Whatever your opinion on QR codes, you have to admit they have permeated the digital space with a vengeance. They are somewhat controversial, but remain a hot topic, especially among digital marketers. The question is, how should we use these enigmatic little blobs of code? The boring examples include scavenger hunts, restaurant menus, wine bottles, T-shirts, rewards, free downloads, links to websites, and more. But here we are going to explore the more unusual and creative uses of QR codes, from brands and organizations alike.
Even with a great and innovative idea, it often comes down to practicality. It could be a while before the act of scanning QR codes is routine enough to make even the best campaigns completely effective. Yet brands, organizations, and agencies persist, and they are coming up with some intriguing stuff. QR codes have many uses -- some function on a large scale, while others are quite modest. Here's a wide range of examples to think about and learn from.
Spotify: Modern day mixtapes
U.K. ad agency Stupid has pioneered a digital equivalent of the good old-fashioned mixtape. Create a playlist on Spotify for a special someone, and then send a greeting card with a QR code leading directly to the mix. It may not catch on like wildfire, but this fun combination of new technology and snail mail makes for an unexpected treat.
New York City Parks and Recreation: World Park
This award-winning campaign from Agency Magma launched on Arbor Day weekend 2010. More than 50 "Parkodes" were placed throughout Central Park turning it into an interactive board game. Participants unlocked park secrets, movie scenes, views from the past, and more. The great success of the campaign was in reaching a younger demographic that ordinarily would not utilize the park.
The Free Art and Technology Lab: Hobo Codes
The Free Art and Technology Lab created a series of 100 QR stencil designs that provide directions, information, and warnings to digital nomads in urban space. These "Hobo Codes" are inspired by the hobo signs developed by 19th century vagabonds and migratory workers to assist with the difficulty of nomadic life. While QR codes usually direct to a URL, these contain simple messages like "vegans beware," "be alert," and "bad coffee." Not as cool as actual hobo signs, but if you like carrying around spray paint and big stencils, this is a pretty cool way to communicate.
(Image sourced from http://www.guerrilla-innovation.com/archives/2011/07/000803.php.)
Tesco: Virtual stores
Tesco's Homeplus virtual stores in subway stations have been greatly successful and generated considerable buzz. Users simply scan QR codes with their phones, and the products land in an online shopping cart. When the purchase is complete the products will be delivered same-day. The concept taps a market of hardworking Koreans who have limited time to shop. This QR code project is not only creative, it's very useful, which is rare for QR codes.
Soehne & Partner: QR code hotel
This intriguing project from Dubai appears to still be in the planning stages, but if realized, it would be an incredible sight. Soehne & Partner released images of the design, showing a large, upscale hotel entirely covered in QR codes. It's unclear what the codes scan to, or if they are purely a design element, but the computer-generated images in themselves are very impressive and definitely worth a look.
(Image sourced from http://milimet.com/2010/10/code-unique-hotel-dubai-images-information.html.)
MyToys.de: The Lego Codes
Lukas Lindemann Rosinski created this award-winning campaign for German toy store MyToys.de. These days, QR codes made out of Legos may not seem all that special -- you name it, someone's made a QR code out of it -- but for 2009, this was innovative. The codes even have images within them, such as the wizard code seen in the video.
Fundadora Proanimal Chile: Giving dogs a voice
Here's a unique and somewhat sad example from Chile. The Fundadora Proanimal Chile hired agency Satvia to create a social movement to raise awareness of the mass killings of wild dogs, enforced by the mayor of San Joaquin. Dogs were armed with QR codes on their collars so onlookers could scan and receive a letter in the voice of the dog, as well as links for more information. It's not clear how much good was done by this unusual and clever campaign, but what an intriguing effort.
Phillips & Company: Blue Marble
OK, so scanning QR codes out your airplane window might be a little unrealistic, but Phillips & Company's rooftop QR codes will also be visible through Google Maps and Google Earth. The firm is selling ad space for the giant QR codes, installing them for $8,500 plus a recurring $200 support fee. These pricey rooftop codes are not right for every brand, but props to Phillips & Company for this ambitious project. At the very least, they are attracting some major attention.
(Image sourced from http://mashable.com/2011/10/05/rooftop-qr-codes-google-maps/.)
Red Pepper: QReo
This project from Red Pepper is just plain fun. The company has a philosophy of promoting internal side projects teeming with creative energy. They simply asked the question, "Can a functional QR code be built out of nothing but Oreos?" 441 Oreos later, they had a great video and a good amount of press online. It's not unlike many QR projects out there, building QR codes out of interesting materials just for the fun of it. But this project is special in that it's a co-op -- good for Red Pepper, and good for Oreo.
Heinz: Our Turn to Serve
Heinz used QR codes for its admirable "Our Turn to Serve" promotion, giving customers the chance to show their appreciation for American troops. After scanning the code on the back of a ketchup bottle, customers could leave a personalized message to members of the military. On top of that, for every "thank you" message sent, Heinz donated 57 cents to the Wounded Warrior Project.
(Image sourced from http://philanthropyink.com/marketing/successful-cause-marketing-its-about-timing/.)
OneXOne: QR code hairstyles
This QR code haircut campaign was based off a similar campaign from a Japanese shampoo brand. OneXOne is a non-profit foundation for children around the world, and last year media agency Engageia helped execute this eye-catching campaign -- shaving QR code designs on the backs of the heads of their young "hope" agents. Scanning the codes allowed supporters to donate $5 by text message or credit card.
Victoria's Secret: Sexier Than Skin
There are similar billboard QR campaigns out there, but this one has an extra edge. First, it is eye-catching because the women appear to be naked under the codes, and second, there's actually a purpose to taking out your phone and scanning -- to see the hidden undies. Rather than a boring old lingerie ad accompanied by a QR code leading to the Victoria's Secret homepage, this campaign, created by a Miami Ad School student, actually makes the code an intrinsic part of engaging with the advertisement.
(Image sourced from http://www.708media.com/qrcode/victorias-secret-entices-qr-code-scan/.)
I know, I said QRs on T-shirts were boring, but Heineken has really stepped it up with this one. For a music festival in Poland, Heineken set up a station where festival goers could create a personal QR code, called a U-code, to use as an ice breaker. Five thousand codes were requested and printed within four days. A smart project -- since you can't hear a thing at concerts but might want to connect with a stranger.
Meets Obsession: 10 Most Intriguing People in Fashion
Yiying Lu's QR code illustrations of fashion icons were commissioned for Meets Obsession's 10 Most Intriguing People in Fashion article from August 2011. The QRs incorporated in each portrait reveal the name of the fashion icon, the artist name, and a web address where users can learn more about the project, as well as request a copy of Meets Obsession magazine.
Designers and artists like Lu have created all kinds of intriguing work, whether it's a custom QR code for a brand, or a design simply for art's sake. Even with all of the QR-garbage out there, there are just as many impressive examples, featuring the kind of sophisticated design and clever execution that we all can learn from.
(Image sourced from http://www.yiyinglu.com/?portfolio=meets-obsession-fashion-illustration.)
Chloe Della Costa is an editor at iMedia Connection.
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"Christmas balls and qr code vector" image via Shutterstock.