23 of the coolest QR codes

Advertisers are smitten with the small, square patterns that can be scanned by smartphones. Here are 23 from major brands that don't look like anything you'd expect.

FORTUNE -- Think QR codes are monochrome and ugly? Think again. The codes, originally developed in Japan in the 1990's and now growing in ubiquity everywhere else, are actually highly customizable and, in some cases, quite beautiful.

When Toyota subsidiary Denso originally developed QR codes in their black and white form, they were meant to serve a functional use as a means to track auto parts. But as the codes began being used for marketing -- directing smartphone-equipped consumers to websites and interactive advertisements -- they started receiving makeovers. Now, brands want to have their codes stand out.

The jury is out on how effective the codes actually are. But, if they all looked like the innovative examples in this gallery, well, that might not matter so much.

By Alex Kantrowitz - Last updated November 02 2011: 11:37 AM ET
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From the storefronts of high-end boutiques to the billboards in Times Square, the black and white codes are nearly ubiquitous. Marketers love them but are they really getting much out of them?