Analysis of Mobile in Print Ads Series

Part 1: Volkswagen

Bryce MarshallThe May issue of Wired magazine (the printed version) was of special interest to me. Within the few pages at the front of the magazine, there were 4 full-page ads (one was a two-page spread) for major consumer brands, each featuring different mobile response methods to entice readers to engage further on their smartphones.
I found this very interesting for a couple of different reasons.
First, the ads demonstrated still-rare diversity in thinking among brands (and their agencies) on how to best encourage consumers to engage through their mobile devices – through SMS, QR codes, MS Tag, and/or Google Goggles. The second reason I found this interesting is these four ads represented a microcosm of the continuing challenges brands face in getting mobile response right. Some elements were executed extremely well, while some fell short in leveraging the capability of mobile to its full potential.

I’ll provide my review of each of the four ads. Let’s start with Volkswagen.

VW uses SMS

The first of the four was VW’s full page ad for the 2011 Touareg Hybrid, just opposite the Wired table of contents page. Bucking the recent trends of brands throwing around QR codes with abandon, VW’s mobile response offering was through SMS. The very simple and well-worded call to action: (below) “See the story behind the Touareg supercharged hybrid. Text HYBRID3 to 892277 to unlock the video.”

When the key word is texted to VW’s short code, the response is equally well worded and offers a link to the video, as well as the option to opt-in for additional messaging. “The all-new Touareg Hybrid is a Rare Beast. See its origin, anatomy & habitat: Reply Y to stay in the loop. Msg & data rates may apply.”

VW is making the most of SMS knowing this allows the greatest potential audience to interact via their mobile device. Even though the received SMS message links to a mobile web site (on the right) (which limits the potential audience to those with a suitable device and broadband connection), I like the additional option to continue the engagement through SMS alone. All too often SMS is abandoned too early by brands in their haste to transfer users to a mobile web page or device app.

Here’s the downfall: there is no harmony between the print ad, the SMS messaging, and the mobile site. The CTA in the print ad talks about how to “unlock the video.” The SMS response refers to a “Rare Beast with an origin, anatomy, and habitat.” These are safari-like themes that are non-existent in the print ad. And the worst element of the execution is the mobile web site linked from the SMS contains neither a video nor any reference to a Beast whatsoever. It is a very mild, very information-filled, and very mobile-optimized page for the Touareg within VW’s mobile site. I would have been happy to find this mobile web page in any other circumstance. But since I was promised a video, and then promised something exotic and safari-themed, the resulting web experience was far different than what I was expecting, and therefore disappointing. While each of these tactics – print, SMS and mobile web – is itself very well executed each seems to be part of separate campaigns that were hastily or wrongly threaded together.

Part 2: Kohler
Kohler Using QR codes

Flip 7 pages forward to find Kohler’s full-page ad for their Flipside line of shower heads. Kohler uses a straightforward QR code – one-color, black, no customizations – at the bottom of the ad.
Thankfully it is large enough to scan well. The QR code links the users’ smartphone to a mobile-optimized page dedicated to the Flipside product line. So at a basic level, the execution of this campaign is very sound.

Two issues: the mystery code and the dead end.

I’m continually fascinated by brands that continue to use what I call the “mystery code” approach, and the fact that the mobile web site leveraged does not have the appropriate content for the application.

The QR code in the ad sits on its own with no supporting copy. There is no call-to-action, no description of the valuable content or experience the consumer will benefit from by taking the time to scan the code, and no explanation of how to participate if the user needs a reminder (or needs a URL to download a QR code reader). This is classic application of the “mystery code” approach, where the lack of any call to action or value proposition means only consumers who are extremely curious and have previous knowledge and comfort with scanning QR codes, will participate. This is a poor approach for creating a compelling reason for a larger audience of users to participate.

When you scan the QR code to reach the mobile web site (on the right), the execution is sound. The site provides a ton of content specific to the shower head model featured in the ad. There is a functional video link (though it links to Kohler’s YouTube site) for some nice engagement. Technical information is provided in addition to ability to download information on installation. However, there is no way for the consumer to act: no way to navigate to a page where a user can buy the shower head, no tool for finding a nearby retailer, no phone number to call to order. So even if the ad and the mobile site have done their job and compelled a user to want this product, Kohler has lead the user down a dead-end street.

Stay tuned on Friday and next week for my analysis of the final two ads.

Part 3: Buick
Buick steps outside the box

There’s a lot to like about Buick’s 2-page spread for the Buick Regal Turbo. Buick is clearly trying to update their brand image to appeal to younger buyers. To bring this point home, Buick leverages Google Goggles as their mobile response technology. At the bottom right of the ad is a subtle Goggles icon. Just below the icon in the bottom right border of the ad is a refreshingly clear call-to-action statement: “Unlock this ad’s interactive features.
Photograph this entire ad with Google Goggles on Android or iPhone.” I’m excited that Buick is experimenting with mobile response methods beyond 2D barcodes, SMS, or mobile URLs. But knowing that this process (and Google Goggles itself) may be unfamiliar to some users, they provide explicit instructions (though I would have liked to see a short statement on the need to download Google Goggles from the Android or iPhone app stores).

