Commentary

When Ads on a Bus Go Round and Round, Round and Round, Round and Round

Digital Outsider-bus picPassengers boarding the M23 bus along 23rd street in Manhattan are likely to get a jolt in the next several weeks as the likeness of James Bond star Daniel Craig seemingly comes to life and approaches them with an automatic weapon from the side of the bus. The digital video image, part of the first ever use of digital advertising displays mounted on the side of a major city transit system, is one of the executions being conceived by a creative team working to promote the upcoming release of the next Bond thriller "Quantum of Solace" on a new digital out-of-home advertising network being deployed by Titan Worldwide. So far, Titan has agreements to test the system on the pedestrian sides of buses in New York and Chicago, but the plan is to roll it out on buses, and other key transit hubs including commuter rail lines, in major U.S. cities, as well as in the U.K. and Ireland.

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Other marketers planning to test the new bus-mounted 12-foot digital displays include Coca-Cola, and Sleepy's (a regional mattress retailer), as well as a variety of entertainment marketers.

"Imagine the witch from 'Wicked' -- the 'Wizard of Oz' show on Broadway -- on the side of a bus with her hair blowing in the wind," says Dave Etherington, global marketing director at Titan, who has begun working with clients and agencies to figure out how to create campaigns for the new digital bus billboards, which Titan has dubbed, "Bus Digital Kings."

The only limitation, says Etherington, is the client's and the agency's imagination, and what they think might be appropriate for their brand and in the best interest of consumers exposed to the new transit medium.

"It's probably not appropriate to run television commercials on the screen because this is not television," he says. But adding eye-catching, full-motion video elements to what would otherwise be viewed as a static outdoor billboard, he says, is the real opportunity.

And because the new bus displays are GPS enabled, they also have the ability to rotate copy based on geographic factors, such as the demographic composition of a neighborhood, or the contextual relevance of a zip code or shopping district. An ad on a New York Mass Transit Association bus, for example, might convert from English- to Spanish-language copy when it moves northward through East Harlem. Or copy could be adjusted to flag specific retailers when a bus traverses Chicago's Miracle Mile.

Other markets that will be keeping an eye on the New York and Chicago tests include Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Seattle, Dallas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and parts of New Jersey, which already carry Titan's static out-of-home advertising displays.

The Titan rollout is the latest in a rapid progression of new digital out-of-home media technologies that are accelerating the capabilities of advertisers and agencies in locations that seem to border on what only a few years ago might have seemed like science-fiction. In fact, the new Titan screens evoke an image taken right out of director Ridley Scott's 1982 adaptation of science fiction writer Philip K. Dick's "Blade Runner." The film depicted a futuristic Los Angeles in which full-motion video ads blare at consumers from big screens floating over the city. Other recent breakthroughs in technology and the cost of projection equipment can now literally beam virtual, personalized messages to a consumer in conceivably any location, à la the screen adaptation of Dick's "Minority Report."

"I think that the line between 'Minority Report,' and 'Blade Runner,' technically is here. We are not many miles away from what was envisaged in those great novels and movies, but the line in the sand for us, is our commitment to the transit authorities and to the people in the cities we are in, to add value and not actually step over that line," says Etherington.

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