The twentysomething with the ponytail races down the steps to the platform to find that she has just missed her subway and will have to wait seven minutes for the next one.
She is unperturbed about the unexpected delay. She pulls out her cellphone, snaps a picture of a corner of the movie poster on the other side of the tracks and, a few seconds later, she has a list of show times at neighborhood theaters on her handset as well as a review of the film. With one more click, she can watch the trailer and buy tickets.
In Japan, this scene is so common as to border on the banal, and the technology that makes it possible, QR codes, is so widespread that it is employed in dozens of retail industries. In Europe and North America, a handful of imitators are looking to the QR model to try to give « point and click » a whole new meaning outside Asia.
QR, or quick response, codes are a similar to bar codes except they are square, look a bit like an ink blot and contain much more information. In Japan and South Korea, QR codes are used to link directly to a Web site, as in the case of the subway poster, saving the user the need to type an address on the tiny keypad of the phone. As marketers seek an edge on competitors, QR codes are appearing practically everywhere in Japan.
« Somebody can go to the meat section of some supermarkets in Japan and use a QR code to find out what the cow ate, where it came from and where it was processed, » said Junn Chanoki, the Tokyo-based head of food and agribusiness research for Rabobank, a Dutch investment bank. « Ninety percent of Japanese have a mobile phone, and most phones are connected to the Internet, so the number of potential users is enormous. »
QR codes are now popping up on Japanese business cards, allowing somebody to snap a picture with a cellphone and save the bother of entering a new contact’s information. Last month, McDonald’s began putting the codes directly on food packaging so that Japanese diners could get nutrition information instantly.
Denso Wave, a Japanese electronics company, created QR codes in 1994 to track car parts, employing hand-held devices that are still in use. Although it patented the process, the company allowed anybody to create QR codes without having to pay a licensing fee. That helped the technology take off.
But that by itself would not have been enough to guarantee the code’s ubiquity, said Daniel Scuka, the editor of Wireless Watch Japan, an online publication.
« QR codes have been a great success in Japan because phone carriers confronted this in a systemic way, with all of them using the same technology, » he said – a potential lesson for carriers in Europe and the United States.
When QR codes first came into use about five years ago, software had to be downloaded onto phones that allowed the handset to decipher the code once it had been photographed. Now, most phones sold in Japan have the software built in, or it can be downloaded directly to the handset.
« The power of QR is that it is easy to use and potentially turns anything into a direct connection between advertiser and client, » said Kent Wertime, the Bangkok-based president for the Asian operations of OgilvyOne, a digital and direct marketing agency.
While QR codes have had success in Japan and South Korea, they have not made the leap to the rest of Asia, Europe and North America. MobileTag, developed by the French company Abaxia, and ShotCode, created by a Swedish-Dutch start-up called OP3, are similar to QR codes and could be the early favorites to grab market share outside Asia, should the technology catch on.
technorati tags: mobile, mobile alley, mobile news, mobilemarketing, mobile marketing, marketing mobile, interactive marketing, marketing interactif, marketing, Denso Wave, QR, QR codes, Junn Chanoki, Daniel Scuka, MobileTag, Abaxia, ShotCode, OP3