Digimarc, a digital-technology provider whose watermarks grace the majority of U.S. drivers' licenses, recently unveiled an invisible watermark it's dubbing "Discover." Instead of linking smartphone users to online content using visible black-and-white QR codes, the "Discover" watermark subtly manipulates the pixels within an image, embedding (and hiding) a unique digital identity inside the image itself. Though invisible to the naked eye, high-resolution cameras in new-generation iPhones and Androids can recognize the hidden code, which, like visible QR codes, can be linked to interactive online content.
"That identifier will stay there regardless if you copy [the image], upsize it or downsize it," says Craig Brandis, senior product marketing manager at Digimarc. "It's a way of attaching an indelible identity to that image."
The January issue of Portland-based Beer West magazine, a lifestyle publication for West Coast boozers, marked the first print publication to play with the more aesthetically pleasing coding. "It's exciting from both an advertising perspective and an editorial perspective," says Beer West publisher Megan Flynn. "We can really give the reader a more interactive, enhanced experience - which people are looking for, whether they know it or not."
Unlike previous forays of QR coding in print, the first generation of Digimarc watermarks allow magazine designers to link up images to additional online editorial content, without having to make aesthetic concessions. "This is a nice way to move magazines forward and allow them to compete with the online market," Flynn says.
Without the obvious QR marker noting an available interactive experience, Beer West and Digimarc rely on familiar online iconography (that little pointing hand; a blue-underlined link) to prompt smartphone play in the print version. And according to Brandis, these online symbols - not noticeable watermark codes - will soon pop up not just in print publications, but on everything from pharmaceutical packaging to Super Bowl commercials.
"We're basically bringing the online world into the offline world," Brandis says. "Symbols that you know are clickable from Web pages will start showing up in newspapers and magazines. If you take that same idea and you move it over to streaming media, like television, all of a sudden you've got a whole new way of layering information and activity into a one-way communication mechanism."