4 Unique Ways To Use QR Codes

QR codes may be in danger of becoming a punchline, but these companies are having the last laugh.
August 20, 2013

The death of QR codes has been greatly exaggerated.

Originally adopted by Japanese automakers in 1994, businesses have swarmed to use quick response codes—those square, black and white pixelated cousins of bar codes—as a techie way to reach customers on their ever-present smartphones since the early 2000s.

But the technology has been deemed "largely ineffective as [an] advertising tool," by Bloomberg Businessweek and others. It may have something to do with the lack of user utility some companies show in using them. QR codes on top of buildings, on sky-high billboards, on moving buses and in subway stations (like we have a signal down here to send a text, much less scan a code) ... it's no wonder there's a Tumblr called "WTF QR Codes" capturing some of the more ridiculous examples of the advertising tool.

Despite many dismissing them, the number of mobile users scanning QR code use has grown 15 percent year over year, according to comScore.

Maybe if more businesses used QR codes in unique ways, there would be more photos in the popular and oft-referenced "Pictures of People Scanning QR-codes" Tumblr. (The joke? The site has nothing on it.) Here's a roundup of small businesses that are using QR codes to engage their customers (and in one example, find new employees) beyond their URL. 

QR Code As Tasty … And Educational

QR codes have captured the hearts and palates of tech- and design-minded foodies since Montreal bakery Clevercupcakes created the world's first edible QR code cupcake, according to FastCoDesign. But scan that image, and where did it take you? Montreal Science Center's website … not so sweet.

Harney Sushi restaurant in San Diego took the edible QR code to the next level by using it as an opportunity to reaffirm its beliefs and practices. By scanning the rice paper and water-based ink QR code on their sushi, customers can learn "where their fish has come from, who caught it and whether the species is under threat from the fishing industry," a growing concern among sustainable eaters, according to Spring Wise. Harney Sushi's edible QR code sushi encourages customers to learn more about what they're eating in a fun and innovative way.

QR Code As A Hiring Tool

Different industries have their own ways of testing potential employees' aptitude for a job before making an offer. But a tattoo shop in Istanbul, Turkey, created what may very well be the coolest job application ever—with the added bonus of attracting customers as well.

When it first opened, Berrge Tattoo worked with advertising firm Büro to create a newspaper ad of a light QR code embedded on a swath of skin, FastCoCreate reported. Tattoo artists interested in working for the salon were asked to fill in the QR Code "carefully ... and show off their skills." Only after you were able to fill in the lines, could you scan the code to get the tattoo shop's application.

QR Code As Memorial

Once we shuffle off this mortal coil, our legacy is carried on by friends, families, mementos, and, if you're so inclined, a QR-code memorial. A number of companies are adding the telltale pixels to tombstones and grave sites, which, when scanned, sends the bereaved and strangers alike to memorial websites filled with personal stories, videos, music and more.

"So many things get lost over time, photos get lost and the stories and videos are not always around anymore, but on the Web, it's always there, immortalized forever," Lorie Miller of Digital Legacys told The Pueblo Chieftain. For a onetime fee of $149.99, the site is maintained forever.

QR Code As Pet Care

Dog walkers looking to ramp up their business—and put their clients' owners at ease—need look no further than Pet Check Technology. This suite of tools for professional dog walkers uses QR codes and GPS to track and log walks that can be emailed to an owner for record keeping. Pet-care professionals scan a QR code on site every time they pick up ol' Rover with the Pet Check app on their phone, alerting owners that they're on the job.

Photo: Thinkstock