QR codes offer exciting opportunities to engage consumers in ways impossible on limited pack space, says Hugh Boyle

Despite the hype, the QR code tipping point is a long way from being reached. Brands are now using QR codes two-dimensional matrix barcodes on pack, in media and on in-store collateral as digital gateways to a world of additional content.

However, smartphone penetration currently stands at only 28% in the UK. And brands developing QR codes face the challenge of getting the content right. They should avoid using QR codes simply because they are the latest sparkly new addition to the digital toolbox and instead put the 'art of being useful' at the heart of their plans. The way grocery brands are using QR codes is already changing. So far there has been a focus on price be it discounting, loyalty-building promotions or price comparison initiatives. And while none of these are going to disappear, brands are getting better at knowing how to engage consumers.

Providing information that is truly useful is the holy grail. Imagine a detergent whose QR code allows a smartphone to scan a stain on a piece of clothing and provide instructions on how best to wash it.

QR codes would also sit comfortably with an infant paracetamol brand. With little space on pack to provide detailed information, a smartphone could instantly and easily transport the concerned parent to a wealth of content.

There are plenty of ways for retailers to get in on the act, too. QR codes can serve a whole host of functions in-store: providing an easy-to-follow store plan; highlighting weekly promotions; suggesting recipes and which aisles the ingredients are in.

The technology can also bring the principles of social media in-store. It's a well-known fact that in the beauty category most women are happy to follow a recommendation from a trusted stranger. A QR code in the beauty aisle could allow them to see what other shoppers have been saying about the products.

Some say that the recent Blippar launch in partnership with Cadbury casts doubts on the future of QR codes. Yet Blippar is simply the latest in a line of digital gateways, and quality of content is just as important if this app and competing technologies are to succeed.