Moo-bile technology

A dairy farm has painted QR codes onto their cows. People passing Southfields farm in Somerby, Leicestershire, England can scan the QR code using an app on a smartphone and get quick access to a website which contains information about the farm’s 100-strong herd of dairy cows. The farm is testing the idea out on their cow, Lady Shamrock, and scanners will be instantly directed to to find out more about her. Personally, I’ve always found the use of QR codes in outdoor venues (subway, bus shelter, cow, etc) to be a better application than in print.


Hit the (iPad) Newsstand

MSK Partners is a now a licensed Apple Development Partner and we recently published a client magazine app available for download from Apple Newsstand. It is the first of a number of magazines we hope to launch this year – still designed for print, now repurposed for the iPad.

The iPad is a little more than 2-years old and it’s the ideal time for institutions and non-profits to make publications available on this platform. While ad-driven publications such as Wired and Popular Science leapt into the forefront with multi-media graphics and stunning visuals, the trend for magazines has been towards a simpler, user-friendly approach.

Institutional magazines with long cover articles are perfectly suited for the iPad. Much like a print publication that you can hold and take with you, readers spend time with an iPad publication because it is formatted for that same purpose. Smart phones and even websites are better used for quick sound bytes and short news items and therefore do not offer the same potential for extended reading time.

In 2011, iTunes and the App Store added a new feature – Newsstand, which aggregates publications from around the world for easy download by iPad users. For marketers, this opens up an enormous new audience – making content available year-round and worldwide for immediate download. Typically reaching readers way beyond the scope of a mailing list for the print version.

Please contact us if you would like more information on the benefits of an iPad magazine and a demo of how we are delivering this new audience for our clients.

Are websites doing their job?

After more than 12 years of evaluating websites, Forrester reached a new milestone completing 1,500 website user experience reviews. The results are, shall we say, less than positive – the research suggests that a whopping 97% of all websites are not prepared for the job to be done.

Forrester came to the conclusion that just 45 of those 1,500 earned a pass mark.  That’s just 3%! The main cause of failure included poor text legibility, poor task flow, poor use of space, and unclear links to privacy and security policies

Forrester used 25 criteria to judge websites, with scores marked from +2 (very good) to -2 (very poor).  Passing all of the tests therefore would have given a website a total score of +25.  Unfortunately just 3% of the sites met that score, with the average score of all of the sites a pitiful +1.1. An average score of just +1.1 suggests that many websites are failing miserably to even get close to where they need to be in terms of functionality.

The research also revealed that B2B sites do worse than B2C sites, although this gap is narrowing. The only positive aspect to the findings…scores are getting better.

Just our type

It has been written that if Simon Garfield were reduced to a letter and a type style, he would be the lowercase “i” in Goudy Old Style—elegant but playful. And very readable. Recently, I came across Garfield’s Just My Type: A Book About Fonts. On the front cover, the title was treated as a hodgepodge of fonts, from Adriator Regular to Polytone Reliant; the back cover assigned the book, in tiny type and in a bizarre bifurcation, to “Reference/Humour.”

Fonts surround us every day, on billboards and buildings, on movie posters and books, and on just about every product we buy. But where do fonts come from, and why do we need so many? Who is responsible for the staid practicality of Times New Roman, the cool anonymity of Arial, or the irritating levity of Comic Sans?

Beginning in the early days of Gutenberg and ending with the most adventurous digital fonts, Garfield explores the rich history and subtle powers of type. He investigates a range of modern mysteries, including how Helvetica took over the world, what inspires the seeming ubiquitous use of Trajan on bad movie posters, and exactly why the all-type cover of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus was so effective. In summary, it’s a must-have book for the design conscious.

Biker branding

Here’s a clever piece of branding that was extremely well executed. Carlsberg has staged a cinema stunt featuring couples negotiating an auditorium packed with bikers to promote its new global tagline: “That calls for a Carlsberg”. The stunt, which took place on Thursday, September 22 has already attracted more than 3 million views on YouTube. Brussels-based ad agency Duval Guillaume Modem came up with the stunt, which was staged in a cinema in Belgium.

After buying two tickets at the box office, innocent couples were confronted with a cinema packed with hairy bikers. Their seats were directly in the middle of the crowded venue, with their reactions captured on camera. While many walked out of the cinema, those who took the seats were greeted by huge cheers from the crowd and also handed a bottle of Carlsberg as the tag came up on the cinema screen. The reaction of some of the couples is, not surprisingly, priceless.

