Whoa! Why is that Squiggly Square on Your Ad?

Whoa! Why is that Squiggly Square on Your Ad?

What’s that squiggly square you see on real estate signs, billboards, magazine ads and even business cards these days? And what are you supposed to do with it?  These are two questions that the majority of Canadian consumers have when they spot one. They’re called “QR codes” and they’re the latest trend to help connect the offline world to the online world. If you haven’t seen one yet, you just did (above). And if you haven’t checked one out yet, you may want to try it out. If for no other reason to at least be ‘in the know’ if someone asks you about them.

A quick 5-pack on what you need to know to keep up with the QR Code trend:

1)  QR stands for Quick Response. They’ve been around since 1994 and are extremely commonplace in Japan, but in Canada we’re just beginning to see them.

2)  They hold much more information than a barcode and they’re easy to create and integrate into traditional marketing media.

3)  You need a smart phone to access them. You simply ‘scan’ the QR code and your phone will know exactly what to do next. It will either take you to a web page, or dial the telephone for you. The web page could be anything like a Linked-in Profile , a Facebook fan page, a Twitter account, a flash demo of a product or a PDF to download with more information. The sky’s the limit, but the general idea is that if you’re intrigued enough about what you see in the offline world, you’ll take the time to follow the code.

4)  If you don’t have a scanning application in your phone, you can download one for free. If you don’t have a smart phone, you’re out of luck. You’ll have to write down the website address and type it on your computer when you get home.

5)  Practical applications for the QR code are unlimited. When you see one on a real estate sign, the QR code takes you to the online listing where you can see a virtual tour of the inside, all the property stats, price, etc. When you see one on a wine bottle, the QR code could take you to a PDF of foods that can be paired with the wine, or a video about the vineyard, etc. On a magazine ad, the QR code might take you to the product’s website or to an online contest entry page.

But just like all marketing tools, QR codes are not foolproof. When used in magazine advertising, the gloss from the paper makes it difficult to scan a QR code and you might give up in frustration. If you’re in a low-bar zone, it may take forever for your phone to connect to the webpage. Or, on a January night in Edmonton, a QR code on a real estate sign has little chance of being accessed.

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