Monthly Archives: January 2014

Shape Magazine Tries Alternate Reality But Fails to Engage

Today’s post explores what has sometimes been called the future of mobile engagement, alternate reality (AR). While still in it’s infancy due to the complexity of implementing and the need for yet another app on the consumer’s part, some commercial efforts are out there. Below we experience a very rough implementation and learn how not to use AR.


Not long ago I was visiting my sister and picked up one of her fitness magazines, the September issue of Shape. I decided to thumb through it to see if there was much use of QR codes or even the ill-fated Microsoft Tag. There were a few QR codes, which I scanned of course, but there was also this on page 10:

image: Layar CTA

Interesting! I happened to be familiar with Layar, the developer of Alternate Reality (AR) technology, from some research my students had done a year or so ago. In a nutshell, AR uses a phone’s camera and other sensors to layer (no pun intended) a digital experience on top of an otherwise physical environment. I was going to have to download their app so I knew this wasn’t going to be a quick endeavor but I never would have thought the whole thing took as long as it did.

First, I had to get the app so I headed to Google Play, tapped in “layar” (it would have been handy to have a QR code in the magazine for this) and downloaded the app. Once downloaded I opened the app which forced me to swipe my way past 4 promotional pages to get to the Start Now! button. The time required for all this was starting to add up. With the app open I did as instructed and scanned page 10. After quite a bit of fiddling with how much of the image to include in the viewfinder the images in the viewfinder began to glow with a blue outline. It continued to glow for quite awhile (tick-tock, tick-tock) when a rotating gear showed on the screen. I don’t know what it is or what it means but it was rotating on my screen for a very, very long time.

image: Layar Shape Animation Layar Loading Image

Just as my patience was getting short the spinning gears gave way to a little blue button inviting me to “Click for More Details”.

image: Layar Button Animation

What? No fancy 3D graphics or cool animation of the model? All this for a frigging button??

And details on what? I scanned the entire 2-page spread, what exactly am I to get details on? Confused, I tap the blue button and the Layar app presents me with a selection of women’s clothing from Macy’s. None of which appeared to be the items worn by the model in the magazine.

image: Layar - Shape - Macy's Page

Perhaps the sports-bra thingy was the same but it was a different color and on a different model – this one brunette rather than blond. The pants and shoes on the model in the magazine were nowhere to be found. Where are those details??

At this point I was several minutes into this little experiment and my sister had wandered off having been ignored the entire time.



What could have saved this campaign?

Overall this was a ridiculous exercise in technology that did nothing that a QR code couldn’t do. The point of AR is to create a more engaging experience. That’s the payoff. I’m not sure who was really driving this experiment, Layar or Macy’s, but here’s what needed to happen.

1) Use a QR code. If all you want to do is present people with an opportunity to shop then use a technique that people are likely to be familiar with and for which they are already equipped. Readers of Shape probably know how to scan a QR code and it is certainly more likely they have a QR scanning app than a Layar app.

2) If asking people to download a new app, familiarize themselves with it, and learn to use it in order to “Snap and Shop” there had better be a dazzling payoff. Layar or whomever handled the technology side of this needed to animate the page in some way. For example, they could have had pop-out bubbles that pointed to each clothing item and gave details on that item. Tapping the bubble could then take you to that item on the Macy’s page.

3) Finally, the landing page needed to have only the items featured on the page I scanned. What else would have caused me to scan the page to shop? Mobile is about impulse so it needs to be quick and simple to satisfy the desire someone might have to wear what the model in the magazine is wearing. Sure, let me keep shopping if I want to but keep the page focused on the items featured. Then, use the same model in the shopping experience as used in the magazine to create even more continuity.

My In-The-Moment Fail with KUOW FM

image: KUOW logo

This morning I was up early and making breakfast for the boys before shuttling them off to school (daycare, really, but we call it school). They were eating and for the moment they were pretty quiet. In that moment of rare and relative silence I thought it might be nice to turn on Morning Edition on the local NPR station. I stopped for a second to think about that because we don’t have a radio in the house. Looking at my phone I decided to try the local station’s web site,, because I’m pretty sure they have a mobile app for listening to the station. So I tapped the url into my phone’s ever-present Google search bar on the phone’s home screen. Why I didn’t open the phone’s browser directly and type in the URL, which I know,  I’m not quite sure.

