2D barcodes offer a glimpse into the future

Some of you may have noticed strange small squares made up of black and white shapes appearing on adverts and posters and even shop windows.

This is not some new form of graffiti but in fact they are 2D barcodes.

If you have not noticed them before you soon will do as worldwide usage of them has quadrupled over the last year and now even mainstream brands like Waitrose are using them, but more on that later.

A 2D barcode works in the same way as the barcode on the back of a tin of beans i.e. you scan it.

However instead of having to drag a supermarket till around with you, these are created to be scanned by mobile phones and hence their use has exploded with the growth in smart phones.

The name “2D barcode” is a generic term used to describe these mobile tags and you may have heard of them being used by some of the branded versions such as QR Codes or EZ Code. But they are all the same thing.

A user downloads a 2D barcode reader to their smart phone, of which there are many freely available, and then they can scan 2D barcodes wherever they see them.

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The barcode effectively acts as a graphic link to a website or webpage which the phone then displays which could contain anything the brand owner wants so long as it’s been optimised for mobile display.

Good examples of how brands have used them include the aforementioned Waitrose Christmas campaign featuring Saint Delia and Heston Blumenthal.

Here 2D barcodes were added to the print ads of the campaign which linked users straight to the Waitrose mobile site and the recipes being featured in the ads.

Eurosport added a 2D barcode to its print advertising for its coverage of the Australian Open which linked to its mobile live scoring service.

There are issues with this new technology currently though.

It’s so new most early adopters have found that unless they are targeting tech savvy mobile users, they need to add some form of caption underneath the code explaining how to get a reader and the process of scanning the code.

The link must also direct users to a mobile optimised web offering, another common mistake.

However this new technology gives brands so many different ways to use it.

They can be used in print advertising as a novel way of driving people to your content. You can add them to business cards and marketing material to drive people to further information about your company or products.

They could be added to vouchers or posters in your stores and my favourite idea is having them printed onto branded t-shirts.

Creating a 2D code is very easy and there are lots of free sites that do it for you, just Google “2D barcode generator”.

These are here to stay - early adopters will benefit the most and your usage is only limited by your imagination.

Tim Youngman is head of digital marketing for Archant.

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