I am a total geek. My descent into this strange subculture began when I first picked up a Nintendo controller and inserted Super Mario Bros into the console. This obsession with technology got worse as I aged and finally tipped when I began tinkering with the Internet. I’m sure most people in this industry have a similar story, but the one thing that probably unites us all is our interest in technological innovation.

Beck’s ‘Music Inspired Art’ Campaign

Becks pump with QR code

I was drinking in a bar last week and as I walked up to buy my round I noticed that the Beck’s tap had been redesigned with funky new artwork with a simple black and white palette, which I’m told is inspired by a pixelated TV static. On closer inspection I noticed a QR code.

Before I could answer whether I wanted draft or bottle I had my iPhone in hand awkwardly trying to scan the code from the rounded surface of the tap. Relishing in the fact that the other normal patrons hadn’t noticed this I waited for the web page to load. The result: http://www.becks.com/.

I felt cheated. Here we had a hidden gem that would only be noticed by the more tech-savvy among us. I was expecting some kind of pay-off — not a reward, discount or prize, but something that made it worth the effort of actually scanning the code in.

This led me to think about the potential value of QR codes in marketing.

What is a QR code?

So, what is a QR code you might ask. Wikipedia does a pretty good job of explaining everything you need to know, but in essence:

A QR Code is a specific matrix barcode (or two-dimensional code), readable by dedicated QR barcode readers and camera phones. The code consists of black modules arranged in a square pattern on a white background. The information encoded can be text, URL or other data.

Virtual Graffiti

Expanding on the potential of QR codes I began to think about how they could be used. As the setting began in a bar let’s remain there. In bars you will inevitably find graffiti littering the walls of the toilets (well, in the men’s anyway). Anonymous message after anonymous message. The intended audience have one thing in common, they are in that one particular location and have one aim in mind. This landscape provides an interesting opportunity for brands to interact and engage with their customers. I am simply using the toilet walls as the example, but you can begin to think of other places outside of this where this idea might be applicable.

How does it work?

Instead of leaving patron’s leaving their signature scrawled on the wall after a few too many beers, what if there were QR codes on the walls amongst the graffiti? Users could scan these codes in with their smart phones and be presented with a Virtual Graffiti app. This app could be web based or, even better, a link to a free native app for their device. The app could be branded to suit the company, in this case I have chosen to go with Durex as it is a brand likely to use this setting.

QR code on toilet wall

Source: ikaink’s Memoirs of a Toilet Wall

Users could leave virtual messages and Durex now have an avenue to engage with them — offering rewards and discounts for creative participation. The beauty of graffiti is how one person can write a message and the next can come along and alter that message to give new meaning, evolving the message beyond its original context.

Another interesting point worth considering is that these messages are location specific, just as they are with physical graffiti. The QR code can be specific for one bar, a chain of bars, or even a whole city. There is a lot of potential for engaging on a vast number of levels; it is entirely up to the brand and their campaign.

Virtual Graffiti iPhone app

Source of text: xkcd’s Graffiti and UI inspired by Brushes app

There are a multitude of uses for QR codes, it would be great to see them used more creatively. If you like the idea and want to work on it, or something similar, then hit me up with an email.