Where Have All The Microsoft Tags Gone?

Last week, I received a Tweet from Microsoft Tag, which asked me to review a recent Tag campaign. Here’s my review.

First, let me briefly describe the campaign. The May issue of Health magazine featured 17 Tags, some of which were editorial and others were advertising. Unfortunately, by the time I went to the newsstand to view the May issue, it was already replaced by the June issue. But all is not lost, because what I ended up seeing, or not seeing, in the June issue, I believe, is more important to discuss here than the review of a Tag-based print ad or two.

When I read through the June issue, there was not one Microsoft Tag to be found. Well, that’s not true, there was one. On one of the editorial pages of the June issue, a Tag was displayed with a block of copy which read, “We Messed Up! One of the mobile tags in our May issue didn’t work. We’re so sorry for the inconvenience. Scan here to see the how-to video with our experts’ tips for great skin.” Great damage control in theory, but when I went to scan this Tag, the video buffered and buffered and buffered, and I never made it past the first 5-10 seconds. So, was the problem really fixed? With all that aside, the real question to ask and greater topic to discuss is, where did all of the Tags go from one issue to the next? 

Was the May issue just a test/experiment and, if so, what kind of test/experiment could it be? How much serious and/or meaningful research and analysis does the magazine’s marketing team expect to find and conduct based on a test/experiment with the frequency of one? While I am not a market research expert, something tells me that one does not make for a statistically sound sample.

Having followed the 2D barcode space for over a year now, I can probably count on one hand the number of advertisers that have regularly used codes as part of their integrated marketing and, by regular, I mean wherever and whenever an ad is placed a 2D code is included. Why should this be? What do companies really think they are gaining or accomplishing by using a code once and then never again? What purpose can this possibly serve? More importantly, how does this type of usage define and/or fit into an overall integrated marketing strategy? In my mind, it doesn’t and can’t.

A couple of months ago, I noticed two major QR Code-based print and in-store campaigns, one by Macy’s the other by Bloomingdale’s, but where are their codes today? I see one Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s print ad after another in newspapers and magazines, but no QR Code can be found. Same when I recently visited both stores.    

Yes, I understand what it means to test and experiment with a new marketing tactic or technology, etc. but, how do advertisers expect to build long-term consumer adoption if, in the short term, codes are only used and/or displayed on a sporadic or worse a one-time basis? With most any other form of marketing, don’t we as marketers test, refine, test, refine, test, refine, until the tactic or strategy delivers the desired results? Why not do the same with 2D technology?


15 thoughts on “Where Have All The Microsoft Tags Gone?

  1. Testing the codes in one issue and then not in the next could be an interesting approach of assessing consumer demand? If they receive requests for more, great, if consumers don't miss them, well, then, so it goes.

    Of course, if the motivation is to standardize the magazine experience to include mobile, then you'd need to run codes for a Year so that you'd pick up adopters along the way.

    I know that all generalizations are wrong (except this one), but, let's generalize about this hybrid magazine/mobile experience for a moment, specifically for women's magazines (dangerous to generalize about women, but that's another discussion):

    Have you ever watched a woman with magazine? It's a very unique experience. It seems (from the outside) to be more “refuge” and a time and place not to infringe on the person's space. Think of it like how some of us go fishing, it's the refuge that matters more than the fish.

    Invading that space and pulling the consumer's attention onto their mobile device? It seems unnatural.

    If you buy into Jann Wenner's theory that magazines on Tablets are a generation away, what's to make you think that print magazines, Codes and mobile today should succeed (essentially, creating a semi-Tablet like experience)?

    The idea that everything in print needs a code on it could be where the problem lies. Sure, Microsoft want their TAGS everywhere as do the QR companies, but being more selective about placement and context might be what results in consumers looking forward to codes instead of turning the page.

  2. Excellent questions! Marketing should have, traditionally speaking, much to do about testing to validate market segments and refine messaging for target audiences. The sporadic nature of use can yield anecdotal data. What customers and marketers are clamoring for is empirical data on the use and demographics behind barcodes. You're absolutely right – consistent implementation will yield results.

  3. Anonymous: Thank you for the comments. I have one major problem with your first comment…do you really believe enough readers are going to go out of their way to contact the magazine and say, hey, show me more codes in the next issue? Because I doubt this would happen, is the magazine then to make the assumption, and potentially wrongfully so, that readers did not like the codes, so they should be kept out of the magazine in the future? Your on and off approach to testing does not seem to make much sense to me.

    With respect to the comment that codes should be on all printed matter, this is not my belief at all. Codes should be used strategically and tactically where and when they make the most sense in the eye's of the consumer, not the brand.

    Lastly, with respect to refuge and the invasion of space, I do not believe a 2D code in a print ad invades anyone's space, because it is up to the consumer to act upon it. What is an invasion of space or, as Seth Godin would say, an interruption, are poorly planned and executed campaigns, 2D or non-2D.

  4. Roger, to your items:

    – True, most consumers don't contact a brand or publication. But in the day and age of social media, people are becoming far more vociferous. People will post on a wall, or send in a tweet, to a brand to express their opinions far more than they used to. And some brands listen. Even a small percentage of responses often generates results. It's not like they have to go to the Post Office and mail in a Letter to the Editor anymore.

    – It's not the code itself that “invades the space” so much as ACTING on the code would invade the space/time. Expecting magazine lovers to change their consumption habits and disrupt a time and habit they count on, is a long-stretch at best.

