The Case for Catsup … and maybe a QR Code or two
30 November 2012

by tmartin on November 30, 2012

MAYBE IT WAS A MAGIC CATSUP BOTTLE? Or maybe I just had time to kill at Eastham’s Fairway Restaurant before that tasty order of potato pancakes and scrambled eggs arrived. Either way, the black and white pattern on the back of the bottle drew me in.

As frequent readers know, I do enjoy a good technology. However, some of them have rolled by and for one reason or another I’ve never sampled their digits. The black and white squares? Nope. Never really bothered with them.

But the catsup bottle beckoned. Heinz would give $1 to the nonprofit veterans service group Wounded Warrior ( for every “Thank You Veteran” card it received. All I needed to do was scan that black and white code and it would lead me to the process.

I spun the plastic bottle around and read its back label three or four times, eyeballing the QR Code with some skepticism. Before I realized it, I’d picked up my iPhone — well of course I had it with me, wouldn’t you! — and headed to the apps store to download a free QR Reader.

The black and white squares which seem to appear on every-other magazine ad, on posters in stores, and on physical objects (like catsup bottles!) come to you from the world of automobile manufacturing. In 1994 Toyota’s Denso Wave subsidiary created a two-dimensional scanable code designed for the rugged, data-dense, and high speed needs of Toyota’s production system.

Instead of enforcing its patent rights, Toyota and Denso Wave opened the code up to the world and today the Quick Response Code, or QR Code for short, has become a published ISO standard, ISO 18004, used in Asia, Europe, and increasingly, North America.

Unlike bar codes, which store information across one axis, the QR Code packs data into two dimensions. Even more importantly, it incorporates error correction data which creates a super rugged little data package.

Translation: you can wrap these puppies around a curve, push them through a reader upside down or at an angle, or mangle or chew off up to a third of them … and the information they carry soldiers on.

Print publishers jumped on QR Codes years ago and started encouraging advertisers to plop them into ads and embed them into print. It was supposed to be a way print could compete with emerging digital formats, by delivering a printed hyperlink-plus.

Marketing types got all excited about the possibilities of feeding point of sale information about their products as consumers considered the purchase right there in the store.

Problem was, not many normal people, outside of manufacturing, advertising, and marketing, knew what to make of the codes. Not many people had a device that could read them conveniently at hand. And even if they did, the codes typically led to some less than compelling content that didn’t add value anyway.

However, somewhere during the past year smart mobile devices reached near-ubiquity. The apps store model makes it quick and easy for anyone to download a free code reader. Reading a code involves little more than launching the app and pointing the phone’s camera at the printed code – in the middle of a store, in the middle or a restaurant, or while curled up with a magazine on the sofa.

But that’s just part of the story. The ability to create your own codes – from services like QRStuff, GoQR or other industrial-level providers – has begun to open up creative uses for the codes. And of course the more they get used … the more they get used.

One of my favorites uses appears in a QRStuff blog – combine QR technology with everyone’s favorite retro-craft Shrinky-Dinks ( to make your dog or cat a data tag:

With the rise in mobile devices in the classroom, teachers have been playing around with QR codes as ways to link to information and support learning. A few fun examples:

Trade publication THE Journal shares ways a science class did a scavenger hunt with QR codes:

The Periodic Table of QR Elements created QR codes linked to videos about every chemical element:

Edutech guru Kathy Schrock (who represents, Cape readers, another example of our region’s resident talent) has a whole section devoted to the topic:

With my newly-instead QR Reader in hand, suddenly I’m seeing QR codes all around … and scanning them.

A chocolate ad had one cozied up to a mouthwatering photo of a chocolate bar.

A magazine ad for Bermuda featured a code with a different visual twist: printed in hot pink and fit into the shape of a pair of shorts instead of a square.

And at a recent dinner at one of the Bertucci’s outlets, the check came with a QR code printed on the bottom.

Sadly, not all uses prove equally, well, useful. The chocolate ad took me to a website of the same ad, created for computer screen viewing … and with type so teeny it became virtually unseeable on a mobile device. The Bermuda ad asked to use location data from my mobile device … then returned me deals for people travelling from Toronto to Bermuda — as I sat in a city several hundreds of miles away from Toronto.

Some come closer to the mark. At Bertucci’s, as we waited for our payment to be processed, we used our phone to scan the code on the bill and — motivated by both curiosity and a possible $100 gift certificate – answered the short survey on our phone before the waitress had even returned.

Others let everyone win. As improbable as it seemed while staring at that catsup bottle at Fairway, catsup and Wounded Warrior both benefited from a QR Code. Yesterday I got an email from Heinz reporting that, thanks to many people like me, it had given $250,000 to the Wounded Warrior Project.

In just a few short minutes I created a QR code to the archives of CapeEyes columns. Does it show up on your screen? Does it work?

QR Code generator

It should bring up the columns in a form that is nicely readable on a mobile device. Pretty cool, eh?

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