Tuesday, June 26, 2007

More fuel for the roadside electronic billboard fire

It's no surprise that the debate over electronic billboards has moved to Detroit, the auto capital of the US. According to this article in the Detroit News, the usual arguments are being brought up by the usual suspects -- advertisers drooling over the prospect of serving up five or six ads in the space of one, and making changes instantaneously, governments and safety groups worrying about the impact on driver safety and decrying the additional visual clutter. In fact, the clip wouldn't be worth writing about except that I did learn this:

Detroit should brace for Las Vegas-style eyesores that could lead to traffic accidents, said Kevin Fry, president of Scenic America, a Washington-based opponent of the new signs.

"Your eye is drawn to these things every six seconds it's like a giant PowerPoint in the sky," he said. Fry said the billboards are likely to distract drivers from the road for more than two seconds -- the amount of time some studies have shown is dangerous for motorists to look at cell phones or iPods.

Ok, technically I learned two things. First, there's an anti-signage lobbying group called Scenic America, and second, billboards have to make their statement in less than two seconds. This short time frame is in keeping with P&G's study on the First Moment of Truth (FMOT), and also agrees with some of our own research on content use on digital signage (and specifically, retail media) networks.

My personal take on the situation is that in big cities, the march of roadside electronic billboards is unstoppable, though I can certainly see smaller municipalities banning them much as they've banned static roadside signage. Millions of drivers make their way down the Las Vegas strip or through Times Square without incident every year, and those areas are far more cluttered than the average road will ever be. So it seems like some amount of regulation (for things like brightness and animation, which certainly could cause accidents), and driver education/experience will probably make these devices no more dangerous than the typical static billboard.

Tags: electronic billboards, digital signage, out-of-home advertising

Thursday, June 21, 2007

InfoTrends says digital signage is here to stay

Whew, what a relief. Here I thought we'd be shutting off the lights and hanging an "out of business" sign in the window, but InfoTrends has run the numbers and concluded that we won't have to! Specifically,

After struggling in the early years of its development, the business of networked digital displays in retail and other public spaces is now on the path to sustainable growth, according to InfoTrends market research. At the end of 2006, the narrowcasting industry was valued at $1.1 billion with an installed base of 630,000 screens at 97,000 sites. This marks a CAGR of 56 percent as compared with the 2004 statistics....

InfoTrends expects overall CAGRs of 18.5% for revenues, 8.9% for sites, and 11.9% for screens between 2006 and 2011. By 2011, total revenues are expected to reach $2.59 billion. Key findings of the study include:
  • The typical survey respondent is using five different types of media, and printed signage and outdoor signs are still the most common.
  • Systems integrators are correct in identifying digital signage for advertising, promotion, and out-of-home applications as a key growth area. They should intensify their efforts to increase their exposure for involvement in applications of this type.
  • Compared with the survey conducted in 2004, respondents in this most recent study were much less concerned about issues such as lack of measurement of ad program effectiveness, as the body of data supporting the effectiveness of narrowcasting systems continues to grow.
  • Indicative of a high level of satisfaction, of the 51 current users of networked digital displays or in-store TV who responded to our structured survey, not a single one expected their usage over the next three years to decrease, and 80% expected it to increase.
  • Retailers and brand managers want their promotional programs of any type to deliver sales lift and increase traffic, and they are becoming more confident that narrowcasting systems can deliver on that goal. Securing repeat customers is their secondary goal, while attaining ad revenues from such systems is considered relatively unimportant.
I do agree that more retailers and marketers are starting to understand the potential that these systems have to offer, I also think that a big part of the growth right now is that more are finally figuring out exactly how to determine the ROI on their digital signage networks. By knowing just what to measure, they're having an easier time getting some results, and making optimizations when necessary.

