The latest to offer a print link is Digimarc Corp., which has developed software that reads digital data, such as a URL, embedded in print ads using a camera or scanner connected to a PC. Conde Nast Publications' Wired, which often deploys clever gimmicks to help advertisers break through, will include Digimarc's service with some ads in its July issue. Hearst Corp. also has signed a two-year deal.
Digimarc's MediaBridge service will compete with DigitalConvergence.com, whose technology allows consumers to go into a precise area of a Web site by scanning a printed code or clicking on an icon during TV programming (AA, Jan. 17). DigitalConvergence customer Forbes will mail more than 800,000 subscribers software and scanners to access Web content tied to its September "Best of the Web" supplement. DigitalConvergence is backed by Young & Rubicam, A.H. Belo Corp. and others.
MESSAGE IN A MESSAGE
Other players include Code Corp., which is targeting publishers and catalogers. Its miniature b&w bar code, which calls up a specific Web address when scanned, fits within a line of printed text. Consumer testing of Go Code starts in April in a Charleston, S.C., newspaper and in the May issue of a business-to-business catalog.
With Digimarc's service, a special "d" in the corner of an ad tips readers it can be scanned to reach a specific Web site page.
Wired introduced the so-called digital watermarking technology to advertisers less than two weeks ago; already, Ford Motor Co., Seagram Americas' Absolut vodka and delivery service Kozmo.com plan to embed watermarks in July ads.
Other advertisers were close to committing, said Wired Publisher Drew Schutte, including agency TBWA/Chiat/Day, New York, for a client; communications company Teligent; General Motors Corp.'s positioning system provider OnStar Communications and GM spinoff Delphi Automotive Systems.
In addition, Hearst's two-year deal will have most of its magazines, including Cosmopolitan, Esquire and Good Housekeeping, pitch the technology to advertisers. Popular Mechanics will run such ads in August.
Meanwhile, CEO Bruce Davis said Digimarc was talking with other major publishers. Digimarc sells publishers the software and receives a percentage of ad revenue or a minimum fee for ads sold.
It seems a leap of faith for publishers and advertisers to try a technology that debuts in Wired's July issue, but Mr. Schutte said it's a leap worth taking.
"The initial reaction has been extremely enthusiastic," Mr. Schutte said. "This [is] a way to quantify and measure the impact of ads."
As part of the deal, Digimarc will give away PC cameras to 25,000 Wired readers who respond to a promotion in the May issue and agree to participate in focus group Digimarc Households. Digimarc will share responses as aggregate data with advertisers. About 20% of Wired's 475,000 readers already have PC cameras, Mr. Schutte said.
That's an issue as far as Jupiter Communications Senior Analyst Michele Slack is concerned. "It's not worthwhile for the advertiser to buy what's going to be an enhanced ad buy if there aren't consumers on the other end who can scan the watermark into the PC."
She also said it's "a stretch" to assume consumers read magazines and surf the Net simultaneously, and that they would carry a magazine to a computer to scan it. Finally, a digital watermark is much like a URL in a print ad, Ms. Slack said.
But Mr. Davis is convinced the technology is useful to advertisers.
"People buy the cameras for lots of reasons. So we piggyback on those devices," he said.
Mr. Davis also is banking on the proliferation of Web-enabled wireless devices with integrated cameras, which will make it even easier for consumers to use watermark-embedded print ads to call up Web pages.
Contributing: Amanda Beeler.