The pandemic has left a pitted landscape for storefront businesses. Nathan Elliott, founder, FrontRunner, believes that his company can help fill the void with a technology that turns empty window fronts into street-level digital canvases for brands to engage with consumers.
Charlene Weisler: How does FrontRunner work?
Nathan Elliott: We connect with landlords to use their vacant windows to run consumer campaigns, providing new revenue sources while they secure new tenants.
In turn, leading brands and advertisers gain access to large format window fronts in high traffic pedestrian corridors to deliver HD video content.
Powered by a recent partnership with Lightbox OOH to create Lightbox Unlimited, we work with an array of brands including Warner Bros, Hidden Empire Group and Amazon Prime, advertising film trailers across North America using FrontRunner’s WindowFront technology. We call this Street Cinema.
Weisler: What is your footprint, and where do you expect to expand in the next few months?
Elliott: Our Canadian footprint includes Toronto and Vancouver. In the U.S., we are active in New York and Los Angeles, with plans to expand to the other top DMAs in 2021. In New York, FrontRunner secured media licenses in Soho, Meatpacking, Flatiron, Midtown, Tribeca, among other neighborhoods. In LA, the company is advertising along the Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica and is working closely with Smart City Labs to help bring Hollywood Boulevard to life this month using the window tech.
Weisler: How has the pandemic impacted your business model?
Elliott: The pandemic accelerated the closure of retail stores across the globe. In turn, landlords are looking for innovative solutions to drive new revenue streams and to make use of New Age analytics in the interest of addressing the volume of blighted space. Our platform turns these empty spaces into destinations for passerby to consume large format video content, with many Instagrammable moments along the way.
We shine new light on a retail industry that was one of the hardest-hit by the pandemic. With media, DOOH took a definite hit during 2020. Recognizing that media revenues would be impacted immensely, the company decided to focus on community health messaging at a time when the public was searching for answers.
We used the pandemic period to double down on R&D at a time when revenues were light, focusing on our audio tech stack allowing users to connect mobile devices with windows; enabling one-on-one audio experiences that are synced with content in-window.
Additionally, we’ve developed a product that uses “light recognition technology” on a user’s mobile device, enabling them to interact with the window with their phones as a remote control. There has also been a democratization of QR codes with a heightened use during the pandemic. This has elevated DOOH experiences, taking users to promotions sites, special offers and more.
Weisler: Do you expect your business to change or evolve when the pandemic is over?
Elliott: Brands are being extremely innovative and resourceful in the OOH space. Most cities have gone through several stages of lockdowns. While the return will take time, we are not taking our newfound freedom for granted. The public is more observant and available than it was before the pandemic and, as a result, they are freer to take in some of the brilliant creative executions that are taking place.
Weisler: How does the audio work?
Elliott: Digital out-of-home has been lacking a focus on the ability to engage additional senses beyond just sightlines. Our Flare tech connects users to an OOH display, sending audio and binaural audio (recorded sounds using two microphones to create a more multidimensional and realistic effect) through a person’s headphones. It’s like virtual reality for our ears.
A prompt initiates the sound, but also a visual version of the out-of-home assets on a users’ screen without emitting more sound into an already bustling street. It elongates the impression beyond the dwell time you had at that installation, and allows you to take the in-window media impression with you.
Weisler: What advice would you give an advertiser on how to maximize the value of your offering?
Elliott: Location, location, location: With the volume of empty space, advertisers have some of the best retail properties on the planet to choose from. Build or make creative with the window’s large format in mind. It’s a unique opportunity to engage passersby on an intimate level, drawing their interest in with smart creative.
Weisler: What advice would you give a landlord/storefront owner on how to maximize?
Elliott: Retail is in the midst of the greatest transformation in memory. Our platform has shown that the purgatory period between tenants need not be a dark one. Turning windows into digital canvases draws attention to the space and adds vibrancy to the location and surrounding area. Activity fosters activity. While revenue may not be what they are used to from leasing of the full space, it’s a place-making technology that people can’t miss.