Monday, July 30, 2007

Tesco TV to become Tesco Screens

As notes, the name change is more than symbolic, it represents a significant change in direction for the massive digital signage network, in terms of both content form and function. The biggest change is management group Dunnhumby's realization that digital signage isn't like TV, it's like POP displays, and their changes in relation to this have yielded spots that have driven advertised products an extra 5-25%. As Dunnhumby’s Joel Hopwood notes, "You can forget about the idea that the audience is going to put anything like the cognitive effort they put into a 30-second TV spot when they’re in-store," though he did note that "referencing a pre-existing TV spot is fine."

I'd take that one step further and suggest that the vast majority of shoppers aren't going to put any great cognitive effort into anything other than shopping, and even that is probably being generous. The result of Dunnhumby's efforts is that, "five-second executions without sound are delivering sales uplifts of five to 18 percent... [and the] latest ‘brand sting’ executions have performed extremely strongly, delivering 25 percent sales uplift for the Wrigleys Extra Big One launch."

Those results, if sustainable, are certainly noteworthy, though without the proper context it's hard to say whether it's a good deal for advertisers or not. For example, a 25% increase in chewing gum sales is nice, but if that yields additional profits that are less than the cost of advertising on the network, it's not nice enough. Considering that Hopwood used them as an example leads me to believe that's probably not the case, but you get the idea.

It's nice to see that there are big companies out there that are starting to "get it." Too many others would have simply pulled the plug and written off the network as a giant capital loss, but Tesco recognized that while the potential of the thing was still good, there was a problem with its execution and management. From the looks of it, the significant steps they've taken to try and fix them are starting to pay off.

Tags: Tesco TV, digital signage

CW offers advertisers a new short format ad: the 'Cwickie'

Awful name aside, it's not altogether unsurprising that we'd find advertiser innovation from a smaller network like the CW. Formed last year from the remnants of the UPN and WB networks, the CW still has much to prove to advertisers in terms of attracting and retaining viewers in key demographic brackets, and to this end they're willing to part with tradition and try new things. According to this article in Advertising Age, the most recent new thing is old news to those of us in digital out-of-home marketing, the short-short-format ad:

During an airing of "Friday Night Smackdown," Electronic Arts will run three 10-second ads CW has dubbed "cwickies," each of which will appear as the first ad in their respective commercial breaks. But that's not all. The cwickies will be sandwiched by "isolated" ad breaks -- each containing only one EA commercial. One, near the wrestling program's start, contains only a 60-second EA spot. The last, near the end, consists solely of a 90-second EA trailer. Everything leading up to the trailer points to that end piece, where video-game junkies can see never-before-viewed footage from "Madden NFL 08." Thanks to the innovative use of ad lengths and positions, EA can be well assured its commercials will stand apart from the rest of the 30-second pack that evening.
Using a 10 second clip to grab a viewer's attention without encouraging them to change channels right at the beginning of a new programs reflects the evolving viewing habits and typically short attention sp... ooh... shiny.... Wait, what was I saying? Oh, yeah, short attention spans of many folks in the 18-34 demo these days.

And of course by putting together a package deal with EA for some other prime spots and some longer promos throughout the show probably reduces the (perceived) risk for broadcaster and advertiser alike -- one of the big concerns on Madison Avenue, and a frequent reason why many other potentially innovative ad formats never see the light of day.

One thing that particularly excites me about these experiments is that we may start to learn more about short format advertising as more agencies get involved to supply TV and cable with sub 30-second spots. While there are a growing number of people in our industry that are becoming experts in digital OOH creative, there's still much that we don't know about the efficacy of our creative, so more experience and experimentation would be quite welcome.

Tags: digital signage, out-of-home advertising

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Cabbies to strike over GPS feature of NY10 network?

So I've been following the news of Vodafone/ClearChannel's NY10 taxi cab digital signage/kiosk network with some interest, as there are a number of really interesting business models that they might decide to try out, and with each passing month the story behind the system keeps getting odder and odder. Consider, for example, this recent post from Engadget, that notes that taxi drivers are so upset about the possibility of having GPS units installed that they're planning to strike. Apparently they don't like the idea of their employers watching over them all the time (can't imagine why).

