Offline media has certainly faced its fair share of challenges over the last few years. Audiences have rapidly adapted to a life online, on-demand and in control. Certainly the lure of the Internet has played a major role in diminishing the favoritism offline media once enjoyed. As with any massive influx of new media options, disruption and dilution are to be expected.
But the shifts we've seen have come as a result of many factors. One of these factors, catapulted to the top of the marketing priority list during the rapidly shrinking budgets of the dot-boom era, has been online media's outstanding level of measurability. Although most marketers initially moved timidly into the online space, once there they were happily surprised, and quickly spoiled, by the ability to track, analyze and react. This ability, unique to a pure technology platform, has clearly reset the bar.
The result, as we have all seen, has been one headline after the next declaring the "death of traditional advertising," "end of an era," etc., etc. No doubt budgets have evolved to reflect the new landscape - and rightfully so. When consumers' eyes move, so do the ad dollars. However, in an age of innovation, things keep changing - and fast.
What the Grim Reapers of offline media have overlooked is that the Internet ultimately will not end at the browser. Instead, network technology will soon be a part of nearly everything we see, own and engage with. Already common among more complex devices such as mobile phones and PDAs, the real potential for the Internet's greatness comes as it extends further into the physical world, connecting millions of common items, systems and, yes, old school media. Offline media isn't dead, it's just different - it's connected, it's dynamic and it's part of an Internet of things.
Imagine walking down the street of your favorite city. You approach a street level digital billboard, maybe on the side of a subway entrance or bus stop. As you near the billboard, the displayed ad changes to one of your favorite stores. In the ad there's a collection of seasonal accessories, one of which is shown with the very jacket you are wearing. The call-to-action? A small animated map relative to the location of the billboard shows the store's location just around the corner.
Although this may sound like part science fiction and part scary-big-brother-watching-your-every-move, it's not only probable but possible today. Technologies like RFID (radio frequency identification), NFC (near field communication), Bluetooth and the more common 801.11 wireless bands are all readily available and have the potential to provide the network and data foundation to turn this scenario into reality.
If we take a closer look at our scenario we can see how connectivity between "offline" items can create a powerful, integrated solution. The billboard, equipped with RFID sensing technology, pings the environment looking for "network responses." As you approach, it receives a response from your favorite retailer's rewards card located in your wallet and equipped with RFID. The jacket you're wearing, recently purchased from the same retailer, also contains an RFID tag embedded into the collar for both security and networking purposes.
These two items provide the billboard, and the ad-serving engine it's connected to wirelessly, with a brand preference (relevancy) and related product (context) to which a match can be made and an ad displayed.
Taking it one step further, by retrieving your unique customer id, provided by the rewards card, the ad-serving system can tell the retailer which ad you saw, where you were and what was on it. The result: measurability equal to, if not better, than what we've come to expect.
Advertisers often talk about the importance of integration, context and relevancy. When working together, these factors can radically improve the overall effectiveness of campaigns. However, once the campaign extends beyond the single platform, integration is often relegated to nothing more than consistency of message and creative.
So the next time you're flipping through your favorite publication, like this one, think not only about how you could create a better campaign, but also how you might make the paper it's printed on smarter. Maybe some day soon the pages of this magazine will even know if you stopped and read this article.
Kirk Drummond is a digital advertising and technology veteran and emerging media consultant. (firstname.lastname@example.org)