Shadows & Umbrellas: Korea & Taiwan Try Generating QR Code Art

Written by Michael Whittington

A very recent mobile marketing blog by Andy Sowards compiled more than 40 examples of QR codes being used as art. I published my Top 5 YouTube Videos Turning QR Codes to Art many months ago so the subject was both familiar and a must-read for me. While I highly recommend reading the entirety of Sowards's mobile marketing blog, I did have a favorite item. I decided to do some extra mobile market research and I know you'll find my discovery fascinating.

The definite standout on Sowards's article, for me anyway, was the shadow QR code. It's a curious-looking display with spikes jutting out the side. Most of the time this is all it will look like, but that is the point. It only serves a purpose during noon and 1pm. That is when the sun is in the perfect position in the sky to create a shadow on the contraption, displaying a scannable QR code. On one hand this is truly one of the most innovative and artistic ways to present a QR code I've seen in the mobile marketing news for some time. However, on the other hand, 96% of the day it's no more than a useless piece of abstract art. There is even an additional problem with this approach: you're assuming the sun is out. What if it's a dreary day?

So why do this? What would possess an organization to create a QR code that is only functional for an hour a day and only on certain days? Just ask Emart, the Korean department store chain responsible for the code. Noon to 1pm just happens to be their slowest part of the day so to increase sales during that hour span they installed the shadow QR code in 13 locations around Seoul. Scanning the code launches an app called Sunny Sale where users can do online shopping and receive special discounts such as a coupon for $12 off a purchase. Surprisingly, the mobile marketing campaign was successful! There was a full 25% increase in lunch time sales. With overwhelmingly positive feedback, the original 13 locations has been expanded - more than doubled, actually - to 36. Emart clearly did their mobile market research. Learn more about the shadow QR code and see it in action in the video below.

There is one artistic QR code I felt was missing from the list. Recently, as in just this past weekend, 1369 Taiwanese people took to the streets of Taipei, carefully selected umbrella in hand and organized themselves into a strange square pattern. The passersby must have found it strange, but anyone looking down from a tall building, helicopter or low-flying plane was greeted wholesomely. The black and white umbrellas formed a QR code, though there was a bit of blue and green mixed in to form the word "Hi" across its center, taking advantage of the error correction capabilities mobile marketing campaigns offer. The code was fully scannable and, when scanned, led to a site with listings of events in Taiwan. A spokeswoman reported that the site would be continuously updated and she encouraged people to save it as a bookmark in their phone for that very reason.

But why go through the trouble? What's wrong with old fashioned flyers to promote events, or even QR codes on a smaller scale? Well, while promoting Taiwanese events was certainly a goal of this mobile marketing campaign, there was also a larger goal: to promote the image of Taiwan. A person will first see the word "hi." They know they're being addressed and they're invited to scan the QR code. Then, once they do, it's clear that they are being invited to participate in an array of Taiwan's cultural events. So in the end, going through the effort learning how to generate a QR code using real people holding umbrellas was, in theory, positive promotion for tourism.

Speaking of developing how to generate a QR code with the aforementioned resources, months prior, the design was sketched out using LEGO-style bricks. A video was recorded with some stock photographs and a big message saying 2012.12.02 (or December 2, 2012) which was the day to public gathering took place. You can watch the video below but be forewarned, much of the text is in Chinese characters.

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