Media Perspective: How QR codes will replace coupons as the bane of admen

Have you seen a coupon on an ad recently? Remember when coupons were the bane of every creative team's life (in "creative" agencies, anyway)?

They'd craft an exquisite art directional confection, guaranteed to win awards, and then the bloody client would insist on sticking a coupon on there, with those "cut here" dotted lines and a picture of some scissors.

There go all hopes of a Pencil. And all because the silly client wanted to try to connect communication and action somehow; to close the loop between persuasion and purchase. And that's always been one of the hardest things for conventional advertising to do.

Web addresses have become the new coupon, delighting and infuriating art directors in equal measure. Infuriating them because it's another thing the client wants to have big and ugly, like the logo; delighting them because they can probably use it as an excuse to leave most of the copy off the ad. But URLs don't really work. There's too much distance (both mentally and physically) between seeing an ad and being in front of a screen. And they're difficult things to remember, designed for machines rather than people - getting a single character wrong renders them useless.

In fact, a number of advertisers, especially in Japan, are abandoning the use of URLs on ads and are suggesting particular terms people should use in a search engine (since that's closer to typical real-life behaviour), then they make sure they're top of the list for those terms.

But the new battlefront in connecting the printed and the web is via the mobile phone and the standards war over those strange little barcode things that are starting to pop up all over the place. There are various different versions: ShotCodes, QR codes, semacodes, but they all do the same job. Point your phone at the code, take a picture and it'll connect you to a website or something digital.

As the technology improves, phonecams spread and get smarter, and assuming a code standard can be agreed on, it looks like being a quick and useful way to get people from seeing something physical to doing something digital. As ever, the Japanese and Koreans are leading the mobile way with this stuff - there are codes like these on ads for escorts, as tattoos and on business cards.

Over here, the new England football shirt has a QR code on the label. At the moment, it just connects to a little game, but it's the beginning of something interesting: a world where barcodes move out of the world of logistics and stock-keeping and become part of the consumer landscape.

And then you can look forward to finishing creative presentations with endless arguments about the size of the QR code. Hurrah.