    I've watched enough women reading magazines and I cannot imagine one of those scenarios where they would also pick up their phone and scan a code in the magazine. Not one.

    Perhaps I just don't believe magazines and mobile are a natural fit. I believe Jann Wenner's recent statements about magazines and tablets is apropos. There may be exceptions to this (with Augmented Reality or some truly valuable mobile offer), but in general I feel the expectation of broad based magazine consumer use of QR will not come to fruition.

  5. Anonymous: Yes, I realize the power of social networking, etc., and how some, some companies actually listen, but effort is required from the consumer, regardless, and if the magazine guesses wrong they stand a chance of disappointing readers. When I say wrong, I am referring to not hearing positive feedback from readers, so they stop making use of codes in the future.

    To your point about invading space…how is a code any different than a URL, Facebook icon, Twitter icon, LinkedIn icon, Yelp icon, Four Square icon, etc. that might appear in a print ad? Could these all not been seen as invasions as well with respect to acting on the icon? Not everyone is on Facebook, or Twitter, etc., so why should that be any different?

    As I have said before, all a code does is serve as a means for the consumer to connect with the brand, nothing more, nothing less. If the consumer wishes to scan the code or is enticed enough to scan the code, so be it. It's only when the code/mobile experience is less than ideal that the brand then has to worry.

  6. “how is a code any different than a URL, Facebook icon, Twitter icon, LinkedIn icon, Yelp icon, Four Square icon, etc. that might appear in a print ad?”

    A code is a definitive call-to-action, while the other print references are passive (unless associated with an adjunct call-to-action.

    The heart of the matter is whether a combined magazine and mobile experience is what consumers want? Do women reading women's magazines also WANT to engage via their phone with ad units?

    Where are magazines mostly consumed (in home) therefore why is this a mobile engagement that's offered via codes?

    My guess is that printing a URL and directing consumers to an online web site, not a mobile site, is equally effective as a QR code. Maybe more so.

    Of course, unless someone does a study on this, we'll never know.

  7. Anonymous: If the other icons were not meant to be acted upon (i.e., passive), why display them in a print ad, billboard, etc.? I assume a brand displays a Facebook icon, because they want consumers, who read their ads, to interact on Facebook. Since most people don't even know what a 2D code is, I would be hard pressed to say that all consumers view them as being active.

    Yes, it is hard to say whether consumers want to interact on a mobile site while reading a magazine, but you know as well as I that we live in a multi-tasking world where almost anything goes. Should people be texting while driving, no, but they do it. So who is to say that women or men don't want to interact on a mobile site while reading a magazine. Yes, perhaps a study should be done and then we would all have some insight, but again no one is forcing a consumer to react to the code…scanning is optional.

  8. While we're parsing words maybe we're getting to the heart of the matter?

    What's the difference between a QR Code (or Tag) and a written URL in print?

    Is there a difference?

    I'd say that a URL, without a specific call to action, is merely a reference point. It is not intrinsically part of the ad and does not indicate that the ad extends to an online experience? Even a Facebook button is more branding than call-to-action or a request for a consumer response.

    But, a QR code is, or should be, intrinsic to an ad and it is specifically a call to engage via a mobile device to extend that experience then and there.

    No one is forcing the consumer to scan a code but if we are not doing our darndest to persuade the consumer to scan the code then we are failing, right? So, a QR code is a persuasive element more so than a reference to a URL or even a “visit us on Facebook” tag.

    It is a multi-tasking world but that doesn't mean that we don't seek refuge in old, familiar habits. I'd posit that magazines represent “analogue time,” that does not mix well with “digital time.” Whereas, watching cable and having a phone by your side plus a laptop open is complementary.

    Magazines are in decline and it could be that the savvy multi-taskers have already abandoned ship?

    My comments are more to the media placement and whether it's even worth placing codes in magazines? I have yet to see one study that indicates consumers like them in magazines and look forward to them?

  9. I feel that we have lack of information regarding two things:
    1) We don't really know what relevant offers the codes gave to the readers in the May issue (the wish to correct a code on the june issue is a bad sign).
    2) We don't know if the rest of the codes workd better.

    Because of this I wouldn't hurry to say that it was bad to stop the code integration.
    Maybe they actualy received bad comments.
    Regarding the use of codes in magazines well I am sure that anyone, man or woman, that can gain value from the scan will do it as much, if not more, as they would by eneterin to facebook Etc.

  10. Anonymous: Points well taken…and yes, perhaps it is time to conduct this type of research. The question is, who will be bold enough to do so? Advertisers, agencies, code providers, publishers, etc.?

  11. I can give a little update here. One sponsor of my blog is now using them and actually gave me a nice area to write an article about their use for FDA recalls. I'll give some links here if you want to look at Micro-Cap review magazine for investors. Microsoft community in Tags also featured it. There will be more in upcoming issues and the magazine comes out once a quarter and is distributed through the financial district in New York.


    The article talks about a man who died needlessly due to the valve clamp being missed from being pulled from hospital inventory.

    In addition we have J and J with Baby Wipes now having tags and I posed the question of is this a baby step for them with bar codes as I have friends who work there with technology and this suggestion has been sent to their headquarters many times:)


    Right now too the FDA has been grilled about their poor system of recalls so I'll keep the fire burning here as this one technology can solve and help many evils.

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