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Publishers Try to offer More Value with Web-enabled Ads

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Three years ago, Web-enabled print ads were all the rage as publishers tried to shed their old-media image. Bar codes and tags started popping up in titles, inviting cell-phone-equipped readers to shop or get product information by texting or snapping a photo of an ad.

But those “snappable” ads quickly got a bad rap from media buyers, publishers and even the technology providers themselves, who blamed clunky user experiences on long software download times and poor execution.

“I think a lot of magazines last year did it wrong,” said Carlos Lamadrid, senior vp, chief brand officer, Hachette Filipacchi Media’s Woman’s Day Group, who published four Web-enabled ads issues of Woman’s Day this year. Some didn’t explain the ads well to readers, while advertisers fumbled with what types of offers would drive the highest response. (Not surprisingly, free samples and coupons worked the best.) Said Lamadrid: “Just to say ‘Go to my Web site’ doesn’t work.”

Brenda White, senior vp, publishing activation director, Starcom USA, said the technology is still new to the consumer and cumbersome to use. “It needs to take some time to catch on a little bit,” she said.

Providers admit the execution needs work. “Too often, the response has been the URL of the company,” said Adam Shapiro, vp, business development, North America, LinkMe Mobile, formerly SnapNow. “It’s really a lousy experience.”

Magazines say they—and their clients—have learned from experience. Rather than giving up on the technology, they’re committed to using it more in hopes it will show print’s ability to drive reader response.

Three Condé Nast monthlies—Golf Digest, Self and Cookie—are planning to produce their first Web-enabled issues in the near future, using a tag from Microsoft, one of several new players in the space. Other magazine ads also are sweetening incentives. Condé Nast’s GQ, for example, is running a Levi’s ad in November that will send readers a $25 discount off purchase if they snap the ad.

Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia will publish snappable ads in the November issue of Everyday Food, taking learnings from an earlier experiment with Martha Stewart Weddings in which readers mostly got tips from MSLO when they snapped the ads; fewer than 4,000 readers responded. This time, conscious of the need to offer value, Everyday Food will send recipes to readers who snap the relevant ads and enter them in a sweepstakes. And where Weddings devoted a single page to explaining the technology, every EF ad will have its own explanation, explained Sally Preston, senior vp, group publisher, MSLO.

New vendors and features also are changing the game. LinkMe is talking to Condé Nast’s Golf World about letting readers use their mobile to view part or all of an issue on their phone. LinkMe is also planning to roll out voice-activated ads.

Say aloud “Nike tennis shoes in Nov. 3 issue of Woman’s Day,” for example, and product results show up on your phone. And more advertisers are using the technology to drive readers to purchase. “I see this as the next direct-to-consumer channel—to do anything you do online right out of a magazine ad,” said Steve Roberts, CEO of ShopText, another provider.

Buyers, however, remain reluctant to share the cost of the technology until response rates improve (they’re currently hovering around 2 percent).

GQ vp, publisher Peter Hunsinger said advertisers want guaranteed exposure levels, something that’s probably two years off. Still, the tech is becoming a must-have for publishers as advertisers demand it more.

Having the snap option was critical to GQ’s hooking recent ads from Gillette, Lexus and others, Hunsinger noted: “They want a 360 approach to their advertising campaign.”