The Three Rules of QR Codes

The three rules of QR Codes are not rocket science and are pretty much self evident. However this has not stopped some advertising agencies breaking the rules and handing their clients a poorly performing or dysfunctional campaign. This post is an extension of three previous posts in which using a mobile device friendly landing page, QR Code size and content were discussed. If you see any additional examples, good or bad, please share them in a comment below.

1st Rule: Mobilize the landing page


Jacobhs Creek poster with QR Code

Breaking the rule: Antony McGregor Dey, CEO Qmcodes, spotted this poster for Jacobs Creek wine and the opportunity to win tickets to the Australian open. The QR Code resolved to the non-mobilized company website with a linked banner proclaiming “Mobile phone users click here for the Australian open promotion”. That link too went to a non-mobilized page! (The link and offending page has now been removed).

Fendi mobile site

Keeping the rule: In recent newspaper advertisements Fendi have also chosen to use a QR Code that decodes to their main site url However if you are accessing the site with a mobile device they are using user agent detection to redirect to their mobile website The Fendi mobile site is quite comprehensive and gives a choice of languages, Italian or English.

Original post: Italian Fashion House Discovers QR Codes


2nd Rule: Keep the url short


Ralph Lauren advertisement with QR Code
Breaking the rule: The QR Code in this advertisement for Ralph Lauren in New York magazine decodes as, an unnecessarily long url. The QR Code could have been smaller and encoded with a higher level of error correction (ECL) if a url shortener had been used, such as

Original post: Ralph Lauren QR Codes

Dicks Sporting Goods mobile site

Keeping the rule: When Dicks Sporting Goods launched their new m-commerce site with a giant QR Code at a ball game, they did not use a subdomain of their existing site. They chose instead to use a new domain and a much shorter url which encoded as a smaller QR Code.

Original post: QR Code on the World’s Largest HDTV

3rd Rule: Make the content valuable


Siemens newspaper advertisement with a QR Code

Breaking the rule: Siemans latest newspaper advertisements have a QR Code that resolves to a url well and truly breaking the 2nd Rule It gets worse, the reward for reaching the “Climate change and energy supply” section of Siemens global mobile website is a series of short paragraphs on combined-cycle power plants, HVDC transmission lines and performance contracting. These are about as exciting as watching paint dry. Where is the engagement? Where is the climate change and energy supply game/quiz with prizes, for example? If someone has gone to the trouble of decoding your QR Code the last thing they want to see is bland content, instead give then something valuable.

Original post: Siemens QR Code Advertisement

Suntory beer can with QR Code

Keeping the rule: The good things about this Suntory QR Code are firstly it’s on a beer can :), secondly the QR Code resolves to a mobile site where visitors can offset 100g of CO2 once per day and feel good about it and thirdly there is a daily lottery with the chance of winning cash prizes. In other words, valuable content that engages the visitor and makes the decoding of the QR Code worthwhile.

Original post: Beer, Carbon Offset and a QR Code Campaign


33 thoughts on “The Three Rules of QR Codes”

  1. Hello,

    I work for an interactive design agency in Los Angeles. Our firm is doing most of the entertainment mobile strategies with digital one sheets using 2D barcodes right now. We just finished the mobile strategy for the movie 9 and it was a major success thanks to PLUSH MS (our mobile server) which uses WURFL and other software to detect the user agent’s phone in order to provide a valuable experience.

    In full disclosure, PLUSH MS found at is partly owned by Philip Warbasse (my boss). It is being well received and now open to the public. Thanks for your site – it rocks!

    Nick P.

  2. Thank you for the informative post Roger.

    I like your post because it HELPS people.

    QR Code technology as a marketing medium is a brand new thing to the Canadian Marketplace. We see huge potential for the technology in Canada and we are only days away from launching our new company

    As early adopters and advocates our main job will be to help the public, advertisers and publishers see the value in the technology. Thus far, our initial feedback has been almost 100% positive. As a company we are extremely passionate about QR and we concentrate almost entirely on the EDUCATION aspect as we take the time to fully engage with anyone that wants to learn.

    It is clear that initial campaign successes will depend on the proper target market – however – if EDUCATION is priority number one, incorporated into each and every campaign and never taken for granted we believe that the results for all brands with all types of targets could be huge.

    I love talking about QR and participating in the debate so please feel free to contact me -

  3. We are about to launch new ads with QR codes. We are using a tracking software to track the code usage. This makes sometimes makes the code more complicated (other times, not, which doesn’t make much sense). Do you have any suggestions to a tracking program that allows the code to remain simple?

    All of the codes for the first press run have been tested and work and are ready for print, but I am always trying to improve the readability of the code.

  4. @Dena You could use a url shortening service with good tracking stats like Cligs.

    However as a Government Agency you may not wish to rely on third parties, in which case you could get your IT department to register and host a meaningless short url for you, like Then give each of your QR Codes an individual address such as

    All the IT department has to do is monitor the stats for these short urls and 301 redirect them to the real address for users.

    Some more info here.

  5. This is great… thanks. We are looking for a great software for generation and tracking — do you have any suggestions?

    I’d like something API-friendly if possible…

  6. @Tricia this might work for you
    It is SaaS (Software as a service) so by nature is not API-friendly but they are very enthusiastic about what they do and QR codes in general. Please mention that Rick from QR?able referred you if you decide to use their services.


