Category Archives: Microsoft Tag

Essence Magazine Just Can’t Get Mobile

Essence Magazine has a thing for 2D barcodes. They have used them many times and as often as not fail to get them to work.  In the December issue – one that we’ve talked about here before – they have a special advertising section promoting the Essence Musicimage: Essence Magazine Festival Ad Festival, which is said to be, “the nation’s largest annual gathering of African-American musical talent.”

Eager to give the interested reader something more than can be conveyed in print the editors chose to add a mobile element to the ad using a Microsoft Tag. The difference this time is that they created a branded version of the proprietary barcode by using a background image of two men, presumably jazz musicians. This sort of customization is an interesting feature of the MS Tag service but it can obscure the fact that it is a barcode that calls for scanning.

So, out comes the HTC Hero (is this phone already a relic?) and I pull up the Microsoft Tag reader application. I’m fully anticipating a YouTube video as that is where all the Essence tags seem to be pointed – with varyingimage: Essence Magazine MS Tag degrees of success.  The reader app opens and I point it at the custom tag, careful to frame it completely inside the viewfinder. Nothing happens. Try again. Nope. Apparently the reader can’t recognize the custom tag as one of its own.

Fail. Again.


What could have saved this campaign?

In the Microsoft Tag implementation guide there is a section of Dos and Don’ts. Putting aside the suggestion about localization 6 of the 8 remaining Dos are about one thing, testing. Test on a variety of devices, browsers and operating systems. Test with actual users. Test in the actual environment. Finally, test the tag after it’s been printed. Test, test, test.

I’ll add one more. Test the tag before you print 1 million copies. Test it from a high-quality printed proof layout. It’s one thing if your target url or video is broken. With MS Tag you can re-point your tag to a different page. But if your code can’t even be scanned there is no going back – you’ve got a permanently broken experience.

Essence Still Trying (and Failing) With Mobile

Essence magazine has content that they are trying to let mobile readers see. It’s just that, well, you can’t see it.  We’ve written about Essence before here on  I decided to try them again to check in on their latest efforts. Here’s how it went.

The most recent edition of Essence prompts theimage: Essence Mobile Tag reader to scan the (Microsoft) tag to “Tune in to Shake Your Beauty on” Why this is compelling I’m not quite sure but I’m not a subscriber nor do I even read the magazine so perhaps there’s something I don’t know about “Shake Your Beauty.” Also, I can only guess that the tag will take me to a YouTube video based on previous experience but it doesn’t really tell me what I’m in for. Oh, well.

I pull out my HTC Hero and look through several screens of app icons until I find the one for Microsoft Tag Reader. I only do this because I happen to know that this style of barcode is an MS Tag and not because the page tells me it’s a MS Tag.. How many other people will know this? So I scan the code. (On a side-note here, one of the things that I like about he MS Tag is that you are taken directly to the destination rather than having to click ‘OK’ like you do in many other tag readers; one less step.) The scan does indeed appear to be taking me to YouTube, just as I’d guessed. And I’m on an actual video rather than at the Essence channel main page. It appears to be a behind-the-scenes video with Janet Jackson, the cover model this month. So far so good! Now I just need to play the video.  I look around for the superimposed arrow that starts the video but don’t see it. What I do see, however, is an unfortunate line of text at the bottom of the video box:

image: Essence mobile video fail

"Video cannot be played on mobile"

“Video cannot be played on mobile”




What could have saved this campaign?

Essence is getting close with this effort. They really are. That is, they are getting close to moving out of the fail column by having something that actually works. In this case the issue boils down to two things that Essence failed to do, test and re-test.

Someone on Essence marketing team should have rounded up 5 or 6 models of smartphone and tested the experience prior to print.  Any problem that comes up at that point can be solved before printing or, at worst, the tag and call-to-action could be removed.

So testing would have saved the campaign from outright failure but there are other improvements that may help such as a more engaging call-to-action. Tease the reader with a hint about what is ‘behind’ the tag. What’s so special that the reader should pull out their phone and go through all the steps? Additionally, a mobile-optimized web page into which the videos are embedded can allow Essence to control the experience a little better and give the reader additional things to do on their mobile; a direct link to a video is something of a dead-end.

Salvation Army Needs a Helping Hand With MS Tag

From Monique Priestley (edited):

Okay, I feel guilty for picking on the Salvation Army, but geez…

image: SAL Bus Ad

Salvation Army Bus Ad

On the 74 Express bus from Downtown Seattle to Sand Point. There was a Salvation Army advertisement with a small Microsoft Tag. (Yes, that’s right, a small Microsoft Tag on a banner that was along the roof of a moving bus.)

The ad was one for the Salvation Army of Seattle — you needed to scan a small Microsoft Tag (with an MS Tag Reader of course) and you could donate money. It didn’t tell you how much or give you any other options.

Personally, I think it would be a great idea if companies advertising on the buses attempted a mobile ad or two. Of course, as I mentioned before… these things are moving — and the ads are on the roof. Something like SMS is a good idea because riders could put a code into a phone and receive a quick message back. But a QR/Microsoft Tag? On the ceiling of a moving vehicle? How exactly do they expect users to hold the phone still, up in the air above their head, close enough for the scanner to read a tiny 2D barcode? I can barely keep my hand still enough and close enough to scan those pesky MS Tags when they are on a stationary piece of paper right in front of me (they are really fussy). The bus never held still long enough for me to try it (plus I felt like an idiot holding my phone up to the ceiling, trying to hold on as the bus rocked all over the place).

It was the saddest excuse for a mobile ad that I have tried so far.


It Gets Better…Once at my desk I did a quick search for “salvation army qr.” I got one result that looked promising, I sent the site to my DROID and the YouTube video played but I didn’t dare enter my number to test [donations] because it NEVER says ANYWHERE how much you’re about to donate. For all I know they set the figure to $100 or $1,000,000 (it could happen).


What could have saved this campaign?
Salvation Army gets credit for trying but this portion of their campaign is really poorly done.  You may not have noticed but the advertisement is promoting donations and yet the video that plays as a result of scanning the tag is promoting volunteer-ism.  The only thing that would have saved this campaign is to use SMS instead of MS Tag. This simply is not a good place for a 2D code. The organization already has an SMS donation option (text “SAL” to 50555) and bus riders can participate simply by reading the call-to-action from where they sit. Optionally, the SMS could trigger the exact same URL at which the MS Tag is pointed.  Additionally, and less critically, the video should support the ‘Donate Now’ theme rather than trying to layer in a volunteer pitch.