Google Goggles is a nice tool, though I’m not sure how many day-to-day consumers are familiar with how it works. Essentially it’s a visual search tool: when you use Goggles app to scan an image of anything, it kicks off a Google search based on image recognition. In essence Buick is asking users to use Goggles to recognize the print ad, and direct the user the matching information, which happens to be Buick’s mobile web site for the campaign.

Here’s the price of experimentation though. First users must scan the entire print ad for this to work. In order for the Goggles app to scan the entire 2-page ad, you have to hold the phone a good 2-3 feet above the ad. This is problematic if the magazine is sitting on your lap. I had to set the magazine flat on a table, stand up, and hold my phone at chest-level in order for this to work.

Once Goggles has recognized the print ad, the app brings up the search results based on that image. Fortunately for Buick, the first search result is the link to the mobile-optimized site (at right) for the campaign. But there are more problems. Don’t hold your phone high enough above the magazine to scan the entire ad? Goggles also recognizes parts of the ad, and the search results are different. In one case Goggles recognized only the headline in the ad, and the search results took me to a Google page with dozens of results most with links to Buick’s standard, non-mobile website. When I first scanned the entire ad with Goggles, the app listed two additional search results below the link to Buick’s web page – and neither result was anything Buick wanted to be a part of. We must remember that Goggles is a visual search engine, and apparently Buick cannot (or did not want to) limit results to only the intended destination. This is a bit of an issue.

Buick gets high marks for creating the best mobile web destination among these 4 examples discussed in this series. The site is very tied-in with the campaign, offers 3 short videos for effective but quick engagement opportunities, and a single CTA to “discover more” which links to the Regal’s product page on, where an interested user can view additional details and find a dealer. Nice work.

Part 4: Porsche
Porsche customizes their MS Tag

Towards the middle of the book is Porsche’s full page ad for their “Porsche Everyday” campaign – essentially selling the Porsche brand as a legitimate option for everyday driving, regardless of your activity or geography. The ad features a customized MS Tag at the top right of the ad, which is ambitious and effective placement for a 2D barcode because it is one of the first things you see when you flip the page to the Porsche ad. Too often the 2D barcodes are relegated to a bottom corner in print ads.

The customized MS Tag (one-color black with a faint silhouette of a Porsche drawn over the Tag) is a double-edged sword.

Their customization effectively erases most of the distinguishing characteristics of the MS Tag code format: the CMYK color scheme and the triangle shapes. What is left is a 2D code that is not immediately recognizable as a 2D code – which is both a benefit and a drawback. The code blends more harmoniously with the ad layout than the garish default MS Tag look would, but this also means consumers may not recognize it for what it is, and most importantly that only the MS Tag reader app can be used to scan the Tag. This is a critical point because MS Tag’s technology is proprietary. If the consumer can’t recognize the 2D code as a Tag (and if there is no supporting copy identifying it as a Tag), they will spend a lot of time trying to scan the Tag with their QR code reader app.

In all fairness to Porsche, there is fine-type copy above the Tag stating “Get the free reader app at The issue is this copy blends in precisely with the other fine-type copyright and disclaimer copy at the top of the ad.

Porsche also falls victim to the “mystery code” temptation, associating no call-to-action with the MS Tag or attempting to illustrate the experience or value the user will gain from scanning. Between this and the customized Tag, I wonder if overall response is negatively impacted. Once the Tag is scanned, Porsche’s execution of the mobile site is extraordinary.

The “Porsche Everyday” campaign is anchored by a very creative, very engaging wired-web microsite. The URL to this site is clearly the primary call-to-action of the entire ad. When scanning the MS Tag the user is linked to a mobile-optimized adaptation of the campaign microsite, and it is executed very effectively. Considering the relative complexity of the wired microsite, the mobile adaptation is an extraordinary effort that delivers a good degree of the engagement of the wired site, while still standing up on its own as an effective web destination.
For the simple fact that the elements of Porsche’s mobile response tactics work in harmony together – from the campaign concept to print ad execution, 2D code execution, and the mobile web destination – their effort gets highest marks among the four ads. This is not to discount Buick’s simple and effective mobile web page, or VW’s logical use of SMS as standout performances. Altogether these ads illustrate the fact that effective use of mobile response methods is based on thoughtful execution in consideration of the advertising context, and careful coordination of multiple online and offline elements.

So what do you think? Is there an example you’d like my two cents about? I invite you to leave a comment.

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  1. […] brand effectively, multi-channel matters. We’ve talked before about the use of mobile, and how some brands do a better job than others. Having a solid user experience is obviously critical. (Knotice has the team and technology to […]

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