  7. Should you always maintain the code generated propotions, regardles of URL shorteners, or can you “shrink” the 2D code further? (e.g. when you wish to print on small cards etc.)

  8. @Jeremy As a rule I don’t recommend going smaller than 2.5cm or 1″ square with the black portion of the code on a symbol version 1, error correction L type code.

    I have done extensive testing with different mobiles, especially the iPhone 3g, which has one of the worst cameras for close up focus. Although it can sometimes read a code smaller than those dimensions the best practice is to stick to that.

    If your mobile device has the ability to macro-focus you can get away with a very tiny code (0.6cm or 1/4″)as is commonly seen in Japanese advertising.

  9. @Tricia – is a callable subroutine that runs on all Windows, Unix, and Mainframe platforms. It was designed specifically to deliver 1to1 QR Codes in high volume print runs to any composition engine for output on any print device.

  10. Thanks for this Roger. We’re working on a small pilot to deliver interpretation about public artworks to mobile phones and are just about to get our labels made. Not stickers but hard acrylic labels. Just a little concerned about the error correction issues you mention when using long URLs. Our plan had been to use as they track visits via each code, do you see any issues for us in doing this?

  11. @Martin From what you have told me I can’t see any issues. However…

    There are many factors that can influence the readability of QR Codes and if you don’t have an adviser on board then I suggest you do the following.

    Make up a prototype in acrylic and take it to some of the eventual locations. Place it in position and try to decode it in various light levels. Use three or four different mobile devices running different decoders.

    That should give you a pretty good idea…

  12. I’m wondering about url shorteners. Isn’t it dependent on redirection. It’s not an encoded url that gets decoded by the browser because it needs to go there where it gets associated in a database. In other words when that server goes down (if I mean) then all your encoded links go with it.
    Of course if you follow what’s going on in the world see my first QRcode post “Acounterpost Now!” then maybe you know what I mean. Or am I just using the wrong shortener for my baking?

  13. I work in an industry that i feel has strong potential to utilize mobile web and qr coding content. I would like to start a business where i set the companies up with their mobile pages and QR codes. Would it make sense to try and find people to create the software for this, or is it better to work as a vendor for someone’s platform that is already created? Any help would be appreciative.

    And thanks for the great article!!

  14. I found that was the best place to create these QR codes, get analytics and create a mobile page to put behind them. They let you link your mobile site directly to your website so that you don’t need to worry about buying other domains or pushing people to a special domain at all. Plus, it wasn’t expensive at all!

  15. Thanks for the article. I’ve known about QR codes for some time and really feel that they will be an effective marketing tool, I just have to work out how to use them to market my blog!

  16. Love your blogging style – great tips, very succinct. Glad to see someone taking the time to point out how powerful these can be used right – and how the opposite applies when they’re not!

  17. Appreciate the rules, Roger, especially the one on pointing QR codes to mobilized landing pages. We manufacture rubber stamps for QR code marketing, so that existing marketing materials can be easily upgraded to take advantage of the QR code:

    Based on the information you provided here, we’ll make sure to review client requests against these helpful rules.

    — Stubby Stamp

  18. Rule #1 for QR codes is actually use it in real world uses like print, using it anywhere on the web is useless.

    I see so many people putting them on their websites, adding them to their email signatures etc. If it’s on a screen it’s useless.

  19. @jamEs “If it’s on a screen it’s useless”. QR Codes on a screen next to app reviews enable the user to scan the screen with their mobile and download the app.

  20. Thanks for the informative post about the landing page use for QR Codes. I like it b/c I want to add the code to my business cards, and I don’t want to have to change the cards everytime I want to change the QR Code, instead now I will just be able to change the QR Code URL (which I promise to keep short and sweet). I also want the user to see all my social media pages and contact info. My only issue, is I wish foursquare had a virtual checkin for websites if you don’t have brick and mortar? 🙂

  21. The Siemens use of the QR code really rather defeats the object of using one in marketing endeavours. The description next to the code on the poster would put many off scanning it at all. Interactivity benefits the user and the business employing these methods. It’s easy to get carried away and use QR codes for the sake of it without much thought. Businesses wish to appear ultra-modern (as Patrick Donnelly of QRarts has stated).

  22. Hi Love the info. I wanted to comment on what you said about using the code for the sake of “being modern” and not putting much thought behind it. I could not agree more. In my efforts to educate my clients and the general population about the benefits of using QR codes, I always explain say the old saying holds true, “It is not the ship that counts, but the one who is steering it that does”

  23. I agree that if marketing is the objective then the comments about Siemens at rule 3 are sensible but this very much limits the use of QR codes – ‘value’ is extremely subjective so dont limit the use of these to just the ‘marketplace’.

  24. As a photographer and being new to QR codes and its usage I have to say that I really appreciate these discussions. Although I am not really up to speed in QR code and its uses yet, I really cant contribute too much to the conversations. I can tell you that in searching for information about QR code I came across this site from the QR inventor. Lots of great information about the QR code. Error correction levels, code size, micro QR. Hope to contribute more in the future.

  25. @Susan Mobilize is to have webpages that are designed for display on a mobile device rather than a desktop. This means the user should not have to scroll horizontally or zoom to navigate and read the content.

    Flickr’s mobile site is a good example

  26. Companies who use QR-codes in their marketing should consider wether they have an option to re-direct the code, so it is not static. That also gives room for creativity and the possibility to implement the code on print independenly of the online landing-page.

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