Friday, September 26, 2008

WSJ rips into GSTV's pump-top digital signs

Pump-top digital advertising was a tough idea for me to swallow when it was first attempted some years back.  People -- even when gas was cheap -- just don't like pumping gas.  Most don't connect the money that they're spending with the value that they're getting in the form of easy, convenient and fast transportation (rush hour traffic aside, of course).  But between "cheap" gas now costing well over $3.50 per US gallon and everybody panicking over what's going on with Wall Street, the Fed and the proposed $700 Billion that we're apparently going to be spending to "fix" banking excesses, the average joe  (myself included) filling up at the station has gone from merely tolerated to well despised.

So it's not too surprising to hear people complaining about loud and unavoidable ads playing at many station pumps these days.  The GSTV network gets it from both barrels from the WSJ's Brian Carney, but most of the pump-top networks that I've come across look the same, and I suspect all would catch flak from him.  However, I don't think that would be enough to cause him to write and publish an opinion piece on the matter.  For that, he needed insult added to his injury, which he got in the form of an ironic ad:
The particular commercial I saw was, sadistically enough, for some
car that supposedly gets such good mileage that gas pumps engage in
various acts of sabotage when these fuel-sippers pull into the station.
"Gas pumps hate us" is the tag line.

"Well, I hate gas pumps," I thought as I filled the capacious tank
of my seven-seat, V-6-sporting, low-mileage minivan. "But I hate
watching TV at the gas station more." Oil companies, take note: If you
are worried about your public image, do not run GSTV ads that are
designed to call attention to how expensive it has become to visit your
place of business.

So yeah, probably not the best choice of ads.  What could GSTV and others do at this time of economic uncertainty to endear themselves to viewers instead of alienating them, though?  Well, here are some ideas, each with its own logistical and cost issues, of course :)

  • Only show ads for sale-priced items at attached convenience stores (emphasizing value)
  • Don't use audio on ANY ads
  • Devote more time/screen area to news and information - you know, the stuff people might actually be interested in watching
  • Make pump-top advertising opt-in, and offer a discount per gallon for each ad watched

It's not an easy problem to solve, to be sure. But as long as people don't start avoiding GSTV-enabled stations en masse, the company will continue trying to grow out their network, as will others.  Bottom line: network owners are going to have to start making sure that their medium only adds to the environment before visitors start going elsewhere.


Nigel Hall said...

Thanks for the heads-up about the article. Interesting opinion. I was initially sceptical about pump-top signage, but having seen it in action I've changed my mind. I think it's a great idea and I think it's here to stay. You're right about the ads though. I wonder whether it would be better to target car occupants rather than the person filling the tank. Imagine short 1- to 2-min cartoons that included advertising for convenience store fare, and the raucous pleads for M&Ms, etc. that might welcome a driver when they get back in the car.

Bill Gerba said...

Hi Nigel,

I agree that there is some potential in the market for pump-top signage, but there has been a lot of public backlash against it, so I'm not sure if there will ever be a favorable response.

I do like your idea about appealing to the people *inside* the car, but I'd have to first see some numbers about the percentage of single occupancy vehicles (and thus one-person fillups) before trying something like that out.