QR (or “quick response”) codes are everywhere: on posters, in magazines, even on ads at bus stops. They are the tiny white squares full of black pixels arranged in a pattern.


What are they

They are two dimensional barcodes, originally created in Japan auto manufacturing plants to track factory products. Now these codes are used on any kind of material or object. With just the scan of a smartphone, the QR code opens an offline hyperlink. Anyone with a QR reader in their mobile can scan a code to see videos, pictures, websites and other content. The codes may be small but they can contain a lot of information.

There are numerous QR scanner apps available for smartphones. Just search “QR code scanner” or “barcode reader” on your phone’s application store. To scan the codes, your mobile must have a camera.



Whereas advertisers have commonly used QR codes to link to their websites, there are many creative ways to use QR codes. There are many benefits to using them as well. The code links a stable item (like an event poster) to live and continuously unfolding content (a blog for example).

Even if the original information on the poster is changed, you can just update the blog and know that the information can be easily accessed. QR codes provide an interactive experience and people are more likely to read more about your group. QR codes can be put anywhere, so they are extremely versatile. They’re also a great way to connect with specific groups of people (youth) and get them involved in your movement.


Pros and Cons

Despite the benefits to using QR codes, their portability and ease of access to a lot of data, they have some significant drawbacks for activists to consider. The most obvious is that not everyone has a smart phone. If folks who don’t have this kind of technology are missing the message entirely what does that say about your campaign? Scanning QR codes can also be a short lived novelty. Many corporations have taken to using the codes for guerrilla marketing, so folks may be hesitant to scan unexplained codes. The act of scanning it does take time and in high traffic situations, people might not bother.

Before your campaign slaps a code on every flier, think careful about how they could be used. Do supporters use QR codes? What does it link to? Is it practical and effective in this campaign? There are a million different ideas about what the code could link to. Concentrate on your most pressing efforts. QR codes can be great for linking to event pages, personal stories, volunteer sign ups or campaign blogs.



Making a QR code is relatively easy and free. Experiment with different generators online and test them repeatedly before making them public. Each code is unique, so it’s just a matter of getting one generated. Some sites to try are bit.ly (just add.qr to your shortened link to see its QR code) and Kaywa. Some providers will track how many people access your code. This can be great data to use when assessing its effectiveness.

After the code is saved as an image, you can attach it anywhere but be careful about alienating folks. Not everyone knows what a QR code is, or how it works. Consider adding a brief explanation below it on campaign materials.