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Using action codes to integrate print ads with digital media

Author's avatar By Dave Chaffey 17 Sep, 2012
Essential Essential topic

New research and examples show how the latest QR code approaches integrate with video and Ecommerce

I’ve been taking a look at some of the latest examples of integrating print with digital through ads and statistics of action code usage in the US.  You may know action codes as QR codes, but we're increasingly seeing Action codes used as a generic term for this direct response technique, since QR codes, although the dominant form of action code are technology specific and there other options such as Blippar and Microsoft Tag.

Statistics on action code usage

Nellymoser, Inc., a mobile marketing and technology services company, has some interesting insight on the use of action codes in magazine advertising. To understand how these mobile action codes are being used in magazines, Nellymoser surveyed every issue of the top 100 U.S. magazines by circulation in 2011 and the first six months of 2012. I use the term “action code” since although this accounts for up to 85% of codes used in magazines, there are others notably Microsoft Tag, the second most popular and in the UK Blippar.

%Ads with QR codes

So how are action codes being used by marketers? Nellymoser have a useful report for publishers and advertisers based on an analysis where they scanned every code, activated each campaign, watched each video and completed actions requested for the mobile campaigns.

These were the most common marketing actions:

I was surprised to see video was the highest - I don't think that is the case in the UK and Europe. I've included a couple of examples later in this article.

Nellymoser's analysis shows that most action codes were used for one or more of the following four purposes:

1. Branding and Demonstrations. The largest usage for action codes was to showcase a video (35%). These videos are often created specifically for mobile use. Examples include:

  • A behind-the-scenes look
  • A product demonstration
  • A how-to video
  • An entertaining video

2. Data Capture and List Building (Opt-in / Subscribe / Sweepstakes). Action codes are effective for building databases because readers can respond immediately and wherever they are reading the magazine.

“Smart Sweepstakes” are used to increase scan rates. After a user scans and enters information, the smart sweepstakes retains the user’s entry data from one scan to the next, enabling instant entry and reducing the obstacles to form submission.

3. Commerce (On-line Store, Brick-and-Mortar Store Locator, Coupon)
Readers can immediately scan and act on a desire to purchase. Links to a corporate e-commerce store led the category at 21% followed by in-app store locators at 11%. Some store locators used the phone’s built-in GPS to find the nearest location.

4. Social Media
Action codes were also used to enable Facebook, Twitter and to connect to email. In Q1, 18% of codes enabled readers to share a video link or product information via social media. (NOTE: Only social sharing that was part of the mobile campaign was included. Some video campaigns led to a YouTube Channel, which in turn has a social sharing feature. These were not counted.)

Mobile video advertising using NFC

In 2012 Wired Magazine launched the first major mobile-activated print campaign that used NFC. The Lexus advertisement for the new 2012 Lexus GS included an NFC-embedded chip (near field contactless communication) that triggered an interactive mobile video experience for NFC-capable Android phones.

Augmented Reality campaigns for Smartphones

Sports Illustrated created the first and largest mobile augmented reality (AR) campaign in a U.S. magazine designed specifically for smartphones. The Sports Illustrated NCAA Tournament Preview Issue brought the foldout cover to life with six videos that launched from augmented reality images.

Integrated “content-to-commerce” apps and sites

In September 2012, Seventeen, the teen fashion magazine launched Seventeen Shopping Insider, a mobile shopping companion app for iPhone, iPad and iTouch that unlocks exclusive deals, freebies and style ideas for readers.


The September issue of Seventeen features more than 250 mobile-activated photos and Seventeen-branded icons. Readers may use Seventeen Shopping Insider’s built-in scanner on nearly every fashion or beauty image within the issue’s editorial pages, then save the images to the app’s shopping list. Select editorial items and advertisements feature a Seventeen-branded shopping bag icon, which unlocks discounts, freebies and sweepstakes such as $10 off a purchase of $50 or more at Aéropostale, 20% off full-priced items at G by Guess.

In another example of a “content-to-commerce” venture Adage reports that Harper’s Bazaar has introduced “Shop Bazaar” a website owned by the magazine that features apparel and accessories from its pages, part of magazines’ accelerating push into e-commerce and broader effort to diversify revenue.


See our post on consumer QR use for information on how QR code usage varies in different countries.

Author's avatar

By Dave Chaffey

Digital strategist Dr Dave Chaffey is co-founder and Content Director of online marketing training platform and publisher Smart Insights. 'Dr Dave' is known for his strategic, but practical, data-driven advice. He has trained and consulted with many business of all sizes in most sectors. These include large international B2B and B2C brands including 3M, BP, Barclaycard, Dell, Confused.com, HSBC, Mercedes-Benz, Microsoft, M&G Investment, Rentokil Initial, O2, Royal Canin (Mars Group) plus many smaller businesses. Dave is editor of the templates, guides and courses in our digital marketing resource library used by our Business members to plan, manage and optimize their marketing. Free members can access our free sample templates here. Dave is also keynote speaker, trainer and consultant who is author of 5 bestselling books on digital marketing including Digital Marketing Excellence and Digital Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice. In 2004 he was recognised by the Chartered Institute of Marketing as one of 50 marketing ‘gurus’ worldwide who have helped shape the future of marketing. My personal site, DaveChaffey.com, lists my latest Digital marketing and E-commerce books and support materials including a digital marketing glossary. Please connect on LinkedIn to receive updates or ask me a question.

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