Claire Beale On Advertising: Print gets augmented reality check

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The Independent Online

Something's stirring on the nation's newsstands. Literally. You think print's dead? Not this month it's not. It's alive and strutting.

Florence Welch was dancing on the cover of last week's Grazia. Hold a copy up to your iPhone to see a virtual performance of "You've got the Love". It's called Augmented Reality and if that leaves you wanting more you could try the May issue of GQ, where Calvin Klein is running the brand's first augmented reality ad campaign. Hold the mag up to your webcam and watch four short films promoting X Underwear.

Exciting, isn't it. Print has finally found a way to do something that the web has being doing (better) for years. But don't mock. For a medium that has officially been left behind by the digital revolution, print has now found a way to join in the game. And as anyone chasing commercial revenue knows, you've got to have a digital bandwagon for advertisers to jump on if you want to keep pace with marketing fashion and get your snout into the swelling digital purse.

Augmented Reality is just the start. How about actually embedding video into the printed page? Renault and its media agency OMD have just launched what they claim is the first "video-in-print" ad in Europe. The ad ran on a 2mm, paper-thin video player inserted into Portugeuse news magazine Sebado. Six films about the Renault marque could be played on the "page" using touch-sensitive buttons on the screen, bringing ten minutes of interactive sight-and-sound to the – oh let's be honest – terribly static and rather one dimensional print medium.

Naturally, on this side of the Atlantic we're only really playing catch-up with the US print market, where Entertainment Weekly last autumn ran a video previewing CBS shows. Working with technology company Americhip – whose corporate positioning is centred on "multi-sensoring" brands – the CBS films also involved product placement for Pepsi Max. Oh, and the video could play continuously for an hour and the battery could be recharged if you really hadn't had enough of it by then. It's sophisticated stuff, though it does all leaving you wondering "Why?".

Why should print feel the need supplement its unique, intimate relationship with its readers by offering them a rather less satisfying version of a media experience they can get from TV or the web? Is our obsession with "digital" making us paranoid that the traditional, tried-and-tested and much-loved analogue print experience is less valuable or worthy? Augmented Reality and video in print are exciting experiments and – for the moment – great PR opportunities. But it's far from certain that there's any long-term play here.

According to a new report called "Innovations in Magazines" from publishing body FIPP, D Tagging could be actually be the first viable technical breakthrough for print advertising. Tags are certainly a more practical option for the advertiser looking to add a little digital zing to their print work. The tags work with smartphone technology and a barcode that you take a picture of with your mobile, which then links you through to additional content like discount vouchers, videos, extra information.

Although this sort of tagging technology has been around in Japan for almost a decade, last month Microsoft launched it's own tagging system, called (da, da!) "Tag", which could give the concept a new lease. Unlike earlier tagging systems Microsoft's can encode text and video content, not just website addresses. Crucially the system has been developed with the advertiser top of mind; Microsoft analytics can track and interpret transactions and provide vital feedback for marketers on how many people look up each tag and what their demographic profile is like.

What all this does demonstrate is the appetite that smart publishers have for driving innovation in their medium. And the good news for recession-hit publishers is the appetite that advertisers have for exploring new print advertising opportunities – even ones that involve some investment and experimentation.

Best in show: Stella Artois (Mother)

It's no surprise that Stella Artois makes brilliant ads. It's famous for them (in adland at least). The only surprise has been the dichotomy between the ads and the reputation of the brand on the streets (in the early hours of an inner-city Sunday morning). Which is where the 4 per cent variant comes in: weaker, fresher, and accompanied by a very smooth advertising strategy by Mother. The latest TV commercial, all south of France retro chic, is another cheeky ad that does a fine job of positioning the brand for a younger, cooler demographic. Stella will need to keep the marketing pace up, though. The taste of the "Wife Beater" still lingers.