Tags: digital signage, narrowcasting, retail media

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

POPAI announces initial results of the Marketing At Retail Initiative (MARI) study

In response to the PRISM study being conducted by the ISMI and VNU/Nielsen In-Store, POPAI announced late last year that they would begin their own study of shopper behavior and media exposure in retail environments, with data to be provided around September or October of 2007. The group just announced the completion of their proof-of-concept study, the details of which are in this press release:

POPAI, The Global Association for Marketing at-Retail announced the first findings from studies pioneered by the Marketing At Retail Initiative (MARI). This first proof of concept study was conducted in the United Kingdom at Morrisons and ASDA/Wal-Mart stores. Initial findings show not only the volume of shoppers visiting the stores but the amount of Marketing at Retail materials to which they were exposed to and what materials actually caught their eye.

"This is a significant initiative which will allow brands and retailers to better understand the important role that POP can play in the marketing mix. We have the chance to establish a new language for the accountability of POP that will allow it to be compared with other media. The MARI study will show how POP compares with above the line means of advertising for the first time and will be able to quantify its effectiveness. The study will hopefully reiterate what people in the POP industry already believe, and educate brands and retailers further about the value of POP compliance," said David Martin, Head of brand marketing, ASDA/Wal-Mart.

MARI outlined a series of tests around the world to study Shopper Engagement to begin measuring the consumer experience at retail. Another study in the US has completed work in the field, with the first analytic results beginning to pour out in July. Additional studies are planned in Europe later this year. The Shopper Engagement Metrics trial is the first in POPAI's multi-step vision to position the at-retail medium for the future. This vision includes the development of a Marketing At Retail Valuation platform (MARV) which offers standardize measurement and analysis of placement, materials and messages used in the retail environment to understand what works best to maximize the investment in this medium and the overall media mix. The results shared today not only provide general quantifiable insights into shopper engagement, but more importantly it provides the vast amounts of data required to understand what works best in specific retail environments and product categories.

Important insights revealed for these United Kingdom stores include:
  1. 534 shoppers enter the store per hour.
  2. Shoppers are exposed the 1.6 pieces of marketing materials per second as they navigate the stores.
  3. Shopper's eyes are drawn to 17.8% of the marketing materials.
  4. Walk around displays, table units and revolving floor displays were the most seen display types.
The ongoing project incorporates the use of cutting edge technology including small cameras and video software to quantify levels of consumer involvement. This technology will be able to count shopper entry, provide gender and age group demographics, and measure shoppers' sustained visual contact with advertisements throughout their store visit. The software will also be used to develop thermal floor maps of shopper pathways illustrating hot and cold spots in the store and its relationship to the various in-store categories.

Early results from the technology show that there are affordable applications on a broader scale. Lessons learned from this study were applied to the US field trial and will provide a comparison and contrast for not only cultural differences, but improvements in the methodology.
While the early results aren't necessarily earth-shattering, they do represent an important first step in the non-profit group's quest for media measurement at retail. With more results promised later in the year, we may actually have the benefit of working with two sets of numbers -- both PRISM's and MARI's -- before long.

Tags: PRISM, MARI, POPAI, retail media

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Digital signage software: picking a winner

I originally wasn't going to post anything about this article by BroadSign posted over at aka.tv. Over the years aka has been a pretty reliable source for industry news, and if they want to slip an occasional advertorial from one of their biggest sponsors in, I'm ok with that. I'm a businessman, I can understand some firms might need to do those kinds of things from time to time, and I can filter them out, just like most people.

But after the fourth or fifth email from somebody saying "OMG OMG DIDYOUSEETHIS!?!" and acting as if I should be concerned or offended, I've decided that it'll be faster and more efficient to just post something now so I can point to it later :)

The article in question asks whether a Linux- or Windows-based technology platform is best for digital signage. WireSpring and a few others make Linux-based stuff. Pretty much everybody else uses Windows. Consequently, we do need to defend our decision on occasion, mostly to technical folks who know just enough to be dangerous. But rather than discuss technical merit or the pros and cons of the different kernel architectures, etc., I've found it much better to approach this discussion from a business perspective. So here it is, the secret sauce, the reason why this argument should be irrelevant by now:

Digital signage should NOT be approached as a tech project.

