This post was written by my good friend Joe Waters, and was originally published on his blog.


QR Codes  > The Next Big Thing for Cause Marketing?

Imagine this: you visit your local supermarket and are asked to support a local food pantry. You a buy a pinup for a buck. On your receipt is message that you can learn more about the cause you just supported by scanning this barcode with your smartphone.

In your car before you leave the supermarket parking lot you run your iPhone over the barcode and a one minute video airs on a food pantry like no other. It’s run out of your local hospital. The pantry started by feeding a few thousand patients every year. In 2009 it fed 75,000 men, women and children. The video closes with an image of a food line that snakes down the hallway and around the corner. It is after all the busiest day of the year, the day before Thanksgiving.


The cool thing is that you don’t have imagine this happening. It already is. In a recent tweet Conehead Chris Mann pointed me to this article on how two U.K. groups are using barcodes, RFID tags or QR Codes, as they seem to be most commonly called, to add personal history to donated items. (Note: What a great idea for Goodwill!)

Mashable thinks QR codes may be headed for a breakout. Just yesterday, it highlighted Stickybits, an app I’ve been playing around with for a couple of months.

Stickybits brings context to real-world objects with its next generation approach to the QR code. The mobile app is primarily a barcode scanner — powered by Red Laser — but it takes the technology into the realm of fun by creating a social and shared experience around any item in the physical world that possesses a barcode.

Download the iPhone or Android application, scan your favorite cereal box, add an item — maybe a related recipe, but any video, photo, audio clip or comment will do — and you’ve just started a digital thread around that item.

Think of the potential for cause marketers to make transactional programs less, well, transactional and more meaningful. When you pick up a mug at Starbucks that supports Product (RED) you can scan the QR code to hear the story of a man who benefited directly from the life-saving HIV drugs RED provides and Starbucks funds.

But that’s not all. Supporters can scan the barcode and use their smartphone to record why they support Product (RED), which then can be viewed by the next person who holds the mug up to a smartphone.

Consumers scanning QR codes for cause content will not happen overnight. But adopting QR codes encourages cause marketers to do two important things.

  • It helps build a stronger charitable and emotional connection among causes, businesses and consumers. (QR codes should also make cause marketing critics feel better that CM gifts aren’t thoughtless one-offs.)
  • It prepares us for the mobile web. The portable technology that Red Laser represents and the type of mobile content it links to is the future for which we should all be preparing. Don’t you agree?

What do you think of QR codes? Do they have a place in cause marketing or in fundraising in general?


  1. Wow, that's some really cool stuff! I recently introduced a colleague of mine to the QR code concept, and we figured out that generating one to go to a particular URL is as easy as finding an online QR code generator (we used We haven't officially decided yet how or if we're going to use them, but my initial thought was to have it take the user to a section of our website that's targeted towards smartphone users. The video idea is pretty cool, though!

  2. I'd agree that QR codes are taking off with some UK nonprofits. I see them on plenty of posters for fundraising events, for example. There's been talk about them for some time here, but very few apart from actually using them. The rapid uptake in smartphones means that it's not tomorrow's technology anymore.

    I'd say the one thing that is holding back a more rapid use by charities and businesses is that most smartphones don't seem to have a QR code reader as a built-in, default app. It should be one of the camera's functions, but currently users have to find and download one.

    UK Fundraising has been covering QR codes from a fundraising angle since May 2008:

  3. Great article! Causes can be on the cutting edge in QR code use. Because of the low cost to add QR codes to any campaign, why not take advantage of their interactivity and bring a new perspective to any marketing plan. Organizations can always change or update the message on their landing pages to keep cause campaigns fresh.

    *RFID are different from QR codes. RFID tags are special tags that have circuitry that either emits or responds to a radio frequency and require equipment that responds to those frequencies.