Wednesday, March 2, 2011

QR Codes and Mobile Advertising Get Big

QR code for
In case you haven't noticed, Americans are obsessed with our phones—we can't stop looking at them! The growth of mobile technology has been nothing short of phenomenal. During an Internet advertising conference on February 27, 2011, Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google stated that mobile use is growing faster than all of Google's internal predictions, with YouTube seeing 200 million mobile playbacks a day. Responding to this trend, web designers at HVTN are focusing heavily on mobile marketing. In November 2010, we started placing QR codes into our print advertisements. Currently, nearly 10% of visitors to our outreach website, are coming from a mobile device.

Perhaps you've seen these black and white maze-like squares in magazines, billboards and catalogs and wondered what they were. QR or quick response codes were first invented in Japan in 1994 to track parts in vehicle manufacturing. The technology is now used in a broader context, including advertisements aimed at smartphone users. QR codes can be scanned by smartphones to bring up a website for more information.

How to Use QR Codes in Advertising

  1. There are many sites that can help you create QR codes for free or a small cost. Check out, or These are just a few sites; many others offer similar features.

  2. Once the QR code is generated, place it on a print ad. Make sure that the QR code is at least 1 inch by 1 inch. Smaller codes may not be scannable.

  3. To scan the code, smartphone users first need to download a QR reader. Many readers are available for free or a small charge in the app store.

  4. Measure how many people are scanning your QR code. Most sites that generate the codes will offer tracking for a monthly fee.

Examples of QR Codes in Advertising

In February, I went to New York City and spotted many QR codes on billboards. I saw some very innovative ways that designers are incorporating the codes into the ads.

Grammy Award QR code ad
Ad for the Grammy awards, spotted in subway station.

Jet Blue QR code ad
Ad for JetBlue Getaways, spotted inside a subway train.

I love how this design makes the QR code a primary element of the ad. If you look closely, you can see that each square of the enlarged code includes a picture of people on vacation. The actual scannable code is included in the lower-left corner.

Picasso QR code ad

By far the most stunning example of QR code advertising. The code accesses the website, featuring 15 pieces of Picasso's art, and a link to buy tickets to the exhibit, which is currently at the Virgina Museum of Fine Arts. A large mural of this can be seen in New York's Soho district, near Wooster and Grand. When I was in NY, I only saw the beginnings of the mural. I would love to see the finished version; it's truly a work of art.

Picasso mural in development in New York's Soho neighborhood.

Written by Soyon Im, Manager of Internet Strategies at the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center,


  1. Very cool Soyon. Thank you for sharing. We should have something of equal "coolness" developed for our campaigns. -Yusef X

  2. Indeed. Very cool article, Soyon. Plus, I'd been wondering what those bar code things were.