Hunkering down

Across the country, budgets are still tight on many campuses and colleges are struggling to find new sources of revenue. State budget cuts and reductions in private donations present mounting challenges. A recent report on U.S. institutions from The Chronicle of Higher Education details many of the issues including these highlights:

  • Private colleges are more dependent than public ones on tuition
  • College endowments began to grow again in 2010
  • Public financing for colleges fell in many states in 2010-11
  • 63 gifts of $101-million or more were given to institutions last year
  • 99 institutions charged $50,000 or more for tuition, room and board during 2010-11
  • Student costs at 4-year private colleges are almost double those at public colleges
  • Tuition discount rates are rising at private colleges
  • Federal science funds doubled at 28 colleges

Given our heavy involvement in institutional fundraising, of particular interest to us were details on the top fund raisers including our clients Johns Hopkins and the University of Pennsylvania – both in the top ten for total support and support from non-alumni individuals.

Codes for contact

QR – or “quick response” – codes are finally starting to pop up around the country. While still not fully mainstream, QR codes are appearing in print publications, on bus sides, and plastered on storefronts. At this rate, it won’t be long before most people can immediately recognize and use QR codes. So how are colleges and universities taking advantage of this technology? We’re seeing them in a wide variety of applications. From codes on math worksheets that direct students to video tutorials of how to solve problems…to QR codes on literary magazines to lead people to a gallery of all the artwork that was submitted but couldn’t fit in the print version. Our primary usage? On alumni magazines to direct readers to alumni events and community. On campaign case statements to link donors to leadership videos. And of course in viewbooks, for prospective students to see all kinds of up-to-date content. Are you interested in using QR codes for your institution? Please let us know so we can share samples and ideas with you.

Study: The iPad is the biggest problem with iPad magazines

A new study, reported by Time Techland, suggests that iPad magazines have one major drawback when compared to their print editions: The iPad itself. A study carried out by Bonnier, publisher of Popular Science, Parenting and other magazines, discovered that the iPad is so distracting for most people that they may not even be able to finish an article without going to do something else.

Bonnier program director Megan Miller explains: “We thought that of course there’s a lot of activity going on with an iPad, when there’s so many things you can be doing — email, Netflix, playing games, reading magazines — but they’re actually bouncing around a lot more than we thought. If you sit someone down with a magazine, within seconds they’re researching the products that they could buy. If they see a snowboard in a snowboarding magazine, they’ll bounce over to Amazon to check the prices on it.”

It’s not just the distraction issue that’s a problem, Miller adds; “iPad magazine readers tended to think things were advertisements even when they weren’t:

When there was a full-bleed whole page dedicated to a product, people said, ‘Yeah, that’s an ad.’ And we selected people who were from an educated demographic. They were not dummies.” The dummies study group was too busy trying to eat the iPad to even notice there was a magazine to read, apparently.

It all adds up to the possibility that the iPad isn’t quite the savior of the magazine industry that everyone hoped it would be – or, at least, not yet. Bonnier plans to take these findings and create a next-generation iPad magazine that will be stickier and more clearly defined for readers.

Silver and Gold

We typically don’t enter creative award contests but are fortunate in having clients who like our work enough to enter it in various international and regional shows. Recently two such entries garnered awards: Bloomsburg University Magazine won a Gold at the MarCom Awards held by the Association of Marketing and Communications Professionals; and a brochure developed for the General Robotics, Automation, Sensing and Perception Laboratory (more commonly known as GRASP) won Silver at the CASE Accolades Awards organized the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. Please let us know if you would like us to send you a copy of either piece.


Social Networking: A Waste of Time?

Here’s a sign of social networking’s growing presence in modern life: It has surpassed TV viewing as the preeminent waster of people’s time. At any rate, it tops the waste-of-time standings in a 60 Minutes/Vanity Fair poll released this week.

Respondents were given a list of six activities and asked to pick the one they regard as “your biggest waste of time.” A plurality (36 percent) chose “social networking,” putting it easily ahead of runner-up “fantasy sports” (25 percent) and third-place “watching television” (23 percent). Few votes went to “shopping” (9 percent), “reading” (2 percent) or “your job” (2 percent).