Who sits around anymore? One screen to go, please
Media on the fly, in the form of interactive digital signage, is transforming out-of-home. While total out-of-home spending slowed this year, eMarketer says the digital sector shows sizzling growth, second only to Internet advertising. The research firm expects spending to total $2.25 billion in the United States in 2011, up from $1.26 billion in 2007, thanks to the convergence of digital, video and wireless technologies.
Why? The usual: Digital allows for tracking and measurement, so advertisers can understand their ROI ... and you can do some really cool stuff with it.
Volkswagen's "What the People Want" campaign, launched in April, integrated Web and mobile ads with one of the world's largest billboards, the ABC SuperSign. The Crispin Porter + Bogusky campaign let people chime in to the national discussion of ice cream cups versus cones (60 percent slurp from cones) and whether there are too many reality shows (87 percent say yes). Polling began on a microsite, with the results fed to banners on contextually relevant content around the Web. The hottest polls also showed up in Times Square. There, the phone's tiny "third screen" provided a way for The People to make their voices heard on the way-big screen.
The ABC SuperSign recently got a technology makeover from Show & Tell Productions that lets it run interactive applications and engage in two-way SMS communications. For eight minutes each hour, sections of the 3,685-square-foot electronic screen showed CPB-produced creative, while another portion displayed questions generated from the polls on the microsite. As passersby texted their answers, a WAP application streamed them live across the bottom of the screen.
With technological whizbang like that, DOOH could become a must-have fourth screen for marketers (after TV, computer and mobile screens, of course). Digital out-of-home signs work because the changing imagery and sheer brightness tend to catch attention. But there are some kinks to be worked out: back-end technology, tracking and measurement, and the sales process are all up in the air.
"There's a daisy chain of consultants and partners that have to work together to make these things a success," says Warren Levy, vice president of business development for Show & Tell. His firm sat between the creative agency and the client, enabling the behemoth sign's functionality, while ABC and CPB took care of the XYZs of metrics.
Shoot 'Em Up
"In terms of the business infrastructure, it's the Wild West," says Yankee Group senior analyst Daniel Taylor. "We've been trying to use campaign-specific measurement to try to articulate who these audience actually are. But media measurement and campaign measurement are two different things, and digital out-of-home puts that under pretty significant pressure."
The Out-of-home Video Advertising Bureau is working on measurement guidelines. "We're trying to make sure we get measurable standards and good guidelines to be able to create for these new platforms, some of which (are) satellite-fed and some are IP-based," says OVAB board member Alan Schulman, executive creative director at imc2.
Another problem media buyers have with interactive signs, according to Taylor, is the extreme diversity of the environments in which they show up. There's Captivate Network, which delivers content and ads to screens in the elevators of office buildings, targeting an audience assumed to be affluent and educated while they have nowhere else to look. Gas Station TV, PumpTop TV and the Fuelcast Network all try to distract people from how fast the meter goes around at the gas pump; NetPulse helps cardio exercisers ignore their burning calves; PlayNetwork, born as Starbucks' in-house music provider, is now doing custom audio and video for retail; Ripple streams content to cafes, juice bars and Borders bookstores; and Transit Television Network provides commuters with an alternative to the scenery.
"The small screen and focused environment, such as a gas station or office building, is a much more easily defined category and opportunity, and therefore the easiest thing to add to a media plan," Taylor says. But these screens are, for the most part, still bought and sold using traditional out-of-home metrics.
All Screens to All People
SeeSaw Networks thinks it can do better by aggregating screens from multiple networks, slicing and dicing the demographics, and putting a Web-based management console on the front end for agencies.
"Aggregation provides a very broad imprint of inventory," says SeeSaw chairman Monte Zweben. In his view, the variety of venues is actually a positive, because it lets marketers reach the same consumer repeatedly throughout the day. SeeSaw calls its approach Life Pattern Marketing, a spin on the way traditional out-of-home is sold. The idea is that members of demographic segments - say, an Alpha Mom versus a Mobile Millennial Male - tend to consistently visit the same kinds of businesses at the same time of day. You may find the mom gassing up her car in the afternoon on her way to pick up the kids from school, while the tech-aware singleton may be riding up the office elevator at 9 a.m. and heading to a pub at 7 p.m.
The challenge for the advertiser is to tailor versions of the messaging for different venues and states of mind. For example, Zweben says, a CPG advertiser may provide quick-read awareness messages in a mall or convenience store, then offer expansive content for the prospect to mull over on the cardio machine. During the average six minutes it takes to fill the gas tank, an advertiser could offer SMS interactions, then try to convert the customer with a digital screen at the point of purchase.
Where and Who You Are
Retail signage for Longs Drugs by MTI Interactive takes this concept down to the level of a single store. The signage system, now being tested in California, is designed to promote the drug stores' mailing and digital photo centers. The system employs infrared sensors to track people (actually, their warm bodies) as they move through the store; the message on the sign changes in size and content as someone approaches the mailing center's counter.
Explains Jason Goldberg, MTI's vice president of marketing, "If those few words pique your interest and you approach, the sign can change to give you more information in a smaller font, because you're closer and can read it more easily. If you're passively shopping from the other side of the store, it gives you high-level information designed to grab your interest."
A project for Pep Boys shows just how personal interactive signage can get. The auto service and supplies retailer's new customer affinity program invites people to update information about their vehicles on the Web site in return for coupons and offers. The customer database is tied into both the customer relationship management software and a promotion engine. Customers can also receive an RFID keychain that prompts digital signs throughout the store to show offers especially for them.
For example, if you hadn't had an oil change in quite a while, when you went to the store, a transponder in the keychain would trigger a sign to display an offer for a discount on an in-store oil change.
Because the key fob technology was an add-on to the IT systems Pep Boys already had in place, the cost was under $5 per person. "We offer a way to leverage the investment and use it in-store, where the customers have their wallets out and are making real purchase decisions," Goldberg says. That's the kind of on-the-spot marketing that puts the ooh! in DOOH.