If you're an IT or AV guy, this might sound a bit disheartening, and you might not even believe it. Sure, there are computers and networks and screens and whatnot, but the way one sells a digital signage network into a venue (in my experience at least) is to explain what the screen can do, not how it works. Most people, deep down, couldn't care less whether their media players run Windows or Linux. What they do care about, are things like:

  • Will it play content the way I want it to?
  • Can I set it up to look different at different times and in different places?
  • Can I control it remotely?
  • Will it be stable and reliable - can I count on 24/7 playback?
  • Will it be secure, or will it get infected with viruses and spyware if I'm not keeping an eye on it?
  • Am I going to need to upgrade it?
  • What other 3rd party software/services will I need to make it work?
  • Is it affordable and cost-effective, both up-front and considering lifetime TCO?
  • Do I have to worry about licensing?
Real, practical concerns like these should always be the focus. So to BroadSign's point, yes, Linux can be a pain, and many hobbyist distributions don't come with decoders for lots of video formats or support for all sorts of hardware. But any digital signage software vendor worth their salt will be licensing all of the appropriate players and codecs and taking care of the technical headaches. If they're not, you want a different vendor. In fact, that's why our FireCast OS is a whole entire operating system. You can't run it on another Linux flavor like RedHat because as soon as you do, there are lots of potential problems. But rather than look at it as a technical issue, we tackle it as a business one. By offering the whole thing turnkey -- we'll even offer a "certified" hardware platform for those who want it -- we leave only one neck to strangle should something ever go wrong. That's even why we promote a hosted software model -- the less technical things for our customers to have to worry about, the better.

It's hard enough making a compelling digital signage network that's full of amazing content and meets a bunch of high-level business objectives. Throwing in capacity planning, server scalability, failover redundancy, player OS upgrades, anti-virus subscriptions and security patching just doesn't make any sense to me.

Would-be commenters beware: I make judicious use of the "delete comment" button. I'm not going to censor anybody's opinion, but if you post an obvious flame or an advertisement, it's going to get dropped in a hurry.

Tags: digital signage software, Linux, Windows

Web marketers note higher conversion rates with ads viewed on multiple sites

I thought this article from MediaBuyerPlanner was pretty interesting, even though it's focused on web marketing. As the graph clearly illustrates, conversion rates for banner ads are much better for customers who have viewed the ad (or multiple complementary ads from the same advertiser) on multiple sites. In fact, "Consumers reached across multiple publishers were twice as likely to convert as those reached only on a single publisher." That's pretty remarkable, and goes back to the old argument that reach and frequency do still have some place on the 'Net.

One wonders if this same effect has been noted out-of-home, either on newfangled digital signage networks, or else even old-school poster and POP display marketing. I know that a lot of our customers continually experiment, going back and forth between partitioning their networks to target only products in the immediate vicinity versus running run-of-site spots that appear on all screens in a store, regardless of location. While the former method really takes advantage of the target-specificity that digital signage systems offer, the latter might be a good idea if in-store shoppers turn out to behave much like the online shoppers measured in the chart above.

Of course, to buy into the theory of multiple exposures in-store, we'd also have to decide what constitutes a "site." Online it's pretty easy, with marketers dividing either by the page view, or the domain. In-store, we'd have to research if there was some amount of square footage that needed to be traversed before a shopper found himself in a new site, or whether there needed to be some notable change in environment (either via furnishings, personnel, or products on display). Then you'd need some newfangled tracking equipment to determine how many "impressions" a given shopper was exposed to, and compare that against purchase trends for products advertised locally versus those advertised across the entire venue. I suppose that traffic pattern data could be used as a proxy for more detailed tracking data, but even without that added bit of uncertainty this whole concept seems pretty fuzzy from a tracking perspective to me.

Tags: digital signage, retail media, out-of-home advertising

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Advertising Age says mobile marketing stymied by high CPMs

I was about to get into a serious rant about this article from Advertising Age that laments mobile marketing's ability to compete with traditional media due to (relatively) small audience sizes and high CPMs, but then I came across this great post from Dave Polinchock at Brand Experience Labs, who has already done it for me :)

So instead, all of you media buyers and planners out there, I want you to repeat after me:

There are other metrics besides CPM!
There are other metrics besides CPM!
There are other metrics besides CPM!

