Despite gloomy predictions around its demise, print has undergone a quiet revolution of late, with technologies including augmented reality, printed electronics and near-field communications injecting life into the much-loved medium. Katie McQuater takes a look.
It’s well documented that the attention span of the modern consumer has reduced since the days before computers. We’re living in an age of constant digital connection, with the proliferation and increased intuitiveness of smartphones meaning we remain switched on 24/7.
The impact on our psyche is debatable – but certainly it has changed our attitudes to print. With many preferring the quick fix, instant delivery of online content to consumption of a printed magazine or newspaper, publishers and brands have a challenge on their hands to ensure they engage and interest their audiences.
Technologies such as augmented reality, printed electronics and NFC are paving the way for a new type of content consumption in the digital age – and by integrating the tangibility of print with the immediacy of digital, they are injecting new life into one of the oldest mediums, allowing print to become more interactive, engaging and useful.
From Harry Potterification to relevant, engaging experiences
According to Jess Butcher, co-founder and CMO of image-recognition platform Blippar, it’s less about what she refers to as the “Harry Potterification” of newspapers and magazines, and more about the opportunity the technology offers brands and publishers to engage with audiences in ways not previously possible. This is, according to Butcher, the biggest benefit interactivity can bring to print.
“Interactivity in print invigorates the reader experience by allowing them to vote on, engage with and respond personally to the content in a way that wasn’t previously possible.
“I see this as possibly more exciting than the ‘digital bridge’ functionality – which certainly offers a value, but is it enough to drive a whole new behaviour?”
Blippar has worked with a number of publishers in the UK and US to incorporate additional content into their publications using its image-recognition technology, which overlays an image, video or gaming content over a page, or transfers users to a website. Butcher says the technology has evolved since QR codes and other “stepping stone technologies” which involved the user scanning an unattractive bar code on an article or piece of print. Because the technology works by recognising an image, Butcher argues that the power lies in “unlocking” the physical world rather than the fact content appears augmented.
Printed electronics practitioner Novalia has developed a number of concepts incorporating traditional print with electronics using conductive inks – a process that has a number of opportunities for brands once it enters production. Kate Stone, founder and MD of Novalia, argues that the future lies in integrating physical printed objects with digital, rather than technology for technology’s sake.
“People were predicting a Harry Potter style newspaper and a Minority Report style high street with flashing screens, but I believe that the future will look more like the past than the present,” Stone tells The Drum.
“People in the future will be over the futuristic. They will want a book to look like and feel like a book, but with all the technology discreetly embedded in it for people to use. It’s not about having technology in people’s faces. It’s about allowing people to have immersive, simple and intuitive experiences.”
The process involves an electronic module placed onto a page or printed product covered in conductive inks printed in the conventional method, meaning that it can be reproduced on any printer.
The result is what Stone calls a “massively enhanced user experience” that can bring posters and other printed media to life using sound and LED. One example is a drum kit poster that emits the sound of drums when touched. Depending on the version of the poster, the sound is either emitted via the user’s smartphone or tablet, or via a speaker within the poster itself.
“The technology can allow traditional print to start to approach the experience that people have with online and computers,” says Stone.
The extension of print messaging using a digital platform
Near-field communications, or NFC, is being used to bring some of the digital experience to printed media such as magazines as well as posters. Though still in its infancy, the technology was recently used by Wired magazine and Lexus to allow readers to access a demo of the Lexus app by holding their (NFC-enabled) phone up to the ad. Unlike AR apps or barcode scanning, the technology doesn’t require use of the phone’s camera and instead automatically detects the NFC chip.
Dom O’Brien, creative innovation at Isobar, explains that NFC provides that sweet spot in interactive print – the ability to bridge the gap between the physical and digital world.
“NFC enables brands to create effortless, streamlined consumer experiences where exclusive content is transferred to your phone without the need to scan a QR code or type in long web addresses. It enables print to extend its messaging onto a digital platform, delivering a more interactive experience for the consumer.”
The challenges of using NFC in mainstream print production, according to O’Brien, lie in cost and availability, with the cost of producing and programming NFC tags prohibiting the technology being used on a large scale. The fact the technology is available only on a limited number of smartphones creates another large barrier to implementation.
Changing consumer perceptions – and offering real value
The association of NFC with contactless payments is another barrier to big brand adoption, says O’Brien, who says brands have a job to do in educating people about the experience they can get from an NFC-enabled piece of communication.
“In order to move NFC beyond being used for monetary transactions, brands will need to educate people that ‘touching’ an NFC enabled message will lead to a new, desirable experience rather than just being driven directly to purchase.”
This is a point echoed by Blippar’s Butcher, who explains that brands and publishers need to educate consumers about the benefits of interactive print and what reward they will get for ‘blipping’ the page.
The other challenge for publishers and brands in creating interactive print experiences is lack of resource for content creation, says Butcher.
“Publishers are lagging behind in terms of content, and we face a cumulative challenge in working with both the advertisers and editorial teams to ensure the content is relevant and engaging for the audience.”
In November 2012, men’s lifestyle magazine ShortList used Blippar to create a fully interactive gaming issue, which included a playable front cover and interactive content throughout. Blippar recorded almost 230,000 ‘blipps’, with an average dwell time of 6.24 minutes.
Other brands and publishers making use of the technology include Maybelline, which built augmented reality into a press ad to allow users to trial 40 different colours of nail polish, and the Independent, which incorporated augmented reality into its daily editorial mix earlier this year.
Zach Leonard, managing director of digital at The Independent, tells The Drum: “Independent+, powered by Blippar, directly supports our strategy to engage our readers and users across print and online, as well as delivering valuable cross-media solutions for our commercial partners.”
Meanwhile, Canada-based Glacier Media recently rolled out augmented reality in over 10 of its local newspapers using Layar. “After rolling it out and training the sales, operational and editorial teams, augmented reality is now tightly integrated in Glacier Media’s business,” Layar co-founder Maarten Lens-Fitzgerald tells The Drum.
“All sales people have sold enhanced ads, all newspapers have editorial AR, and the publisher is making more money with AR. That’s innovation on a wide scale. And they are now rolling it out over more newspapers.”
Lens-Fitzgerald reiterates the point that behavioural change is what will drive uptake of interactive print as more consumers grow to understand its value.
“Over the next year more projects will go live that are of value to people and to the companies that launched them. People will grow to trust the fact they can hold their phone over print and get a good, useful and fun experience. It’s not about features, it’s about frictionless and meaningful usage.”
Novalia’s Kate Stone believes that the behavioural change around print in the future can be compared to the expectation people have that sinks in public bathrooms now have automatic taps, saying: “I think there will be that transition where we won’t even realise that things have changed. We’ll touch a poster and we’ll be surprised if it doesn’t do anything.”
“Things will look like they did in the past but they will have this experience embedded into them in a very subtle immersive way.”
Paper and print has always been at the forefront of learning and valuable experiences. While it may not be an obvious pairing, innovations in digital technology are starting to inspire publishers and brands who believe in the benefit of combining the two into an interactive yet tangible experience for consumers. The result is an exciting, almost limitless new era for print.
This article is published as part of The Drum's Paper & Print supplement (2 August 2013). To purchase a copy of the supplement, visit The Drum store.