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RFID Helps German Publisher Put Focus on Ads

A forward-looking magazine employs an emerging technology to prove that an old medium isn't dead.
By Jennifer Zaino
Jun 01, 2009—On April 29, RFID Journal presented the third annual RFID Journal Awards to four companies for outstanding achievement in radio frequency identification technology at RFID Journal LIVE! 2009, the seventh annual conference and exhibition. The winners were:

Charles Vögele Group for best RFID implementation

Focus Magazine for most innovative use of RFID

Vail Resorts for best use of RFID in a service

ODIN Technologies for best in show

German publisher Focus Magazine turned to RFID for its ability to passively evaluate the reading habits of Focus subscribers, as well as other members of their households.

Most Innovative Use of RFID: Focus Magazine
Times are tough for print media, with companies cutting back on advertising, and magazines and newspapers facing increasing competition from TV, the Internet and even mobile devices. But the country that invented the mechanical printing press and revolutionized communications in the mid-15th century isn't about to sit idly by and watch the demise of the magazine industry. German publisher Focus magazine is deploying radio frequency identification technology to demonstrate the continuing strength of advertising in print publications—in particular, in Focus, its 16-year-old newsweekly.

Focus caters primarily to high-income, 30- to-59-year-old men, reaching 5.73 million people in Germany each week. Its urban, affluent readers are considered an attractive advertising target group, and CEO Frank-Michael Müller wanted a way to document to media buyers that the ads they place are routinely viewed more than one time per issue by Focus' coveted readership. He also wanted to be able to make that case without requiring any work on the part of the readers themselves.

While it's generally acknowledged that people flip through a print magazine a few times, and that each magazine is picked up by more than one person in a household, the data to prove readers' contact with advertisements in publications is hard to come by. Basically, publishers and advertisers have two ways to gauge the impact of editorial content and ads on readers: One approach is to use tests in which subscribers have to manually mark up pages as they read them. The problem is that readers tend to forget to do that as the field tests run on. The other approach is to conduct after-the-fact surveys that rely on subscribers to remember that they picked up a particular issue, read a certain article and viewed a specific advertisement.

"For TV and the Internet, you have passive measures—the respondent has nothing to do; his contact is measured automatically," Müller says. For example, a TV ratings box installed in a household collects information on what channels were watched and when, which can be correlated to the likelihood that a viewer has had contact with the ads running during those periods. On the Internet, the impact of online ads may be equated with the number of page views generated by the site where they appear.

Müller turned to RFID for its ability to passively evaluate the reading habits of Focus subscribers, as well as other members of their households. "It's not sufficient to know the number of subscribers, or the circulation or even the number of readers; we want to learn how the reader uses our magazine," he says. "With RFID, we can show who uses a double-page [facing pages] in the magazine—when, how long and how often."
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