QR Codes were developed in 1994 for use in the Japanese automotive industry. From humble beginnings the codes have become widespread, almost commonplace, in Japan and throughout much of Asia. Uses include product tracking, item identification, time tracking, document management, as well as the marketing of commercial products.
While QR Codes and QR Code makers are beginning to pop up in markets outside of Asia, their popularity is not yet comparable. Yet the potential applications in Europe and the Americas are just as many as in Asia, so why might this be?
One important factor is public education. In the land of its creation, the country’s largest mobile phone carrier, DoCoMo, one of Japan’s largest, https://www.nttdocomo.co.jp/english/corporate/, ran a public education campaign to teach their customers how to use QR codes.
This is a video of a DoCoMo campaign ad, in Japanese, no subtitles but it’s easy to understand despite this, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OxFR6r-Dqk4
A similar approach might do wonders outside in the west to normalise the public practice of scanning QR Codes. It may also educate businesses on their practical and innovative uses. As DoCoMo recognised, it is in the common commercial interest to have customers who are QR Code literate.
Any marketing department can generate a QR Code using one of many online generators and stick it on a product. The problem is that without an educated public and an acceptance of public scanning, the benefit to the bottom line will be limited.
In Japan, of course, stopping in public to casually scan a QR Code is a normalised behavior, as we see here at an advert located in a busy Tokyo subway: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=myzLAXtqoa8
Here is the advert they were scanning; an adorable Disney poster, which creatively incorporates the eyes and noses of well loved characters.
Virtual supermarkets are also quite common on the walls of public spaces in Japan and Korea. Wall decals display images of supermarket shelves laden with popular products. People passing by simply scan corresponding QR Codes to purchase items that are then delivered to their door.
An educated public means that anyone can create a QR Code for almost any practical purpose with the confidence that their audience will scan it.
We can see the rich diversity of purpose demonstrated particularly in Japan, where uses include everything from visa information
to magazines, which allow their readers download freebies like ring tones and games,
to building guides, and city maps,
even gravestones, where a QR Code allows you to access a prepared life story and images of the deceased.
The diversity of applications is truly impressive and exciting. It gives those of us living outside of Asia a taste of what QR Codes can do. While QR Code use may be in its infancy in the western world, once we have an educated public the possibilities are both wonderful and limited only by the imagination.