That phrase, to "think outside of the box," has become one of the most overused, tired and predictable clichés in marketing and advertising. And all too often, the result is rarely outside of the box at all. It's so inside the box it's ridiculous.
However, in this case, the term has context because we're talking about QR codes - those small checkered bar codes that appear in squares and boxes. They started life as something quite mundane and functional.
Way back in 1994, a Toyota subsidiary called Denso Wave came up with a unique and innovative way to track vehicles during the complex manufacturing process. A regular barcode wouldn't do the job; it didn't hold enough data, and took too long to process the information. So, this new matrix barcode, a two-dimensional code that can be encoded with many different kinds of data, was born. Advances in technology mean QR codes can also be encrypted.
Of course, over time other uses were found for QR codes other than assisting in production line and manufacturing processes. And like so many technologies, the advertising, marketing and information industries found a new way to use them. Now, QR codes are primarily used as a way to get information quickly on a smart phone or tablet.
And this adoption of QR codes has meant the usual "jumping on the bandwagon" strategy by so many advertisers and marketers. Sadly, they put little or no use into the QR code usage, simply slapping it on a poster or website and calling it a day.
That's a shame. Because if you use them in a more powerful way, you'll get way more response. And the advancement of cell phone and smart phone technology leaves your options wide open.
QR Codes Should Not Be An Afterthought.
QR codes are not like traditional barcodes. They are not there simply to help a store take inventory. In fact, despite a few notable exceptions, barcodes are not meant to be noticed, or interacted with, by consumers.
QR codes, on the other hand, demand consumer involvement. You have to actively scan them with your smart phone or other device. And that means more thought should be put into them, to encourage that interaction and increase the involvement.
Some recent examples of great QR code usage are listed below. Use them as inspiration the next time you're asked by the client to simply slap a code on a piece of advertising and call it a day.
1: Virtual grocery stores
Perhaps the most functional and innovative use of QR codes, the virtual grocery store allows busy commuters to shop, and buy, groceries by scanning QR codes beneath images of products on shelves. From soda and milk to chips and canned goods, it was possible to shop while waiting for a train and have the products waiting for you when you arrived home. Brilliant guerrilla.
Big brands are always giving away free t-shirts and apparel. The problem is, sometimes they get a little heavy-handed with the branding, and it becomes an atrocity no-one wants to wear. Instead of a huge logo and other gaudy elements, place one simple QR code somewhere on the t-shirt. Perhaps the back of the tee, so people standing in line can snap a pic of it and interact with the brand. This is more fun than a tacky tee.
The best example of this is Federico Bosch, an advertising creative at Leo Burnett Iberia, who couldn't decide on a tattoo. But he wanted one. So, he got a QR code and rents it out to people, like you would a billboard or print space. Now, for a set period of time, when you scan his QR code you'll interact with the brand that bought the space. You could also give out temporary tattoos. Fun and functional.
4: Postage Stamps
The USPS now makes it possible to custom design your own stamps. Why not take this opportunity to do some under-the-radar marketing on your next direct mail campaign? It may not catch everyone, but that QR code will wink at people on the envelope and they'll have a hard time not scanning it in.
5: Business Cards
We give out business cards daily. Why not make them a larger extension of the agency we work for? Utilize the back of the card with a QR code that leads to a show reel for the agency, or something unique that makes you more memorable.
6: Edible Treats
There are ways to put QR codes on everything from cupcakes to edible paper. If you host a PR event involving food, put your QR codes right in the consumers' faces, literally. How could they ignore a QR code stamped on a piece of white chocolate?
7: Tied to Freebies
If you're going to give away genuinely free stuff, that people want, there's no reason not to tag it with a QR code taking the punters to a website, an offer or an experience. Whether it goes on a tag, on the item itself, or the wrapping, you have media space for your code just sitting there. Use it, and use it in a fun way. You could literally wrap the freebie in paper that contains a repeating QR code pattern.