QR Codes: Scanning the Future

The edible QR code on this cupcake leads to the webpage of Concern Worldwide.
The edible QR code on this cupcake leads to the webpage of Concern Worldwide.
Photograph courtesy of flickr user clevercupcakes.

Smartphone sales are set to eclipse PC sales by the end of 2011, according to Beyond the PC, an article in the October 8th edition of The Economist. The “Mobile Revolution” towards ultraportable devices with fast web connections is growing as the Internet becomes more closely intertwined with people’s personal lives. There is a growing emphasis on being able to work, play, and interact with others wherever you are. Marketing strategies are advancing to fit with this new viewpoint by trying to integrate physical and online promotional campaigns, achieving success with QR codes in particular.

Shorthand for Quick Response, QR codes are essentially high-tech barcodes that, when scanned with a smartphone or other mobile device, lead to a link. QR codes create a way to connect online through a two-dimensional code that can be printed on posters, clothing, buildings, and nearly anything in between. Successful QR-code campaigns work to capture the attention of the growing smartphone generation by creating codes that link to contests, videos, and invitations to events, generating enthusiasm by offering consumers an interactive experience rather than a stoic visit to the company website.

Earlier this past year, Zoo Records, an alternative music label in Hong Kong, demonstrated the enormous potential of QR codes as tools for successful marketing. Frustrated with the dominance of mainstream music in Hong Kong and the anonymity of alternative bands, Zoo Records launched a campaign to promote its music, blending QR codes into street art and using the city streets to promote their message. Fourteen unique QR codes were created to link to the webpages of local indie bands, allowing anyone who scanned any of the codes to listen to the band’s music, purchase it straight from their phone, and share it on Facebook and other social media. The codes were embedded into images of bats, wolves, snakes, and other creatures that lead hidden lives underneath the city, making reference to the “hidden sound” of the underground music scene. Scanning different parts of the animal with a smartphone allowed passerby to listen to different bands under the label. Within the first week of the campaign, half of the bands’ albums had sold out and Zoo Records attained name recognition amongst people who, a few weeks earlier, had never listened to alternative music.

Skanz Band
Photograph courtesy of Skanz.com

Zoo Records is one of many companies integrating QR codes into their marketing strategies, but a new company called Skanz may be paving the way for individuals to create QR codes that link to their own online social profiles. Their leading product, the “Skanz Band,” is a bracelet imprinted with a unique QR code they’ve termed the “Socialprint.” The Socialprint leads to a link called a “Skanzsite,” which in turn is a complete social profile that places all the information a person wishes to share onto one site. This includes direct contact information such as phone numbers and e-mail addresses, as well as social profiles such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, blogs, and personal websites. Adding someone as a contact on all of these sites becomes as easy as scanning their Socialprint with your phone.

So far, Skanz has portrayed its product as the new business card, allowing professionals to network easily and efficiently. However, the brightly colored bracelets and the promo video on their website, which features two characters connecting by scanning each other’s Skanz Bands after a meeting at a party, bar, or coffeeshop, are primed to attract a younger, college-age crowd. It’s an innovative concept, encouraging a larger, more collaborative online network that extends beyond communicating and emphasizes greater sharing. However, the downside of placing so much information in one place and making it accessible at the touch of a button is the concern for privacy. The existence of a physical link to that much information is not without risk, as identity theft and hacking are already dangers in today’s world. Skanz attempts to protect its users to some extent by allowing contact information to be password-protected.

Ultimately though, the growing convergence between online and real life places a greater responsibility on everyone to remain aware of the content they post online and its potential consequences. As our online profiles become a greater reflection of us as individuals, it’s our job to make sure our reputations aren’t put at risk because of that stray party picture that ends up being seen by the wrong people. Scenarios like these are becoming more and more common, but they can all be prevented by thinking before you press “Share.”

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