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Can Mobile Save Print?
By: Ted Curtin
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SPECIAL REPORT: Part 2 of an in-depth, five-part series capturing key issues and emerging trends from the 2011 Mobile Marketing Association Global Forum in NY.
Can Mobile Save Print?

As recently as this past May, and as long ago as the days of the TV boom in the early 1950s, we’ve heard predictions of print’s demise. Even the Washington Post’s own Howard Kurtz wrote about “The Death of Print” as a “result of history and public indifference.”

Sure, there are major changes underway in the world of print, covering everything from content sourcing to subscription models — all hastened by drastic declines in advertising revenue. At the same time, we see similar shifts hitting the broadcast mediums. While TV and radio are also changing, you don’t hear as much of their imminent doom.

In the fifteenth century, Gutenberg’s printing press took the exclusiveness of print and opened up both the creation and consumption of the written word to the masses. As a result, civilization would change forever.

Don’t be so quick to write off this essential form of communication. New digital and mobile technologies may just be the thing that ensures the relevance of print far into the future. QR (or Quick Response) codes — those square Aztec-looking bar codes that have worked their way into our visual landscape — are the conceptual start of this digital revolution for brands. However, they have failed to capture critical acceptance and represent only a small fraction of consumer interaction. More importantly, too many QR code initiatives fail to deliver enough value and reward to exceed or even meet customer expectations.

Other Reasons Why QR Codes Might Not Last
Well, it’s hard to argue for their aesthetic beauty — QR codes are UGLY! From a design perspective, they’re space hogs taking up valuable graphic real estate that could have been used for additional content — or better yet, “clean” space, which is something companies use way too little of. Still, looks aren’t the biggest problem facing QR codes. Like any emerging technology, standardization has been elusive from the start. There are multiple QR code readers that only read specific types of codes. You practically need an app to tell you which reader to use when you’re trying to see what online tidbits are waiting for you at the end of the 2-D barcode scavenger hunt.

What if you didn’t need a special code? What if you didn’t even need a “smart” phone? Two emerging technologies featured at the recent 2011 Mobile Marketing Association Global Forum held in New York City, could hold the key. While different in scope and technology, both of these companies recognize the lack of general consumer acceptance and disappointingly poor ROI performance of QR campaigns. Both have come up with some very interesting ways to avoid the codes.

First, there’s the Snap Tag from SpyderLynk. Recognizing that virtually every brand or product has a logo on its packaging or advertisements, SpyderLynk uses the existing graphical image of the logo and a unique circular encoding scheme. With a SnapTag placed on an advertisement, the consumer can use their phone’s mobile camera to access unique content, information, promotional opportunities and discounts, retail location ļ¬nders, sales opportunities and other brand interactions.

The user simply sends the image to a designated short code and SpyderLynk returns device-appropriate, context-specific information. Major brands such as Crayola and Ford have already had success with pilot SnapTag campaigns.

Similar in nature, but requiring a downloaded app, another technology offering new promise for print is Digimarc’s content recognition system. This involves invisible digital watermarks placed in text or images, only visible to the phone, that open up a world of added content possibilities. Imagine scanning over an image or perhaps a news text, printed in hyperlink blue, that generates supplemental content and value-added offers and information. Some publications have tested the program with specifically marked images and content, while others have identified the entire publication as digitally watermarked, offering endless engagement opportunities with readers of content and advertisements alike. Digimarc’s technology extends beyond print and also covers music and video signals as well.

Tactile engagement is still incredibly valuable. The nature of print is both intimate in the way we interact and still somewhat communal in the way we share books, newspapers, etc. These new technologies have the ability to not just support print, but to add value to a brand experience and in turn increase consumption. That’s an opportunity for advertisers to invest and connect with their target markets in more meaningful and unique ways. As readers begin to notice and take advantage of this improved print experience, you can be sure advertisers will take notice.

Stay tuned for Part 3 of this five-part Mobile Marketing Global Forum Series, next week.

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About the Author
Ted Curtin is a recognized strategic marketing leader with over 22 years experience covering online and offline marketing channels. Follow him on Twitter or at TedCurtin.com
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