Upwardly Mobile: QR Decoded

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While mobile marketing has yet to reach critical mass in the U.S., advertisers abroad are forging ahead with unique tools to reach the cellphone-toting populace, one being QR or mobile barcodes, created in 1994 by Japanese company Denso-Wave.

QR translates to "Quick Response," and represents a 2D matrix that can be decoded at high speed by mobile phones and can store a variety of content like URLs, coupons and other information. The codes are typically featured in outdoor displays, magazines and other sources.

Compared to the standard barcode, the QR code is capable of storing more information. According to Denso-Wave, traditional bar codes can store about 20 digits while QR can accommodate several dozen to several hundred times more information and different character types: alphanumeric and various Japanese alphabets.

Like many other advanced mobile technologies and applications, QR-based campaigns are popular in markets like Japan. One of the country's more recent efforts is a campaign from Mindshare for Northwest Airlines in Tokyo, which sought to position the airline as a technology leader and harvest email addresses of its target market. The agency made giant QR codes the centerpiece of the push, which featured oversize billboards, pillar wrappings, posters, and lightboxes. Passersby who took photos of the code on their mobile phones were transferred directly to Northwest's website. The campaign was shortlisted for Best Use of Outdoor at the Cannes Media Lions 2006.

Outside of corporate branding, there have been entertainment-oriented, mischievous uses of QR, including QR Kill, a game that lets participants eliminate opponents by taking pictures of QR codes on their clothing. Gamers decide a scenario, a mode (highlander, sniper or team) and a meeting point, tape a cardboard-backed, printable, 20-centimeter QR-Code on their backs with their telephone numbers and names embedded, and then proceed to "kill" each other by capturing the code and sending a text to the victim—in essence, laser tag for the mobile generation. Even fashion is getting into the code-scanning game. Online retailer QR-Store features code-inspired clothing and accessories.

While QR may have a strong head start in the market, other compact mobile codes are quickly joining the fray, including Finland's UPCODE, Korea's ColorCodes, Shotcode and mCode.


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