Anyway, the GPS units are there to provide a host of other services as well, like mapping taxi pick-up and drop-off points, giving customers a better idea of the route they're taking though they can't like the idea that customers might be able to keep an eye on what drivers are doing, like when they turn a 2-mile trip from Penn Station to Rockefeller Plaza into an 8-mile sojourn ), and possibly even providing geo-located content, advertisements and purchase opportunities.

Tags: ,

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Diva says: turn down the racket on mall digital signage, or else!

I thought it pretty funny that right after a post on AdSpace's success with mall concourse digital signage I happened across a blog post from the Retail Design Diva about how annoying those systems (or reasonably similar ones) can be. In the article, "Make it Stop!", self-styled design diva Jessie Bove laments some of the more obnoxious methods that some mall advertisers use to call attention to their digital screens, including excessively loud audio. Her rant culminates in a Diva vs. digital sign food fight, with the winner being cheered on by a crowd of antagonized food court patrons, and the loser... needing a wash-down and maybe some Windex.

While that part is obviously meant tongue-in-cheek, Diva's message is loud and clear: digital signage systems shouldn't be too loud (the "and clear" part is probably OK). While it's understandable that advertisers would want to try things to get more people to look at the screens, surely they must understand that they're alienating their potential customers by using annoying, borderline obnoxious techniques to do so. Honestly, can they think that's going to work? Yes, I know mall concourses are loud, crowded places. There's too much marble and glass bouncing all of that ambient noise around, too many stores blasting competing music and too many conversations going on to make a quiet approach practical in many cases. But simply "solving" the problem by making sure your noise is louder than the rest isn't going to work.

I always tell people that their digital signage content needs to work without any audio at all. Whether making a product commercial, a how-to video or simply an upcoming calendar of events, the clip needs to be clear, easy-to-read and totally understandable without a soundtrack, voice over or other audio assistance. With superior visual content, audio can take a background role, appreciated when present, but unmissed if not. As for audio and the question of volume, that's one of the ongoing debates in our industry. Thankfully, there's technology that can improve things for mall patrons, c-store owners, or anybody else navigating a sign-laden environment in close quarters. The first are hypersonic speakers, which focus sound waves much like a laser, so only people passing through a very narrow area in front of the speaker hear anything. The other solution is to use an adaptive gain control speaker that uses microphones to measure and analyze background noise and adjust the volume accordingly.

While neither is a perfect solution, both will help to limit the collateral damage caused by putting in signs whose content doesn't appeal to everyone (and it never will). Still, even the best technology can't fix obnoxious content filled with over-the-top audio, so the best solution is the also most simple: don't do it!

Tags: mall signage, digital signage, out-of-home advertising

Monday, July 23, 2007

AdSpace and Nielsen announce digital signage measurement results

Advertising Age has picked up some news that Adspace Networks and measurement giant Nielsen just finished yet another round of media measurement and were kind enough to release some summary results. For those of you who haven't encountered them before, Adspace places between 10 and 15 digital signs in upscale malls (they have about 75 by the most recent count), and sells advertising time to promote the mall's stores, local events, national brands, etc. Here are the salient results:

  • 47% of all mall traffic saw the ads on at least one Adspace screen
  • Of those 47% traffic views, the average person viewed an ad 3.3 times
Both firms tout these numbers as much more accurate than any similar metrics taken before (which is saying something, since Adspace has done this kind of research with Arbitron in the past).

The marketing-ese statistics from their website provide a bit more background:
  • Each month over 1 million consumers visit the average Type A mall (enclosed, larger than 700,000 square feet)
  • These mall shoppers are affluent, with Household Income nearly double that of the general population ($77K vs. $41K annual HHI)
  • Teen girls and boys, women 18-34, and men 18-24 index highest among mall visitors
  • Adspace malls reach tens of millions of consumers each month
With Nielsen's more generalized PRISM study on the way, and POPAI promising to release the results of it's in-store media measurement survey next quarter, it seems like we should start to see a whole host of useful information about consumption measurement and consumer behavior really soon now. Of course, we've heard these promises before, so personally I'm going to have to see it to believe it.

