Little Codes, Big Possibilities

TOKYO Japan is the most sophisticated mobile market in the world, years ahead of the U.S. Ninety percent of Japanese own a mobile phone; consumers use them as credit and debit cards, as payment for commuter fees, as tools for shopping, gaming, TV viewing and music downloading, for e-mail and GPS, and, in certain new apartment buildings, as keys.

What is most apparent in Japan is the emergence of mobile phones as mass personal media. Marketers have an immediate link with consumers thanks to the introduction three years ago of QR (Quick Response) codes. Looking like black-and-white, pixilated postage stamps, QR codes contain two to three times the information of regular bar codes and can be scanned by most Japanese camera phones. The code typically links to a Web or e-mail address or might have details like a physical address or phone number. The graphic can be placed anywhere, from magazines, newspapers and business cards to billboards, buildings, product labels and collateral, enabling any point of contact to become an interactive medium between marketer and consumer.

“The advertiser can, for the first time, get a truly accurate response to which ad in which magazine on which page is most often delivering responses,” says Dave McCaughan, director of strategic planning at McCann Worldgroup Japan. Agencies can experiment with different copy, headlines and offers in different ads and adapt them to the different people using the various media, McCaughan says.

For the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Dentsu created a loyalty program for Coca-Cola that used QR codes on the sides of soft-drink cans. “The QR code allowed us to integrate mass media directly with the product; it drove traffic to the Web site, and it developed a loyalty program,” says Seikyo Son, a Dentsu senior manager for e-promotion.

Northwest Airlines, Nike and McDonald’s have all created innovative campaigns using QR codes.