QR Codes Find Their Place

Did you notice not as many QR codes on catalogs, newspaper ad inserts, and building signage this past holiday season as compared to 2010? Apparently, it’s not just “older” people who have an aversion to the queer-looking, cumbersome technology. It turns out that QR (quick response) codes may not respond quickly enough.

Last December, research revealed that the QR code trend may be surprisingly reverse-generational: The study found that nearly eight in 10 college students have no idea what to do with a QR code. Some 500 students at 24 colleges and universities across the US were surveyed. Although some 80 percent of them owned a smartphone and had previously seen a QR code, only about 20 percent were able to successfully scan the example QR code they were shown. Furthermore, about 75 percent said they were unlikely to scan a QR code in the future.

“Why the discrepancy?” wrote Don Aguirre, brand manager at Archrival, the youth marketing-focused group that conducted the research. “Students simply struggled with the process. Some didn’t know a third-party app was needed [to scan the QR code]. Many mistakenly assumed it could be activated with their camera. And others just lost interest, saying the activity took too long.

“Unless QR codes become easier, more nimble, and can provide content that engenders a more meaningful connection to the brand or product, students will continue to shower them with apathy,” Aquirre warned.

That’s not to say there’s not untapped potential, especially for wide-format printers. The technology still is fledgling, and new smartphone models may make QR decoding easier, more convenient, and faster via automatically bundled reader applications that don’t need to be uploaded. Many sign and graphics shops are successfully integrating QR codes into their existing projects, connecting the Web and print—and opening up new growth opportunities in the process. QR codes are not new technology, of course. The two-dimensional barcode-type symbols have been somewhat of a boon to print over the past two years or so. The GRAPH EXPO tradeshow last fall featured a slew of seminars and presenters helping to educate printers about QR code marketing and usage.


Just What the Doctors Ordered

In the western part of North Carolina, there are rural areas where “smart” mobile phones with Internet access are less than prominent. Seven hundred miles northeast, New York City might as well be a world away. “Some people really want them [QR codes]. It’s a strange trend,” admitted Neil Roberts of NC Printing in Hendersonville, NC, which not so long ago completed a rather complex, 60-piece poster run for a client that manages a chain of medical offices in multiple regions across the country. The 18x24-inch posters were mounted on foam board with easel backs—and printed with QR codes specific for each location, explained Roberts, who owns the 1,200-square-foot digital and large-format print shop. “There were four codes on the bottom of each poster,” he noted, “one each for the website, Facebook page, Twitter, and blog.” And each of the 17 locations received between one and eight posters.

The organizational challenge of coordinating 68 different QR codes included PDF soft-proofing and safety-checking each online link, Roberts added. The job was run on a 44-inch imagePROGRAF iPF8300 color inkjet printer bought from Canon/Océ. (The firm also uses an older model HP Designjet 5500 for blueprints and three Xerox output devices for everyday work.) “We love the Canon color machine,” praised Roberts. “We knew we needed something with better quality and longevity.” He first saw the iPF8300 large-format printer at a Demo Day hosted by Mac Papers, a local rep. A week after installing his in mid-2011, NC Printing got a rush order for 67 two-by-three-foot posters. “We are constantly finding new media and new products to roll out,” he said. “We’re having a blast with it!”


Take a Virtual Ride

Jumbo-sized interactive print applications also are being implemented by the Creative Impact Agency (CIA) of Sherman Oaks, CA, which maintains a pair of 44-inch Epson Stylus Pro 9880 high-end inkjet printers in house and also uses external print vendors. The firm has used QR codes on several projects for Six Flags Magic Mountain, reported IT director/account executive David Sanders. “We posted 4x4-foot QR code signs on a construction wall for a new ride,” Sanders explained. “By scanning the code, you were taken to a virtual [CGI] ride on the upcoming new ride.”

POP counter cards in hotel lobbies and in-room table tents also were part of the overall Season Pass Upgrade print campaign, which made it easy for people to “scan [the codes] and get tickets,” he said.

A similar strategy was used for DC Universe’s “Green Lantern” ride, where customized, over-sized QR codes were printed on an HP Scitex output device.

As savvy marketers know, directing QR scanners to websites that are not optimized for mobile devices is a source of frustration for users. After all, the last thing any integrated marketeer wants is for a prospect or customer to disengage upon reaching an inconvenient desktop site that’s too small to read or navigate. In the case of Apple’s iPhone, which does not support websites employing Adobe Flash, CIA uses a simple work-around: “We link to a YouTube site,” Sanders explained.

“We also posted QR code signs along a ride queue line linking to an online trailer for the new TV show Terra Nova,” he added. Riders waiting in line are a captive audience, and CIA took advantage by cross-promoting for different studios/clients.

As an encouraging side note to graphic designers, Sanders pointed out that the 2D codes don’t have to be “ugly.” (Many designers hate QR codes because they’re so unsightly—most of their clients don’t spend the effort, time, or money to make their codes look prettier.) It’s all about grayscale and contrast, he noted. For example, CIA’s Terra Nova code incorporates a dinosaur image in the background, while a Green Lantern image element was embedded in to the DC Universe code. On a yellow application for Fanta soda, the firm used a contrasting orange background and conforming adhesive to affix the Mutoh-printed QR codes to stucco walls.


Tooting their Own Code

Some wide-format print firm owners have jumped on the QR code bandwagon for their own self-promotional needs. “We use our QR code on the stickers that we put on the back of all of our signs,” noted Mary Lou Goehrung, owner of a Signs By Tomorrow franchise in Bethesda, MD. “Our signs go nationwide, so it will be easy for new and old customers to just shoot the code and bring them to our website.

“We also have a large code on the entrance doors of our sign center for when customers come and we are not open,” she added. “Again, it allows them to go to our website and obtain information about us, even though we are not open.