The pharma industry updates its marketing strategy with QR codes on packaging

Rodica Ceslov

Wild Frog Studio

In our digital and social media themed month, Rodica Ceslov highlights how pharma is exploring the use of QR codes in its packaging.

The pharmaceutical industry is hoping for the same remarkable results that other industries have enjoyed over the past several years, by incorporating quick response (QR) two dimensional codes (2D) on pharma packaging. For the past decade, QR codes have been successfully used in Japan, where they were invented. The practice, approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Agency (MHRA), is a proven means of sharing relevant information with consumers who are no longer satisfied with the content limit on labels. With forward thinking and a solid marketing strategy in place, companies can realize the ever-increasing possibilities that utilizing QR codes offer.


“With forward thinking and a solid marketing strategy in place, companies can realize the ever-increasing possibilities that utilizing QR codes offer.”


Mobile technology has become ubiquitous. Any individual with a smartphone, or a device that has a Google’s Android operating system, (including Google Goggles or iOS), as well as third party barcode scanners and the Nintendo 3DS, has the capability of utilizing QR codes. According to a recent study conducted by Arbitron and Edison Research, two percent of smartphone-carrying Americans currently scan QR codes at least once per day – a potential advertising audience of approximately 2.75 million. Andy Fry, founder of Team Consulting Ltd, a design and development company of medical devices, suggests, “[t]he pharma industry needs to think about the complete patient experience, from the device to the packaging and instructions for use, and other peripheral services and products like mobile apps and online communities.

For the growing number of consumers who use technology and devices that are QR compatible, codes on pharma packaging are multifunctional. The codes allow patients direct access to the product website, but also give patients an opportunity to learn more about the product including correct dosage and safety information. The codes can assist with medication management, monitor drug abuse, and verify the authenticity of drugs.

DSS (Document Security Systems, Inc. NYSE MKT: DS) has a newly introduced covert and counterfeit resistant authentication technology that utilizes a smartphone for product authentication and simultaneously reads 2d, QR or alpha numeric codes called AuthentiGuard! Along with the phone app itself, the company has a supporting user portal that offers customized reporting to distribution and user authorization. AuthentiGuard also gives brand owners the ability to communicate &amp, market to end users by having multiple levels of application all based off a single covert mark. “Product Authentication, Counterfeit &amp, Diversion Control, and Marketing Enhancements – All in one device” said Jason Grady, Vice President of Sales &amp, Marketing, DSS, Inc. “This product gives brand owners the ability to authenticate product, track it through distribution, and better communicate with their customers. AuthentiGuard is the only technology on the market that brings all these together.”

Healthcare providers benefit from pharma companies that embrace QR codes since nurses and doctors will have immediate access to in-depth drug and dosage information, as well as warnings and other risks.

The costs involved with implementing QR coding on packaging, even on preexisting products, are minimal through the use of stickers, signs, and window decals. Additionally, QR coding draws from the same technology as UPC coding. Any changes within individual codes are adjusted within the software, so no reprinting is required to alter QR code information.

In social media applications the code is a cost conscious way of generating broad scale brand recognition that uses word of mouth advertising within the vast reaches of communities like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, and more. The ability of QR codes to connect people with each other and to digital content creates a win-win for both businesses and consumers alike.


“…two percent of smartphone-carrying Americans currently scan QR codes at least once per day….”


Startup CodeSquare has created an avenue for companies to give consumers information and incentives by using QR codes on packaging. This is easily achieved through actions such as package tracking, point of sale, events and sales offers, and access to other offline areas and environments without collecting personal information. The companies have full control of marketing, incentive, and messaging, as well as receive complete performance analytics. With such reporting available, the pharma industry has the tools available to measure packaging effectiveness.

In addition to the present QR coding on packaging, the future usage of nanoscale codes, invisible QR codes, readable only by infrared laser, is being developed by a team of researchers from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology and the University of South Dakota. This next generation of QR codes, when implemented, could further secure the industry from counterfeit drugs and dissuade possible tampering.


• MHRA – Labelling and packaging of medicines: Quick Response (QR) codes


About the author:

Rodica Ceslov is president of Wild Frog Studio, a dynamic full-service firm helping companies create go-to-market strategies and execute product launches for new products, new product line extensions and re-packaging existing products. She has worked for clients in a variety of industries, including: health care, pharmaceutical, technology, real estate, publishing, management consulting, non profit, retail, food, beauty and entertainment.

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When can we expect the next generation of QR codes?