Got it? The continued reliance on such an irrelevant metric (in this case - I know it's great for other things, honest) continues to baffle me. I mean, how can you compare the value of 1,000 eyeballs potentially watching a 30-second TV commercial in a 2 minute pod during American Idol to a single user that you know is watching a 15 second ad before a downloaded video clip that he specifically requested. It's just amazing to me that there are organizations out there who are even attempting to relate the values of these two extremely different audiences, viewing environments and delivery methods the same way.

Yes, I understand that the powers that be speak the CPM language, and dream dreams that are evenly divisible by 1,000. I know this is the way it has been done since the dawn of time and that million-dollar software packages are optimized for this specific metric. But who on earth is going to get any value out of this new medium (and others, like out-of-home, retail digital signage, kiosks, etc., etc.) -- where the total value could potentially exceed that of today's traditional media in a few years -- by just keeping with the status quo? It'll never happen.

Google successfully got advertisers away from CPM and moved to a cost-per-click (and maybe soon a cost-per-action) model. Who's going to step up and do the same for all the other new media?

Tags: CPM, mobile media, below-the-line marketing, digital signage

Sponsored umbrellas track pedestrians with RFID

From the office of bizarre marketing experiments:

Yeah, I know it's not digital signage, but bizarre out-of-home advertising projects get me excited for some reason...

A startup company in Philadelphia called Dutch Umbrella is letting pedestrians borrow strategically-placed, sponsored umbrellas that can be picked up and dropped off at different authorized locations around the city. While the umbrellas do have all sorts of logos and sponsorship information printed on them, the really interesting part is that they each contain an RFID chip that is used to track the pedestrians' paths as they make their way through town. This information is then collected and used to sell additional sponsorships and advertising rights, presumably based on the "value" of a given location as based on the number of people who walked buy/near it. According to this article at MediaSoon, the service "costs $100 per month for [an advertising] campaign with 100 umbrellas in circulation. The name Dutch Umbrella is derived from the bicycle sharing system that’s long been a tradition in Amsterdam. Of course, effectiveness depends upon a good supply of rain spread continuously across the marketing period for the advertiser."

While this particular iteration of the product seems innocuous enough since it still provides for user anonymity, I wouldn't be surprised to see some enterprising outfit up the ante with uniquely-identifiable tags (in the form of key fobs, cards, whatever) that allow wide-field tracking through a metro area in return for some other kind of benefit, whether it be coupons or retail discounts, or even cash per mile walked. In the latter case one could even vary the rate based on the "value" of the real estate being traversed.

Tags: Dutch Umbrella, out-of-home advertising

Saturday, June 09, 2007

NY10, rechristened TAXI-TV, is finally ready to take New York by storm

MediaWeek picked up a little story on the famously complex TAXI-TV project being spearheaded in New York City. As the story goes:

ABC’s New York flagship WABC-TV with its partner VeriFone Transportation Systems, is the first vendor to get the green light by the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission to sell backseat touchscreen monitors to cab owners, the companies announced Monday. Tested by WABC-TV and VeriFone for more than a year, TAXI-TV features advertiser-supported content from WABC’s Eyewitness News, the WABC Web site, AccuWeather, ESPN; and restaurant, nightlife, shopping and hotel information from the Zagat Survey.

WABC and VeriFone are one of four vendors the NYC Taxi Commission is considering. By August 1, all NYC taxicab medallion owners must sign up for an integrated payment and content delivery system.

WABC-TV will be the primary sales agency for advertising on the backseat touchscreen monitors. A variety of ad opportunities will be available including video and interactive options.
So after all the previous confusion it looks like the deal is being pitched/sold by Verifone as a integrated payment deal that's probably partially or fully subsidized by planned advertising revenue on the TAXI-TV network. That's actually a pretty clever approach, since all of the past in-cab/bus networks I'd seen didn't offer any immediately tangible benefits to the venues themselves, and instead focused on future shares of advertising revenues (which typically never materialized or were much less than expected). But here there are a bunch of possibilities for spinning the deal, a number of which look like they might actually work.

