Am I seeing box shaped spots on my Cable TV programs? What are they?

Posted by Danelle Springer on August 31, 2012 at 9:25 AM

During the past year or so, you may have noticed that some print advertisemeCable TV Colorful QRnts, consumer packaging and newspaper articles contain a square filled in with little pixilated markings. Recently television programs have also flashed the codes on the screen. So, what's it all about? Those boxes are what is known as a QR or Quick Response Codes.  The code can be scanned with a cell phone to provide a huge volume of information.  In case this marketing trend is new to you, here's a little QR history lesson.

In 1994 Denso Wave, a Toyota subsidiary, was looking for a way to keep track of vehicles during the manufacturing process.  To that end they set out to design a code that could be easily read by scanner equipment.  What they came up with was a matrix that stored information vertically as well as horizontally, thus giving birth to the two-dimensional QR code. Now anyone who has visited a grocery store check-out line within the past fifteen years knows that bar codes have become an indespensible part of retail price and inventory control.  Traditional bar coding, however, was limited in the amount of information it could store and developers had been searching for ways to expand that capacity.  Although conventional bar codes can store approximately 20 digits max, QR codes top out at around 7,000 characters within one symbol.  In 2002 a collaboration between Japanese handset makers, network providers, and service businesses was developed to produce new utilizations for mobile phone cameras.  Their pet project was to develop a system that would enable the phones to scan bar codes and the QR code became the perfect vehicle.  Within five short years over 90% of Japanese mobile phone users recognized QR codes and over 50% utilized them. Today the QR reader system is the standard for camera phones in Japan boasting over 80 million handsets with a 90% market share. (This data is provided by QR Codes -- History and Technical Background,

Like its barcode sibling, QR code technology is open, meaning that patent rights held by Denso Wave have never been exercised and the specifications are clearly defined and made publicly available at no charge.  If a QR reader is not built into your smartphone anyoneCable TV QR Code can simply download a free ap for Blackberry, I Phone or Droid systems.  Making your own QR code is just as easy, simply enter the site address you want to share in a free on-line QR generator. Code generators and readers can be found by entering "QR code generator" or "QR code reader" in the search engine of your choice. As mentioned before everything is free but if you want to incorporate your logo or other custom image, for a price a company called ScanNation,, is creating QR codes with recognizable images imbedded in them. 

How can QR codes be used in business?  Here are a few ideas:

  • Business Cards:  Make it easy for customers and associates to scan your information and import it directly to their contacts list.

  • LinkedIn or Other Social Media Pages:  Load your own QR on to your LinkedIn page so the people you want to connect with can reach you more easily.

  • Trade Show Displays and Name Tags:  Print your QR on a peel-n-stick label affixed to your name badge, business card, and brochures so fellow attendees can scan it and easily get in touch. Are you designing a new booth display?  Don't forget to include the QR right on it!

  • Websites:  Redirect viewers to additional web content.

  • Sale or Leasing Signage:  Potential customers can obtain all contact & marketing materials directly to their cell phones/Blackberries or other portable device with a QR reader installed.

  • Self Branding:  Include a QR code on a favorite image or promotional give-away.

  • Print Advertising/Brochures:  Do you want to qualify the response your advertising message has?  Insert a QR that directs interested parties to a specific landing page you've designed, then tally those results!

As the QR trend goes more mainstream users may not just want to eye ball a generic web page.  This type of marketing has an "impulse purchase" appeal and marketers may want to create specific virtual destinations users will want to be directed to.  In fact the well-travelled among us may be able to experience the virtual QR driven store that is currently in its trial run at Gatwick Airport in London.  The international grocery conglomerate, Tesco, is behind this effort having already launched a successful program in the Korean subway system. (We have no idea how the groceries make it home!)