Remember the CueCat?  As soon as I saw those unique barcodes showing up in my Radio Shack catalog, I ran down to my local RS to get the reader, just to be able to play with it.  My guess is the promotion was bad, it might explain why the clerk looked at me as if I were from outer space when I asked him for my free CueCat, as shown in the Radio Shack catalog.  After digging around for a few minutes, he found an unopened box of them, and since I had a coupon for a free CueCat, rang me up and then mustered up the courage to ask me what it was used for.  (Something tells me internal promotion at Radio Shack was limited at that time, but I digress…)  What makes QR codes any different?  Plenty, but there are still some limitations.

My personal QR code

QR (quick response) codes aren’t new – they were actually created back in the mid-90’s by a subsidiary company of Toyota.  They’ve recently come of their own thanks to the massive crush of smart phones which can scan these codes and bring the user to a special website, an offer, or even a phone number, giving you a chance to touch a possibly new audience that you may have not been reaching as well: the mobile user.

They do have their limitations.  The suggested size is 1″ X 1″, which, depending on the size of the ad you’re putting it in, it could be a good portion of the entire ad.  The more information you have in the code box, the more detail it needs.  Some older smart phones without auto focus or those phones without a flash may not read the code properly.

However, compared to the CueCat, you don’t require the user to have a special reader to utilize your code.  Most (if not all) smartphones have the capability to read these codes, so you have the chance to increase your audience, in turn, consumers to your business.


  • When you have a special offer.  Don’t just use QR codes to send people to your website – sorry, that’s boring.    Give the user a reason to pull out their mobile device and scan it.  Consider a QR code like a coupon offer – except digital.
  • When using a QR code for a special offer, point them to a specially created page on your site to allow for easy tracking to see how effective the code can be for you.


  • In a newspaper/yellow pages ad.   Even at such a large size of 1″ X 1″, using a QR code in newsprint or yellow page ads may prove to be disappointing due to the nature of newsprint and how ink bleeds on the type of paper that those media are printed on.  Any bigger, and it might take away from the message of the ad.  You want the code to be an additional benefit for the reader, not a hindrance.

Also – if you decide to you one of the many online QR code sites to create your code, be careful.  Some sites simply don’t offer the amount of detail needed to create a proper QR code and that could cause frustration among users if it doesn’t work.  Test out your code before launching it, and if you can, test it out in different media (especially when it comes to print).

Bottom line: Right now, most consumers are still wondering what QR codes are.  Your chance now is to be ahead of the curve when it comes to technology and what is expected to be an additional tool in your promotional tool box.  Create a reason to use QR codes, and you could find yourself with a whole new breed of consumers.