The three golden rules of QR codes (with examples)

QR IslandQR codes are quite old. Invented by a subsidiary company of Toyota in 1994 and now under standard ISO/IEC 18004, they are intended to have redundancy in the information for Quick Reading by a scanner, mainly for logistics and manufacturing purposes. Nowadays they are widely used in marketing for driving mobile traffic, scanning them from a physical surface. Much has been written about QRs, but still many smartphone users still don’t know how to read them. This gets worse when some brand managers and agencies insist to use them in the wrong way. Please, please, please, read these three simple principles, good for your consumers, good for your clients.

It so simple that seems silly to write about this, but you will see it’s not. The examples I’m going to show are taken from the Spanish market, that’s why this article can also be found in Spanish here, just to be sure those Brand Managers and Agencies understand the importance of using QRs in the right way.

Rule #1 Use short URLs

And that means two things, use URLs and make them short. QR codes can code anything, it can be a text, a telephone number… if you want to open the consumer’s browser, be sure there is an http:// at the beginning of the URL and it is a valid one. Second, what the QR codes do is to code information. The more information you put, the bigger is the code and the more difficult is for the smartphone camera to read it. Use URL shorteners like See the difference:



URL shorteners can sometimes be personalized in order to be easily typed if the QR reader is not available, but then be sure the resulting URL is still short.

Rule #2 Drive to mobile web.

Scanning QR codes for me is like a hobby. I just do it for investigation purposes, and I can tell you, there are still a lot of links around that take to pages that are not mobile ready. Although it would be great if you have a responsive web site, if not, just take your time to develop a mobile friendly microsite. It’s much easier to develop than a desktop one and the impact is huge.  You don’t want users to click on a link in your mobile page and go to the web home… for desktops.

Be very cautious with this, although many browsers and screen resolutions can perfectly show a full desktop web, you are consuming high amount of bandwidth, and that might irritate the consumer you’re trying to engage with, in a supermarket over their 4G connection.

For the same reason, don’t link to a video in youtube as the only resource for doing something mobile just because youtube is responsive, a video can take a lot of MB from your consumers data plan, and they will be very angry if that happens.

Rule #3 Engage with your consumers.

Finally, you placed a QR code somewhere and there is a consumer interested enough to take his smartphone out of his pocket, open the QR reader app, scan the code, open the URL with the browser and read whatever you wanted to communicate. And now? Are you just delivering a content? why not to engage more with your consumers, asking them to download your app, or leave their data, or share with others?. Be sure this engagement is still mobile friendly and make the experience worth the effort.

Some examples

Here you can find some examples of dos and don’ts. They are taken from recent (<1 week) purchases of Spanish products.

Paternina_QR    Paternina_mobi

Here we have a QR code in a wine bottle from Federico Paternina. First of all, no call to action saying ‘hey, scan me!’ or ‘this is a code you can scan’. Second, the coded URL ( is definitely too long, and after redirection takes to the Youtube Channel, which is responsive, at least. Don’t you have something better!? My interpretation: the agency produced a nice video but the budget for media buying is close to zero, so let’s put the video everywhere we can, including mobile. Thanks God Youtube doesn’t start downloading the video automatically…

Cvne_QR    Cvne_mobi

Another QR code in the back of a bottle of wine from Cune. We don’t find any call to action for scanning (only if you know what a QR Code is you will do it), but when scanning it takes to a quite short URL ( not using URL shortener, that redirects to a responsive web site with specific information about the bottle. Once there (at the bottom of the page you can switch to English) you can share the page in social networks (that obviously are responsive) or leave your data for further engagement. Very good implementation that follows the Smart Shopping concept (more information about the product beyond what it says on the label, for scanning in front of the shelf). Knowing what comes later I’m only missing some call to action near the code saying ‘find more about this product here’. Buying wine takes some time in front of the shelf as it’s a more reflexive purchase, having more information at hand is definitely a plus for the product.

Puleva_QR Puleva_mobi

Let’s switch to milk. On the side of an Omega3 milk brick from Puleva we find the QR above for a diet test to see how healthy for your heart it is, and win some prizes. There is a call to action and an alternative url you can also type if you don’t have a QR scanner. That’s very good and well thought. A personalized URL shortener is used, but I wonder if the URL could be shorter. It makes the QR code bigger and longer typing. From “qrtesthappyheart” they could just say “happyheart” or “hearttest”. This good implementation gets worse when accessing the link, which is not responsive (mobile screenshot has been taken with a FullHD, 1080 pixels wide and 1920 tall, phone). With some zooms you can take the test and leave your data for a 2€ coupon. The problem is you need to use the print function to get it. Why not a coupon in your PassBook/PassWallet? Oh, yeah, I forgot the site was not mobile. I gave my data and I can’t get my coupon. Angry. After a message on their twitter, they answered (very quickly and close to 10pm) that we needed to contact customer service for our coupon because it doesn’t work on mobile. Yeah, thanks, I realized.


Danone_QR Danone_mobi

Last example from a Danone Activia yogurt. They are running a loyalty program called ‘Alimenta Sonrisas’, where you can scan unique codes and earn points. For this, you can download an APP that scans the code or just use your standard QR app. Good call to action, well explained and with an alternative URL for introducing the code manually. The good thing is the QR code is a full URL, not only the code itself. Well thought. When scanning the link takes to a mobile web, with questionable design, but fully operative including registration and log in. Very, very good.


Bonus track

I’ve been using bi-dimensional or 2D codes (like QR) for marketing since 2007, and I’ve seen quite a lot. Finally, like VHS, Beta and 2000, one seems to stand, but they were others (full list here):

Data Matrix CodeDatamatrix: Probably the most used after QR. It has been developed as a standard (ISO/IEC 16022)

HCCB codeHCCB: Microsoft tried to play the colors to create their code. Didn’t see them too much, though.



2 Comments on “The three golden rules of QR codes (with examples)”

  1. […] The three golden rules of QR codes (with examples) Beware of Hype: Social CRM in five steps […]

  2. […] between the real world and the digital world through your smartphone. You can read some serious dos and don’ts with QRs codes here. The truth is, between you and me, reading a QR code is not the easiest thing in the world for […]

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