Are QR Codes the Future of Cause Marketing?
QR codes, those squares with black modules arranged in a pattern on a white background, are cropping up everywhere: on billboards and signs, in magazine advertisements, and as decals on shop windows. (Check out the Flickr pool "QR Codes in the Wild" to see for yourself.) So just what are QR codes? And are they something you should be integrating into your cause marketing campaign?
A QR code (QR stands for “quick response”) is a two-dimensional barcode first invented in Japan for tracking auto parts in factories. The code can be printed or copied and placed on any material or object. The code works as an offline hyperlink, linking an offline experience to web content via a smartphone. Anyone with a mobile device that has a QR code reader can scan the code and then be directed to a shortened link embedded within the code and engage with useful content like images, videos, websites, or text. Compared to a standard barcode, a QR code can store and present much more data.
There are a number of QR code readers out there for smartphones, including QR Scanner, ShopSavvy, Kaywa Reader, and ScanLife. To get a QR reader for your smartphone, simply search your phone's app store for “barcode reader” or “QR code scanner.”
So what are the benefits of using QR codes?
- It’s a new way to engage supporters and better inform them by turning a static marketing campaign into an interactive experience.
- It ties objects in the real world to online content.
- It quickly points people who are offline to the web, enabling you to reach supporters at the moment they are most likely to be interested in learning more - right when they see your material.
- QR codes can be placed anywhere!
These days, the codes are commonly being used in marketing and advertising campaigns, and we are beginning to see them being used in advocacy campaigns. For example:
- A QR code was included in a large billboard in Times Square promoting Internet Week 2010.
- When you purchase a coffee mug at Starbucks that supports Product (RED), you can scan the QR code on the mug to hear the story of a man who benefited from the life-saving HIV drugs that RED provides and Starbucks funds.
- Greenpeace Netherlands used QR codes in its “Get it wild and uncensored” campaign to save the forests, directing supporters to online videos.
- The Freedom Bargain, a guerilla activism campaign focused on “interrogative protest art that connects symbols of freedom with the cost of American liberty,” attaches QR codes to landmarks in Boston. When people scan the codes, they are presented with stories about "the cost of war in lives, future debt, and loss of personal freedoms.”
Despite the benefit of using QR codes, there are some downsides at present that could prevent uptake and should be considered by anyone looking to integrate the barcodes into a campaign:
- People need to actually know what a QR code is in order to use it.
- People need smartphones with the right scanning software to be able to read a QR code.
- It takes people time to scan the code and be directed to the content. This usually happens quickly (in less than a minute), but it still takes time.
If you think using QR codes might be right for your campaign, or you want to experiment with them, check out our latest how-to guide on creating QR codes and integrating them into a cause marketing campaign.