Barcodes for the masses (like you and me)

Posted February 4th, 2011 in Marketing, Mobile, QR Code, Smart phone, Social Media, Technology and tagged , , , , , , , , , by Jeff Bentoff

You may have seen them. Strange-looking icon-like squares filled in with black lines and patterns. They’re weird. They’re cool. And they may be the future.


They’re called QR Codes, short for “quick response.” They’re two-dimensional bar codes. Developed by Toyota for industrial purposes several decades ago, they reveal encoded data when scanned. The growing use of QR Codes in our everyday lives stems from the ability of smart phones to serve as scanners, courtesy of free apps. Scanning a QR Code with an iPhone or Android can quickly take you to a website, no pesky typing of URL code required, or give you other information. Doing it is kind of fun.

They’re showing up in magazine ads, billboards and elsewhere. They’re even inspiring objets d’art. My recent trip to Minneapolis ended up being all about QR Codes.

I opted for the first time to get my boarding pass texted to my phone. I received the text, which included a URL. When clicked, it opened to an electronic boarding pass – with a QR Code.

I showed the image on my phone to the ticketing agent when I checked my bag. No problem. When I got to TSA, I showed it to an officer who pulled out a metal scanner and had me pass my iPhone screen over it. Voila, I was cleared. I don’t know what he saw, but it got me on the plane.

Once in Minneapolis, my wife and I went to dinner at a highly recommended restaurant in Uptown called Chino Latino (cool place with a great menu and food). Seated at a window, we saw a huge billboard across the street advertising the restaurant we were sitting in. The billboard featured a large QR Code.

Curious about it, I pulled out my iPhone and used a QR Code scanner app called i-nigma. With the app, I basically took a picture of the billboard from my table, through the window, zooming in on the code. The app processed the image and led me to a URL. That opened a web splash page the restaurant developed for this purpose. Check it out here.

Our waitress stopped by the table as I was looking at the website on my phone. I showed it to her, and she said, “You get a half-price drink for showing me that!”

As cool as all this was, it seems like a long way to go for a half-price drink. Typing a URL or doing a Google search is sometimes a pain, but honestly, opening an app, taking a picture and then clicking a URL isn’t super smooth, either. The “wow” factor was great, but would I do this a lot?

Creating your own CR Code is easy. Search for a free CR Code generator online. Here’s one that converts URLs, text or phone numbers into scannable QR Code.

Here in Milwaukee, the only CR Codes that I recall seeing were on Meet Meme Trading Cards. They’re akin to social media business cards and were developed by techno-marketing whizzes at Translator here in town. In addition to a photo and other info, these clever cards feature QR Codes that lead to an e-version of the cards themselves.

I’m just starting to pay attention to how QR Codes are seeping into my world. Seeing them around your world, too? Any particularly clever QR Code tactics impressing or exciting you?

4 Responses so far.

  1. Dave La Haye says:

    Jeff, thanks for an explanation of QR codes. I attended the business kickoff 2011 at the MAC last night. As part of it I signed up for, and got, a pack of Meet-MeMe cards with a code on them. I was wondering what it was exactly. I’m going to try signing up for mine now.

  2. Julie Penman says:

    Great piece. Love Chino Latino!

  3. Tracy Wilkins says:

    Jeff, I also attended the Business Kickoff 2011 at the MAC last night. The Meet Meme trading cards link people to your LinkedIn account. At the event, I inquired which IPhone barcode scanner application is most compatible with their networking cards. They recommended i-nigma application developed by 3GVision. I don’t recall the preferred QR scanner applications suggested for Blackberry and Droid phones.

  4. Ann Pieper Eisenbrown says:

    Great post for a QR code novice like me! I now have i-nigma and scanned my own MeetMeMe card (from the Kickoff 2011 event)…cool stuff.

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