Previous articles on the TAXI-TV project include:
Clear Channel Outdoor to deploy Taxi Entertainment Network to 5,000 NY cabs
When does TV become digital signage?
ClearChannel clarifies NY10 taxi cab signage network
Just how many NY taxi network projects are there?

Tags: NY10, TAXI TV, digital signage

Using technology to measure viewer engagement

Over the past year or so I've made it a point to ask every media/advertising expert I've met what their definition of "engagement" is. It's one of those concepts that has a very fuzzy, ephemeral feel to me, and it's hard talking about it a lot of the time because you can never tell what it means within any given group of people. While my personal feeling is that engagement is that thing you try to measure when you can't measure anything else -- you know, real metrics like impressions, sales conversions, whatever -- I know there are people who make good money focusing on viewer/customer engagement, whether that means improving store layouts, changing the content in TV commercials, or writing books on ... engagement.

Fortunately, the folks at MIT have been struggling with the concept as well (which makes me feel slightly less stupid), and in the grand tradition of stuff coming from MIT, their solution to the puzzle is to objectively quantify the physiological states and changes that relate to being engaged. According to this article from New Scientist (which is a year old, but I only just came across recently), a device which was originally developed to help people with autism better "read" body language and thus interact with others is now being looked at as a marketing tool to help advertisers and developers to see when viewers/shoppers are actively engaged with a given target, whether it be a TV commercial, a product on a shelf, or even a store associate:

[The] software, developed with Peter Robinson at the University of Cambridge, could detect whether someone is agreeing, disagreeing, concentrating, thinking, unsure or interested, just from a few seconds of video footage. Previous computer programs have only detected the six more basic emotional states of happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise and disgust. El Kaliouby's complex states are more useful because they come up more frequently in conversation, but are also harder to detect, because they are conveyed in a sequence of movements rather than a single expression.

[MIT Media Lab researcher Rana El Kaliouby's] program is based on a machine-learning algorithm that she trained by showing it more than 100 8-second video clips of actors expressing particular emotions. The software picks out movements of the eyebrows, lips and nose, and tracks head movements such as tilting, nodding and shaking, which it then associates with the emotion the actor was showing. When presented with fresh video clips, the software gets people's emotions right 90 per cent of the time when the clips are of actors, and 64 per cent of the time on footage of ordinary people.

I think this kind of technology could gain a lot more traction than the current state of the art for neuromarketing, the fMRI, which requires users to stick little sensors on their heads in a lab. On the other hand, a more sophisticated version of this device could be used innocuously -- maybe even feeding off of security camera feeds -- to track and train customer behavior without our knowledge, whereas it's pretty easy to tell when you're in somebody's lab with a bunch of sensors stuck on your head. So score one for technology-driven marketing projects, but privacy-conscious folks might want to start getting their tinfoil hats ready, just in case.

Unrelated, I find it odd that I nabbed two marketing-related articles from science site NewScientist recently. The other one went into an article on interactive paper and wireless power (yes, really) just a few days ago.

Tags: viewer engagement, out-of-home advertising, marketing

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Solutrea joins forces with Fusion Communications to launch the Hispanic News Network

This just barely made it onto my digital signage relevance meter thanks to PowerStar's involvement (they make digital signage solutions -- but hey, who doesn't?), but it's an interesting media play, and warrants a bit more attention. From the press release:

Solutrea Inc., the main subsidiary of Powerstar International Inc., the wireless and digital signage solutions provider, has entered into a Joint Venture Partnership with Fusion Communications to start the Hispanic News Network (HNN).

