Decoded: How Many Readers Really Use Magazine Ads' 2-D Barcodes

Among Readers Who Saw Ads with Codes, 4% Snapped a Picture, Gfk MRI Starch Research Says

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A page from a Microsoft ad that got high responses.
A page from a Microsoft ad that got high responses.

As quickly as interactive 2-D barcodes and symbols have spread through magazines -- check out Glamour's September issue, where you can scan Social SnapTags to "like" an advertiser on Facebook and get special offers -- it's been hard to tell how many readers actually use the things.

It's fairly easy to find success stories, of course, such as Allure's "Free Stuff" issue, whose readers recently scanned Microsoft Tags more than 200,000 times in just three days. But what about the tech in general? Do readers get it? Do they want it?

New research is finally offering a better view of magazines and 2-D barcodes.

Four percent of magazine readers who noted ads with 2-D barcodes in the first half of this year actually took out their phones and snapped a picture at least once, according to GfK MRI Starch Advertising Research.

Many ads did better: a Porsche ad in Men's Journal, a Microsoft Office ad in Working Mother and a bedding ad in Hemispheres, the in-flight magazine, all made GfK MRI Starch's list of the best-performing ads with 2-D barcodes. Among the people who saw the Porsche ad in Men's Journal, for example, 17% took a picture of its code.

Advertisers hardly need to use a code to get people engaged. By comparison, 14% of people who noticed any magazine ad in the first half of the year responded by visiting the advertiser's website, presumably primarily through traditional routes such as search engines or the address bar.

2-D barcodes got a better response among men than women: 6% of men who noticed ads with codes photographed at least one in the first half of the year, while 4% of women did the same, GfK MRI Starch found.

And younger people were more likely to activate the codes than older people: 6% of readers between 18 to 34 years old who noted ads with the codes took a picture, according to GfK MRI Starch, compared with 3% of people age 35 and up.

Getting 4% of magazine readers who spot a code to actually activate it is pretty impressive, said Garrick Schmitt, managing director for experience and platforms at Razorfish. "I think that 's a lot, considering it's an emerging technology," he said.

Marketers should keep exploring the codes, especially considering their low cost to use, Mr. Schmitt said.

The findings are a welcome reference and a starting point for further analysis, said Nicole Skogg, CEO of SpyderLynk, the company behind SnapTags. They'll help advertisers understand what to expect, for example, and see what works.

Further research is necessary, Ms. Skogg added. The gender difference, for example, may well reflect more about the ads themselves or their offers than a big difference between men and women. "I'd want to look at how many were targeted toward men more than women, whether the offers were more valuable to men than women," she said. "We've probably done more female-focused work, at least for magazines, and we've definitely seen some very high response rates."

The findings closely follow a study released Friday on code activation across all venues, including product packaging, posters, storefronts, brochures, TV, the internet, magazines and newspapers. ComScore found that 6.2% of mobile users in the U.S. activated a code in June. People were most likely to scan codes in print and on product packaging, ComScore said.

GfK MRI Starch conducts syndicated online surveys throughout the year, interviewing more than 720,000 respondents to measure all national magazine ads at least one-third of a page or larger in every issue of 193 titles.

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