Marketing’s comeback child enjoys a new lease of life

In 1993, a Japanese engineer named Masahiro Hara was tasked by his employer with finding a way to track the company’s inventory at high speed. Denso Wave, an automotive component manufacturer formerly owned by Toyota, needed a way to track and store large volumes of information about its various components that were widely used in the Japanese automotive industry.

While traditional barcodes had been around since the early 1970s, their application was limited because they were one-dimensional in nature and could only store a small amount of information. For Hara and his one-man team, it was a big challenge, but one that would pay off in the end.

By the following year, Hara had developed a two-dimensional code capable of storing much larger volumes of information. While Denso was happy with its new code, it also offered the software and technology behind it to other Japanese manufacturers for free. Within a few years, this two-dimensional Quick Response (QR) code was widely adopted in Japanese industry.

Various tweaks and improvements to comply with different industry standards were made over the next 17 years, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that QR codes became mainstream as smart phone technology allowed applications to scan these codes.

Like most shiny new things coming to the digital world, brands and marketers weren’t far behind and very soon they adopted QR codes as an important part of their marketing arsenal to drive people to their websites or their landing pages, collect information, offer coupon discounts and display additional information not possible on existing product labeling.

In some cases, publishers have strategically released chapters of new books to interest people, while financial services companies have embraced them as a form of contactless payment. A particularly dark part of the QR code story happened when the Bank of Russia marked the annexation of Crimea in 2014 by issuing a 100-ruble note with a QR code that linked to a website filled with dubious “historical” information.

Even though Apple integrated a QR reader into the iPhone camera in 2017, the popularity of QR codes among marketers began to wane as consumers became somewhat oblivious to their presence and the novelty was starting to fade.

That was until the start of the global pandemic in the spring of 2020.

Since then, the humble QR code has enjoyed a mini-renaissance as lockdowns forced brands to rethink their digital strategies and engage with consumers whose digital and personal behaviors had already begun to change.

Unsurprisingly, many restaurants have moved away from physical menus, replacing them with QR codes on tables or on disposable cards. And it’s not just casual or fast food restaurants either. Customers sitting down to dine at the two-Michelin-starred Chapter One restaurant are now offered a card with a QR code that takes them to the menu on their phone.

Elsewhere, retailers, airlines, financial service providers, public health, education and medical sectors have all doubled down on their use of QR codes. The EU Digital Covid certificate is a perfect example.

This year, the most talked about Super Bowl ad was a simple QR code for the Coinbase cryptocurrency exchange. The 60-second ad, which reportedly cost $7 million, couldn’t have been simpler as it showed nothing more than a bouncing QR code on the screen. Such was the success of the announcement that it sparked a spat between different agencies on the crypto brand’s roster over who came up with the idea first.

Coinbase has since revealed that the announcement was hugely successful in driving new business signups. Considering other advertisers spend multiples of what Coinbase coughed up just to get their message in front of a Super Bowl audience, the ROI was well worth it.

Whether or not something like this can be repeated in the marketing world remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: the sometimes maligned and often overlooked QR code still has a lot of life.

Omnicom cleans up

Omnicom-owned media agencies PHD and OMD were the big winners at the 2022 Media Awards, held last week. The awards, sponsored by Mediahuis, publisher of this newspaper, saw

PHD won Media Agency of the Year and the coveted Grand Prix, while OMD took home three gold medals.

Omnicom also won the Agency Network of the Year award while PHD’s Leah Hughes won the Rising Star award.

Rothco’s Sticky Problem

Rothco, part of Accenture Song, has launched a new campaign for the Irish Heart Foundation and Fresh retailer The Good Food Market. Called ‘The Sticky Problem’, the campaign highlights the importance of eating fresh food while aiming to influence the government to curb some of the marketing tactics employed by some food companies when it comes to children. The campaign will be broadcast on social and digital networks.

About Candace Victor

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