The Hispanic Population is the fastest growing demographic in the United States. The vastly under represented Hispanic market has few network news viewing alternatives and the launch of HNN will fill a rapidly growing need for quality Spanish -language news programming. HNN is being produced in cooperation with a major Mexican Television station and will be distributed via their local US affiliates as well as via major cable providers.

While there isn't a digital signage play in sight just yet, I wouldn't be surprised if that came into play later on, especially given the number of Hispanic-focused media agencies, retailers, etc. that have come out of the woodwork lately. While I fully agree what the Hispanic demo is the fastest growing one in the US right now, I also know that over 95% of them watch TV in English at home. Is that just because of a lack of good Spanish-language content? I have no idea, but between Televisa, Telemundo and Univision, which are all massive and extremely well-capitalized companies, I'm not quite sure how this small player is going to differentiate themselves.

I will say one thing - taking a stand as a premier provider of Spanish-language content for in-store media networks could make some marketing noise. I don't know what kind of revenue stream such a venture could hope to make, but that is a niche that doesn't have any major occupants (in the US at least) right now.

Tags: Hispanic News Network, digital signage, Hispanic marketing

Monday, June 04, 2007

A look at RippleTV's business model

A few days ago USA Today published an article on out-of-home media company RippleTV, who places free digital signs into regional/local chains with a focus on local advertising. The firm is up to about 300 locations all in the southern California region right now, mostly consisting of about 200 Coffee Bean stores and 100 Jiffy Lubes, though the article noted that the QSR Jack in the Box just joined, which could increase their footprint considerably.

Demonstrating somebody's lack of understanding about the out-of-home advertising market (and it's unclear whether it's USA Today's or RippleTV's), noted competitors include, "Gas Station TV, which puts TV ads on gas station pumps... Wal-Mart TV Network lets advertisers run messages in the retailer's stores... [and] Captivate, [who] shows news and information to workers in lobbies and elevators." It's a pretty big leap to assume that your spot for a local dry cleaners running in a selection of Coffee Bean stores is really in direct competition for advertising dollars with a nationwide spot for some P&G product running on Wal-Mart TV, but there you go. Actually, that idea might deserve a bit more explanation: it's easy to assume that alternative out-of-home media compete with each other for ad dollars. However, this isn't really the case at all. Today, when a dollar gets spent on some funky out-of-home promotion, a digital signage campaign, or anything else nontraditional and below-the-line (in marketer speak), that dollar is almost certainly being taken away from TV or print ads, both of which have shown declining effectiveness in recent years (TV more so than many print publications).

That nitpick aside, I thought the most interesting part of the article was a description of Ripple's business model:

Ripple offers advertisers a self-serve set-up. Companies register at Ripple's website — rippletv.com — then create or upload their image ad. The process is similar to posting videos or pictures at sites such as YouTube and MySpace. They can also can manage campaigns online, choosing stores where they want to advertise.


Advertising rates start at $18 weekly for a local Jiffy Lube to $40 weekly for a single Coffee Bean. They rise when more locations are added. Unlike on TV, the ads are guaranteed to run every five minutes.

Ripple's deal with businesses promises a free 50-inch LCD flat-screen TV and entertainment for customers. The Ripple network shows information from CBS, E Entertainment Network, ESPN and Yahoo.

The businesses also share in the advertising revenue, and dictate which kinds of companies can be promoted in their stores. For instance, Jack in the Box asked that rival hamburger chains be excluded.

Ripple's challenge is making money. The company isn't yet profitable, and its rates are so low, it will take some time to turn a profit.

The idea of scaling price structures with the number of screens is obviously not new, but the article almost makes it sound as if individual locations become more valuable when other same-branded locations are added to the available pool, which doesn't make any sense. More than likely I'm just reading that wrong, or it was incorrectly described. That would make sense if customers were buying chain-wide and were paying on some kind of CPM basis, but it sounds like the ads are being paid for more like POP displays or posters, which is on a per-location, per-use basis (which certainly makes the most sense to me).

Has anybody used this network? Can anybody clarify the payment schedule and any anecdotal performance metrics?

Tags: Ripple TV, digital signage, out-of-home advertising