From its humble beginnings as a simple matrix barcode used to track Japanese automobiles through the manufacturing process, the QR code has become ubiquitous in modern consumer culture. In tech and marketing circles, the seemingly innocuous black and white square has ignited impassioned debate, with no room for neutrality – love it or hate it, one thing is certain: QR codes are an unusually polarizing invention.
In honor of the Little Code That Could, we rounded up some of the best – and weirdest – places that the cryptic square has been popping up, from permanent tattoos to prophylactics (no, really):
Farmer’s markets: When you think of stopping by your local farmer’s market on a Sunday morning, what comes to mind – the scent of crisp apple cider? Mountains of leafy green vegetables? Dew-covered strawberries? The sale of fresh produce doesn’t generally conjure up visions of high-tech mobile marketing campaigns, but that may change soon as farmer’s markets begin to go digital. At the Sustainable Food Center (SFC) Farmer’s Market in Austin, QR codes are displayed on vendors’ booths; when scanned, they provide visitors with contact information, product details, and market schedules as well as links to websites and social media streams. That apple you’re about to bite into? It may have its own Facebook fan page.
Beer: Some people like to drink beer, and some people really like to drink beer. If you find yourself debating the “foam stability” and “hops bouquet” of the newest local microbrew, you probably fall into the latter category, and might enjoy the new offering from Guinness. In a campaign that claims to be “the first of it’s kind,” [sic] the “Guinness QR Cup” is emblazoned with a QR code that “tweets about your pint, updates your Facebook status, checks you in via Foursquare, downloads coupons and promotions, invites your friends to join you, and even launches exclusive Guinness content.” In a clever twist, the code is only visible when a dark beer is poured into the glass – no cheating with pilsners or pale ales. Bottoms up!
Tattoos: If you’re in the market for something a little more permanent than fresh produce or a pint of beer, why not take your commitment to being on the cutting edge of technology to the next level by having a QR code tattooed on your skin? As part of an ad campaign for the whisky brand Ballantine – aptly titled “Leave an Impression” – Paris-based tattoo artist Karl Marc inked a QR code onto his friend Marco’s chest. When scanned, the code unlocks an animation that can change over time. Marc says he is planning to create more of the QR tattoos in the future, so you can start planning that Paris trip you’ve always dreamed of – and bring home a souvenir that will last a lifetime.
Condoms: Long gone are the days when bragging about sexual exploits were conversations confined to barstools, locker rooms, or girls’ nights out – now, instead of gossiping with your friends about what happened on your blind date, you can kiss and tell the world. In a campaign designed to promote safe sex, the Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest (PPGNW) distributed more than 50,000 condoms in QR code-printed wrappers to college students in the state of Washington. When scanned, the code allowed individuals to check in and post details about themselves and where they practiced safe sex. Planned Parenthood said the site was “like Foursquare for people who don’t want a sexually transmitted infection.” You may never look at (regular) Foursquare the same way again.
Tombstones: The three things one can count in life, as the saying goes, are sex, death, and taxes. And while we’re not aware of a QR-scannable 1040 tax form (yet), sex is covered with the aforementioned QR condoms – and now, so is death. When a medical technology executive’s mother passed away in June of last year, her son decided to honor his mother’s memory the best way he knew how – by engraving a QR code on her tombstone. Scanning the QR code leads visitors to a tribute website that will evolve over time and serve as a long-lasting, digital memorial to the deceased. As long as the Internet sticks around, at least.
Where is the strangest place that you’ve come across a QR code? Do you think they’re here to stay, or just a passing fad? Let us know in the comments below.