Calvin Klein has never been known to shy away from the erotic. But a recent billboard for CK Jeans raised the bar for even that brazen brand. In place of the usual steamy imagery, the board displayed a QR code which, when scanned, linked to a video of 20-somethings in various stages of undress, all evidently intent on mixing up the jean pool. The campaign generated tens of thousands of trackable views online and, presumably, caused more than a few pairs of pants to change hands.


QR codes—short for “quick response” codes—have opened a new realm of opportunities for marketers. The 2D codes function like the bar codes on packaged goods, except that they’re scanned by the cameras in smart phones. Once scanned, QR codes can deliver just about any kind of digital content—text messages, electronic coupons, web pages, videos, GPS directions and more. With QR codes, marketers can launch a rich brand experience from almost any object, linking the physical and virtual worlds instantaneously.


QR codes are an easy fit for businesses looking to join the mobile fray. There are no apps to develop, no websites to retool. The only requirements are a sound strategy and an online destination. Once those are set, creating the actual code takes about ten seconds. (Go on, give it a shot.)


So what all can QR codes do? Just look around. You’ll see…


—Guided Tours—Museums are using QR codes to conduct guided tours of their collections. The codes are posted alongside individual pieces and linked to podcast lectures. Nature centers are doing the same with flora and fauna.


—Sweepstakes—You’re at a football game. A QR code appears on the scoreboard with a chance to win a trip to the Rose Bowl. You scan it, hit send and you’re entered into the sweeps through an auto-generated text message. You get a chance to win and the promoter gets your text info for future marketing.


—Advocacy Campaigns— Associations and advocacy groups are using QR codes to generate the phone numbers of legislators, so voters can just scan and hit CALL. It’s never been easier to stick it to The Man.


—Fine Dining—Restaurants are posting QR codes in their windows and lobbies to link patrons with online menus, daily specials and coupons.


—After-Hours Shopping—Retailers are posting SHOP ONLINE NOW codes in their windows to capture after-hours sales. They’re also posting QR codes on clearance tables, so consumers can scan and send discounts to friends.


—Program Ads—If you’ve ever wondered what possible good could come from an ad the size of a matchbook, you’ve got your answer.


—Real Estate—Realtors are placing QR codes on lawn signs so that passersby can link directly with online listings, virtual tours and sales agents.


—T-Shirts—A clever line, a QR code, and you’re a walking billboard.


—Tattoos—DJ’s, aspiring rock-stars and other solo entrepreneurs have gone so far as to have their contact info tattooed on their persons in the form of QR codes. If you’re not ready to commit at that level, you can buy temporary tattoo paper online and leave your employment options open.


The list goes on. Even in the early adoption stage, QR codes are popping up in some very prominent places. The only real obstacle at the moment is consumer resistance, since only one in four smart phone users has ever scanned a QR code. But those numbers are changing fast; in the second half of last year, consumer scanning jumped 1,200 percent. And given the low cost and huge potential, smart marketers are redoubling their efforts to crack the QR code.

I may never visit more than a few of these places, but data I like knowing that there`s a dimension to my language experience that is as american as I am.