Making a Marc
Digimarc's MediaBridge fastens print advertising to the Internet.
It used to be that beaming anything up was a product of science fiction, not the real world. But things have changed. And in July, Digimarc's MediaBridge will debut in Wired magazine, creating a vehicle for Internet-enabled advertisements to go from print to the Web in one step. Digimarc is banking on a forecast estimating that more people will own digital imaging devices at home and that accessibility to the technology will encourage consumers to scan in rather than type out.
Even without the use of search engines, directories or portals, getting to the Internet has never been so easy, according to Digimarc. MediaBridge, works by allowing printed materials—such as magazines, direct mailers, credit cards, catalogs and tickets—to become portals to the Internet. At the creative stages, digital watermarks are imperceptibly embedded on hard copy. Once printed, the watermarked material directly links viewers to Web destinations by launching Web-based applications that are read by image-capture devices, such as scanners or digital cameras. The Web pages, a value-added resource, are specified by the owners of the content. For example, when readers turn to Ford Motor Company's advertisements in Wired this summer, they will see the Digimarc logo denoting that it's MediaBridge-enabled. By holding the ad up to a tethered digital camera, the reader will be taken directly to the Ford Web site. The embedded data literally creates a bridge between traditional and online media through the image capture devices that are connected to personal computers.
Homegrown in Lake Oswego, OR, Digimarc CEO Bruce Davis says, "We hope to be ubiquitous … Word's getting around."
Not only does Davis promise a new wave in communications, but the technology has been used to provide solutions for copyrighting by deterring counterfeiting, piracy and unauthorized uses of content. Davis says that watermarks are undetectable, but operate in analog and digital environments, initially inspired by an industry-wide concern among professional photographers who worry about copyright infringement.
"We've been the pioneers in digital watermarking since the early '90s," says Davis, "It should fundamentally alter the balance of the Internet and printed publications."
In 1997, Wired first reported on Digimarc's watermarking in conjunction with a feature about copyrighting images online. Several years later and with expectations to reach more than a dozen magazines this quarter, Digimarc reports that with more than 3.2 million pages added to the Internet daily, a technology that will eliminate wading through content in favor of direct connection not only pleases advertisers courting consumers, but also publications that set out to please advertisers. Davis assures that MediaBridge allows consumers to speed past clutter and competition. "If Ford wants you to go to their Web page to learn more about a car that you're hopefully going to buy," he suggests, "Ford doesn't want you to see Chevy's banner ad. The purpose of all magazine advertising is to create purchase opportunity. We've eliminated the laborious process getting from print to the Internet. … Now, there's more control of the brand," he surmises.
But Tricia Hill, production manager at ST Publications, Cincinnati, is a little skeptical. "I could certainly see how an evolution of this technology might be the future of digital advertising. It will undoubtedly find adherence with some people. However, I do not see many people choosing to use this technology immediately if they are able to use the mouse or keyboard," she admits.
But in an age when Neilson-Net Ratings' Market Fax Survey
estimates that 62 percent of consumers are inspired to go online based on print media, instant connection is crucial.
Davis claims that digital watermarking does not put a dent in production schedules or bottom lines. By providing digital ads with a specified URL, Digimarc's router handles the traffic, channeling online consumers to the site corresponding with the advertisement.
"We use [an Adobe] Photoshop plug-in" to embed during prepress, adds Davis.
To promote usability, Digimarc also recently signed letters of intent with 3Com, Santa Clara, CA; Logitech, Fremont, CA; Ezonics, Pleasanton, CA; Xirlink, San Jose, CA; and PARS Technologies, Newport News, VA, to bundle MediaBridge reader software with their digital cameras. It is uncertain as to whether the agreements will materialize in time for the first watermarking launch, but in time, Davis estimates that combined, these manufacturers represent approximately 60 percent of the digital camera market overall. It's the means, he says, to the masses.
"By incorporating Digimarc's MediaBridge into the packaging of our digital cameras, we're adding value to the product for our customers," further remarks Michael Ostwind, director of sales and marketing, Ezonics.
"Traditional portals to the Internet such as search engines have become clogged with a glut of information," he adds. "Consumers can use Digimarc's product and a digital camera to cut through that clutter."
Joel Barthelmy, founder and CEO of PARS Technology, agrees, "MediaBridge technology is easily one of the most exciting new ways to effortlessly access information in our digital age. … Seeing is connecting."
Vince Marini, an independent direct mail specialist, also favors the software's potential. "I think it's a wonderful add-on," he offers. Marini is enthusiastic about the potential the direct connectivity offers for not just publications, but also credit card access and e-commerce engines.
But Dan Brill, publisher and editor of Graphic Exchange, Toronto, is much less enthusiastic about MediaBridge's promise.
"I, for one," espouses Brill, "will not be championing this technology with my advertisers in the near future." Instead, he rallies for manual data entry for Web access, because, he asserts, "We already [have] a cost-efficient mechanism for detecting a vendor's Web site address. … It's called eyes, … which require no additional capital."
Coming of age
But Davis is quite confident that Internet connectivity originated by print will inevitably satisfy many e-commerce curiosities, not to mention further wed the print media/Web media relationship.
"As URLs grow to be hundreds of characters long, it will not be feasible to type in a Web address," claims Davis. "Consumers will increasingly turn to digital cameras to directly access the information they desire."
This is why he anticipates that the digital watermarking set to debut this summer will impact the publications market. It's not enough to be in print; multi-media is in vogue now and the goal is to "bring the page to life."
-Natalie Hope McDonald