Tags: AdSpace, digital signage, out-of-home advertising

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Context makes even good ads look bad

Right after I posted an article to the WireSpring weblog about the import roles that both content and context play in making a digital signage deployment successful, one of my colleagues sent me this hilarious and illustrative evidence that the same is true for any advertising medium.

I guess it just goes to show that no matter how fantastically amazing your content is, if it isn't shown in the proper environment, your message is going to be lost, or worse, misinterpreted entirely.

Technorati Tags: out-of-home, advertising,digital, signage

Friday, July 20, 2007

NBC U partners with PRN to sell digital signage ads

According to this post at Media Buyer/Planner, NBC Universal is aggressively expanding into the out-of-home advertising market, announcing a partnership deals to sell ad space both on PRN's Supermarket Checkout TV (found in more than 1,000 stores), as well as plans to do the same on a digital signage network on New Jersey's PATH trains. According to the article, "NBC U said the deal with PRN will yield 45 million impressions a year. More details of the deal, including ad specifics, are expected to be announced later this week."

In the past they've worked with VST Media Network to deliver content to their network of about 500 gas pump-top digital signs, and have also placed screens into about 550 taxi cabs in New York and Chicago, sometimes through a partnership with Clear Channel. Interestingly, while the article of course focuses on the PRN/Checkout TV deal, PRN's biggest customer -- WalMart -- is notably absent from the list of participating retailers. I guess that when it comes to in-store advertising, Wal-Mart really does keep tight reins, and plans to keep managing ad sales exclusively through PRN.

NBC U's continue expansion into the space echoes former NBC U Television Stations Director Jay Ireland's note that the firm is aggressively pursuing new venues aside from TV, and that out-of-home represents a "huge opportunity" for growth. Given their success so far, and the variety of venues that they've been selling into, I wouldn't be surprised if NBC U eventually becomes the first of the big aggregate digital signage media sales agents that we've all been waiting for and/or talking about. An entity like that could surely give digital signage ad sales startup SeeSaw Networks a run for their money, so that's going to deserve some ongoing attention.

With NBC U continuing to grow their presence in the space, I wonder if we'll start to see other media sales agencies start getting into the mix, either as suppliers to them, or by building out their own aggregate/affiliate networks.

Tags: NBC Universal, PRN, Checkout TV, digital signage

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mobile Impact Ads puts scrolling billboards on trucks

I'm really starting to wonder how much motion is going to be allowable on the roads, and whether or not we'll soon be awash in a sea of moving, mobile advertising. While I don't have anything against electronic billboards, for example, I do know from driving down the Las Vegas strip that putting a lot of them in close quarters makes for some very distracting driving (damned Cirque du Soleil ads!). But when you start talking about putting moving ads onto cars, trucks and buses that are themselves moving, that's another story entirely.

Sure, by this point we've all seen cars and buses wrapped in vinyl graphics advertising some department store, movie or other upcoming event. And of course trucks have had logos painted onto their sides for close to a century now. But up to this point, the graphics have been static, with the only motion coming from the vehicles themselves. But Mobile Impact Ads is starting to change that, and having seen one of their trucks on the road, I'm starting to wonder if an ad could be a little too eye-catching.

Have you ever driven down the road behind somebody with an in-car TV? While they might be a God-send for parents taking their kids on a long road trip, I have to admit that I find the little screens distracting, and my eye is frequently caught by the little flecks of movement coming from the screens. Now imagine that instead of a tiny screen, you have a 6x8' billboard. They're not constantly animated, but the images changed about once every 15 seconds by my count, and that was enough to make sure that I turned my head a little every time it happened.

I've seen a few half-hearted attempts to mount a digital screen on the side of a truck to show advertisements to passing motorists, but thankfully nobody has really taken that idea to its full potential yet. But surely somebody will try (until local law enforcement tells them to cut it out :)

Will some new advertising innovation eventually prove to be unsafe for drivers, or will we just continue to adapt and get more proficient at tuning out distractions behind the wheel?

Tags: mobile advertising, digital signage, electronic billboards

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Will Microsoft turn your desktop into a digital sign?