What I got was search results and KUOW was the first result, as expected:

image: KUOW Search Result

I then simply tapped the link to KUOW News and Information – the top search result – and was taken to their NON-mobile web site! What?? I was a confused as well as frustrated because I thought they had a mobile site.

image: KUOW Site

Grr.. Well, I was here so I zoomed in, panned around and didn’t see any sort of promotion for the mobile app. I did see a “Listen Now” link on the top of the page and tried that but the only options were to use iTunes, Real Player (!!?), or Windows. Out of time, I bailed out and just enjoyed the quiet kitchen.



What could have saved this campaign?

Before outlining a potential solution I want to point out that KUOW actually does have a mobile app and even has a mobile site, pictured below.

image: KUOW Mobile Site

In fact, the mobile site was EXACTLY WHAT I WAS LOOKING FOR. I just wanted to listen to what was playing on-air and the mobile site features that functionality front-and-center.

So what gives? Here’s what’s going on:

1) If you tap “” directly into your phone’s browser (I use Chrome) their site automatically re-directs you to “”. This is good. However if you search for ‘KUOW” using Google or Bing on your phone the top search result, which most would choose, points to “”.  But if you go directly to that URL with your phone you don’t get re-directed to the mobile site. In other words, you only get their mobile site if you go to the very top-level of their site, “”. But the search engines aren’t sending people there! They need to implement re-direction on all their non-mobile pages.

2) Give the mobile app a prominent home on the non-mobile site, preferably near the top of the page and not buried – as it is now – in the pile of footer links way down at the bottom of the page. And use the term “Mobile App” instead of just “Mobile”.

Saks Fifth Avenue Forgot That We Read Email On Our Phones

image: Mobile Email

I get a lot of email. We all do.  And as if the sheer volume wasn’t enough to make you scream along came smartphones. So now not only is there a lot of email but you can access it from (just about) anywhere and are often expected to. You can’t get away from it. But being the adaptive sort of creature we humans are we find new ways to use the tools we have. Many of us – having realized that the smartphone isn’t a great device for crafting thoughtful emails –  are using our smartphones to quickly scan our inboxes weeding out the unwanted, meaningless and irrelevant emails and leaving just the ones that we need/want, many of which we will read later when time allows.  In fact many people perform this exercise before they even get out of bed.

I was doing this, too, – scanning my inbox using my new Moto X – when I came across an email from Saks 5th Avenue. I had recently subscribed to their email newsletter, though I have no idea why. The subject line was intriguing enough,

“Welcome to Your special offer inside…”

Cool. Let me quickly peek at what that offer is. Maybe this email is a keeper. And maybe – my hopes climbing a bit here – I’ll even find an anniversary gift for my wife! I tap the email to open it and viola:

Saks email no pics top

Wha?? This is a mess! I try to scan it and my eyes only manage to find “enter code WL2013AR7V83 at checkout”. The rest of the email appears to be images that don’t show. Plus the fonts are so small I can barely read the words. The message to me: Saks cares more about designing a fancy email than one that I can actually read. I’m going to unsubscribe now.


In the interest of research, however, decide to look at the entire email and begin a long scroll through illegible mouse-print:

image: Saks' Full email



Let’s turn on the pictures and see what we get:

image: Saks email with pics


The poor lady looks like the victim of a magic trick involving large metal blades.


What could have saved this campaign?

Saks is no stranger to mobile. They have a smartphone app, a mobile web site and a text-messaging program. If you’re on your phone, they want to be with you. Unless you’re reading one of their emails, which clearly are not designed for consumption on a mobile phone. It’s a common oversight but the impacts could be significant. Fortunately the fix is not complicated and may actually free up some resources in the Saks marketing department. They need to optimize their emails for mobile. Here’s how:

1) Build or use an email template that detects the device and renders the email appropriately. This is done using Media Queries. The concept is known as responsive email design.

2) Reduce reliance on images to deliver the message. Most Android email clients have images turned off by default to control data usage. Your message should come through even without images.  Switch to rich text for the bulk of the email with perhaps a single image at the top with generous use of the <alt> attribute to display text when the image isn’t shown.

3) Leave lots of room to tap.  The average finger is around 45 pixels wide. Jay Shwedelson at Worldata says up to 1/3 of your email clicks could be accidental if you’re not leaving 15 pixels of padding around your links.