If you point your mobile phone's camera at it you'll be directed to GetElastic.com on the mobile web, provided you have a reader on your phone capable of decoding the QR (quick response) code.
QR codes are 2D images that contain information, most often links and text. If you keep your eyes open, you'll see QR codes on product packaging, print advertising, bus shelters -- I even saw one on a picnic napkin last weekend.
Ralph Lauren is one example of a multichannel retailer taking advantage of QR codes in offline advertising:
Of course, QR codes are more common in Asia than North America -- you can even find magazines containing nothing but QR codes.
They're also becoming fashionable:
You can even share your Twitter status with anyone following you around in the offline world:
QR codes are also leaking into pop culture. The Pet Shop Boys' video for the song "Integral" has a series of codes that appear in a flash throughout the video. On the band's site, you can find the actual codes which each link to a web page about civil liberty violations (the song is a rant against the Big Brotherishness of ID cards). Unfortunately embedding on Youtube has been disabled by request, but you can view the video here. It's actually an amazing artistic work.
Creating a QR Code
Creating a QR code is easy. You can generate QR codes with an online generator (just Google "qr code generator") or even bathroom tiles:
QR Code Roadblocks
Though "big in Japan," the roadblocks to QR code popularity in North America are that many phones don't have QR code readers, and many can't properly download the proper software. Some manufacturers are pre-loading the reader software, but even so, it can be hard to capture the code properly considering you have to have a steady hand, get the right angle and so on.
QR Codes 2.0
If you're thinkin' QR codes are tough to look at, and bland and boring in plain black and white, never fear. Designer barcodes like Louis Vuitton's and the colorful Microsoft Tag:
With the ability to store more information than their B&W QR cousins, MMCC (mobile multi-color composite) codes can contain text, video clips, ringtones and even games encoded entirely in the image -- no need to access the Internet to decode the content right on your mobile phone.
In a multichannel 2.0 context, these small pictures can open up a world of product information and even transactional ability right on the customer's phone, like a kiosk in your pocket.
So if you've ever wondered what that funny looking square is on billboards, in public washrooms, on paper napkins or t-shirts -- now you know. I bet you'll see them everywhere now.