-promotional campaign that includes a QR code and see what it gets you in terms of meetings with interested marketers.



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