News Corp's U.K. tabloid newspaper The Sun is linking print to mobile phones in an effort to make the paper more interactive and enable more efficient ROI measurement for advertisers. The system uses barcodes called Quick Response or QR codes to grant users access to Internet content on their cell phones.
"We are always looking for new ways to make the newspaper more interactive," said Ian Samuel, head of digital advertising for News International, News Corp's U.K. arm. QR codes enable us to deliver great editorial and advertiser content with ease."
Advertisers already making use of the service with The Sun include Ladbrokes, a sports booking service, and Twentieth Century Fox, which recently offered a video trailer download of the newly released Hitman movie.
The printed QR codes are read by a program that utilizes the phone's camera to translate the code into a Web link. The link can then be followed to retrieve online content, hence removing the need to type lengthy URLs into a mobile browser, and better track readers as they go from print to digital.
"Most users are not interested in entering long Web addresses or navigating menus on their mobile," Samuel said. "QR codes offer a fast track to the exact information they are looking for."
In addition, the system may provide what traditional print advertising has never had in a detailed fashion: measurability. The codes could enable advertisers to directly measure the effectiveness of QR-enabled print campaigns through the amount of traffic received.
Although perhaps more suited to the music and entertainment sectors, Samuel outlined a number of other uses and opportunities for advertisers. For example, instead of printing prices that may change on a daily or hourly basis, the advertiser may publish a link to up-to-the-minute information.
Alternatively, there is a clear possibility to use the codes as vouchers. Instead of tearing a coupon from the newspaper, a user could scan a code, and present the resulting data at a retail outlet to receive discounts or special offers.
The use of QR codes in print publications is reminiscent of the short-lived Cue Cat barcode reader, a device distributed to magazine and catalog readers in 2000 to connect them automatically from print to specific Web pages. While that device proved unsuccessful, advantages of the QR system are its ease of use and device portability. The majority of mobile phones do not come with a full keyboard, so without such a system, the need to input URLs can act as an immediate deterrent for a reader. Plus, most mobile users carry their phones with them throughout the day.
Although the technology will be new to most U.K users, the software is already being preinstalled on some Nokia handsets and is available for download on others. "The technology is still in its infancy in the U.K., but I am confident that it will become commonplace over the next couple of years. The tipping point will be when the software starts coming preinstalled on all handsets" said Samuel.
QR codes are already in widespread use throughout Japan, and are by no means restricted to print media. A 10x10 meter code appeared last year on the side of an apartment block in Hiroshima City, and they are being used on business cards as an alternative to entering contact information manually to mobile devices.
One clear limitation of the codes however is the fact that that most users will still be charged by their network providers to download the content. In effect, the user could be paying to receive advertising.
"Data charging is an issue at present, and there's no doubt that users are wary of how much they are paying" stated Samuel. "However, network operators need to address this, and I am confident that they will do so soon. I would expect mobile data to be completely free within the next couple of years."
Thus far, the QR test has been going well, according to Samuel. "We have had a huge amount of interest, and it's highly likely that we will be using them across News International titles in the future."
Jack Marshall was a staff writer and stats editor for ClickZ News from 2007 until August 2011.
May 22, 2013
1:00pm ET / 10:00am PT
June 5, 2013
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