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QR codes may not be the best choice for anti-piracy

A number of brands including Pernod Ricard have looked to QR codes to fight counterfeit threats, but while mobile bar codes are a good start, they may not be the best technology for the job.

Brands like Pernod Ricard place QR codes on their products to prove the validity and originality of the product. However, since QR codes are open-sourced, they can be created by anyone, so counterfeiters would be able to copy a brand?s code and landing page fairly easily; response codes such as SpyderLink SnapTags that are closed-source and proprietary might be a better option for anti-counterfeit purposes.

?QR codes in and of themselves are not the answer,? said Michael Becker, marketing development and strategic advisor for Somo, London. ?They enable a way to stimulate and create a more convenient way of inviting the consumer to opt in and interact.

?If you use a different code like SpyderLynk that code is proprietary and harder to counterfeit,? he said. ?The challenge with QR codes is it?s an open source standard, so anyone can generate a code, whereas a SpyderLynk code is generated by their unique system.?

Using QR codes
QR codes can certainly be helpful for brands that want to give an added level of engagement to a physical product. They can lead to landing pages that provide historical or nutritional information.

For example, French beverage company Pernod Ricard recently added QR codes to all of its products sold in China in an effort to prevent counterfeit as well as engage with customers.

Consumers can scan the Pernod Ricard codes to check if the bottle is genuine and learn about the production process and other features of the brand.

A number of pharmaceutical and medical supply vendors as well as luxury beauty product brands are also testing QR codes for the same purposes. HP and Pfizer are two companies that are employing this system.

?By enabling consumers to scan a QR code and get pertinent company/product info they will quickly be rest assured that the product is authentic and original,? said Bobby Marhamat, CEO of Hipscan, Menlo Park, CA.

?A company like Pernod Ricard would use QR codes for this purpose in order to keep brand integrity and make sure consumers do not get confused by non-authentic versions of their products,? he said. ?This is a trend that many companies are starting to jump on.?

Securing QR codes
The issue with QR codes, as Mr. Becker explained, is that anyone can create them. In theory, a Pernod Ricard counterfeiter could create a QR code that leads to a copy Web site.

One way to get around this issue is by creating a complex backend server to secure the system.

According to Mike Wehrs, CEO of Scanbuy, New York, QR codes can be a great way to thwart counterfeiters, as long as brands keep track of the number of times a QR code is scanned.

?We use our SmartCode technology to keep track of when and where a barcode is scanned, and on the first scan we can validate that product as being legitimate,? Mr. Wehrs said.

?If it is scanned a second time, then we have strong evidence that the code has been duplicated and the product is counterfeit,? he said. ?There is much more security involved in this process, but it can?t be explained in exact detail for risk of making it easier for counterfeiters to try and circumvent the layers of security involved.?

Another way to secure QR codes is by placing them inside the product. For example, a pharmaceutical company can place a QR code under the cap of the container.

That way counterfeiters would have a harder time tampering with the codes.

Alternative codes
According to Somo?s Mr. Becker, there are a few reasons why SpyderLynk tags help marketers thwart counterfeiters. 

SpyderLynk?s SnapTags transform a brand?s logo or any other icon into a response code. They are accessible to both smartphone and feature phone users, since consumers can either scan them or send them via SMS.

?I think this is an entirely new area, and it?s an exciting opportunity for brands to use tags for anti-counterfeit measures,? said Jane McPherson, chief marketing officer of SpyderLynk, Denver, CO.

?There?s certainly a number of things that we could do to verify the original product, but what?s cool is a SnapTag in itself is hard to reproduce so anti-piracy is inherent in its attributes,? she said.

?Anybody can create a QR code. With a proprietary tag the advantages are the mobile solution has to create the tag and provide the mobile experience. Those are securely generated and securely given to the marketer to put on their bottle. It can?t be counterfeited.?

Final Take
Rebecca Borison is editorial assistant on Mobile Marketer, New York