Crop Circles to Crop Bar Codes?

For years, people wondered if the mysterious crop circles popping up all over the world were the work of mischievous extraterrestrials, but we can be certain the 160-square-meter (1,700-square-foot) pattern that appeared in a wheat field in 2007 was the work of an earthling named Ben Hopfeng-Aertner. Hopfeng-Aertner, a German programmer interested in 2-D barĀ  code symbology, spent several months stamping out a 2-D bar code into the wheat field that, when finished, was large enough to be read from space. So what did the code say? "Hello, World!" of course.

2-D Bar Code Advertising

If you can think of a way to sell a product, it's probably been done: blimps with giant company logos, televisions streaming ads to the backseats of taxicabs and even advertisements printed in edible ink on food. Nothing is off-limits from advertisers. But even they have long faced a difficult challenge as they try to determine how effective their physical ads really are; regardless of the medium, they can only guess how many people end up buying products or learning more about their company because of a particular ad. That all changed with 2-D bar codes. For the first time, companies could simply add a 2-D bar code to their advertisement and directly track how many times consumers scanned the code. If someone did scan it, the advertisers could then track whether that person went on to visit the company's Web site or even purchase a particular product.

Putting the technology to use, the fashion company Tommy Bahama added a 2-D bar code into Esquire Magazine that, when scanned, took readers directly to a Web page featuring the pair of sunglasses shown in the magazine ad. With one click of their mouse (or smartphone), readers could then buy the sunglasses for a cool $138 a pop. Not only did the codes help Tommy Bahama sell a lot of sunglasses, they also helped the company learn more about their customers, telling the company what time of day and part of the country an ad was scanned.

Target is another company exploring the capabilities of 2-D bar codes, adding QR codes to its magazine advertisements. Curious readers can scan the codes and instantly watch a video from a famous interior designer explaining how to use the product in the home. Advertisers say this level of interactivity is perfect for a new generation of tech-savvy consumers who want instantaneous access to product information, reviews and more. In fact, the codes have become such a popular way to advertise in Japan that they're even found on billboards, where they can be scanned at highway speeds from a passing car.

Currently, the codes aren't as popular in the United States as they are in Japan, so data on just how many advertisers are using them and what sort of results they've been getting is hard to come by. Still, as more people purchase smartphones and learn about the capabilities of QR Codes, 2-D bar codes may take off much like their 1-D predecessors.