Commentary

A Sign Of The Times (Square)

walgreensIt's been a long time since I've looked upon Times Square as a destination for drugs, but that will change tonight, at 8 p.m., when the heart of Times Square becomes the Mecca of pharmaceuticals, albeit legal ones. That's when Walgreens, the nation's largest drugstore chain, will throw the switch illuminating its new flagship location, occupying the first three levels of One Times Square, and launches the largest digital, out-of-home video ad ever to be affiliated with a drugstore, and possibly any retail location in the world. This massive, digital "super sign," will soar 341 feet above the street, providing nearly panoramic visibility to ad messages festooned across 17,000 square feet of digital impressions in the heart of one of the business/tourist destinations in the world. It's also one that, because of its proximity, is regularly featured on-air, online and on the silver screen.

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"With more than 1.6 million passers-by and countless media impressions daily, this sign represents a tremendous opportunity to catapult Walgreens brand among the most recognizable icons in the world," boasts Walgreens President-COO Greg Wasson. "The signs will also work to build awareness for our strongest supplier partners and the brands that help make Walgreens a destination for millions of customers every day."

Interestingly, the plan is to offer those impressions exclusively to products and brands that are retailed by the Walgreens store, making the sign more than just an out-of-home media buy, but possibly the biggest shopper media experience in the world.

"That's our plan," says Teresa Rix, vice president of ABC New Media Sales, which is representing the new advertising inventory as part of its portfolio of digital out-of-home media outlets controlled by the Disney unit.

Rix says the agreement with Walgreens calls for ABC to sell the signage only to brands carried by Walgreens. Among those that will be featured when the sign gets lit tonight, are L'Oreal, Kraft, Johnson & Johnson, and Colgate. However, Rix notes that the building's landlord, Sherwood Outdoor, retains a couple of minutes of "local inventory" that might be sold to brands not distributed via Walgreens.

The super sign, meanwhile, represents some unique story-telling opportunities for advertisers. Aside from its scale, its proximity and the traffic it is expected to generate, the sign is actually comprised of multiple smaller screens capable of displaying disparate full-motion video messages. "The sign is broken up in many different pieces so we can take each piece and display things differently if we want to," Rix explains, adding that it is conceivable some advertisers might use it to have multiple messages appearing simultaneously, or to have messages move from screen to screen across the super sign.

A similar stunt is expected to actually traverse a few blocks this evening when some of the content on the Walgreen's super sign migrates from One Times Square, between 42nd and 43rd Streets, to the ABC News super sign on 44th Street. Both signs are in visible proximity to each other.

Another sign that will play an unusual cameo role in tonight's stunt will be the Reuters sign in Times Square, which is not represented by the ABC New Media Sales team, and has no relationship to the Walgreens' sign, but happens to be the best location for Walgreens and ABC to host a party for industry VIPs to view the illumination of the new sign, and the 10-minute video montage that will kick it off.

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