I'm perfectly comfortable with the concept of commercial advertising in retail venues. After all, these are businesses whose primary goal is to make money by selling their wares. By going to a store, I'm essentially broadcasting that I might be interested in purchasing something offered there, and I fully expect to encounter posters, packaging, POP displays, kiosks and digital signs letting me know what's for sale, what's on sale, and so on.

Likewise, I understand the need for commercial advertising on network TV. The networks are businesses that are essentially giving away paid-for content for free. They have to make up that shortfall (and hopefully turn a profit) somehow, so in come the commercials. I'm sure we can have hours of heady academic debates over the nature of advertising, its use (or misuse) by various agents of evil, and the propagation of culture through Marxist State Apparatuses, but the bottom line is, I like watching The Simpsons on FOX on Sunday nights, and my two options are either to purchase the DVD boxed sets every season, or endure a few minutes of commercials while watching on broadcast TV. (Nevermind that I do both in this particular case.)

Now, my home PC is another matter entirely. I've paid Mr. Dell and Mr. Gates a fair amount of money for this bit of technology, and given the profits that we know these companies are making, it's safe to say that they're not giving away anything. Consequently, when I boot up my computer, I expect it to go right to my plain, intentionally unadorned desktop. Likewise, when I fire up Word or Excel, I expect to be taken directly to my tools and document.

Where am I going with all this?

Well, apparently this last ad-free zone may soon come under attack, if this latest Microsoft patent application is anything to judge by. Let's have a quick look at the summary:

An advertising framework registers context data sources and advertising display clients from a variety of resources on a local computer. The ad framework may then receive context data and display triggers from the registered context data sources. The context data and display triggers may be processed and an advertising request generated and sent to an external advertising source. Non-advertising content may also be supported. When a targeted advertisement is received in response, a display manager may send the ad to an appropriate display client. When the ad has been presented a the advertising framework will communicate to the advertising supplier who may apportion and credit advertising revenue to the participating parties.
While there's no mention of when -- or even if -- this kind of "feature" will ever be integrated into the next version of Windows, we do know that Microsoft is hell-bent on getting into the advertising market:
Why not put all three together and deliver a system that allows MS to sell a "cheap," ad-supported version of the OS that either derives revenue from placing spots on the desktop or else annoys the user into "upgrading" to an unencumbered version? Or, since MS knows they have a desktop monopoly with no good alternatives (yet), why not just put ads on every desktop? Who cares if people complain, they have no where to go!

But why stop there? Microsoft could then search our hard disks looking for information with which to deliver personalized ads. Does Quicken show that you're spending 20% of your income on dining out? MS will pump ads for your local restaurants right to your desktop. Does your My Photos folder have lots of files from your last vacation? Maybe they'll send down ads for a competing chain of hotel, or from a different city's travel board.

Think it's unlikely? It might be right now, but then again, ten years ago would it have seemed likely that a single organization would control 25% of all internet advertising (or that internet advertising would be a multi-billion dollar industry, for that matter)?

Bottom line: Commercial advertisements in public, retail environments: OK. Commercial advertisements in free, over-the-air TV broadcasts? OK. Commercial advertisements built in to my personal computer running a fully paid-for operating system supplied by convicted monopolist with questionable ethics? BAD IDEA.

Tags: digital signage, Microsoft, big brother

Thursday, July 12, 2007

New research suggests outdoor electronic billboards are safe

There's been an ongoing debate over the safety of electronic billboards, and the latest research from the Foundation for Outdoor Advertising Research and Education (as reported in this article at Media Buyer Planner) suggest that digital billboards are no less safe than their traditional counterparts:

Tantala Associates, a consulting engineering firm, found no statistical relationship between digital boards and traffic accidents after examining traffic and accident data near all seven existing digital billboards in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, over a period of 18 months before and after the billboards were converted to digital.

A second study conducted by the Center for Automotive Safety Research at Virginia Tech's Transportation Institute concluded that digital boards were "safety neutral," based on a study of eye glance movements of 36 drivers in specially-equipped cars in Cleveland.

Results showed no differences in the overall glance patterns or frequency of glances between digital and traditional boards. Although drivers took longer glances in the direction of digital billboards, the mean glance length time was less than one second, generally considered to be an acceptable amount of time for a glance away from the forward roadway.
My biggest complaint with the study is that it doesn't seem like 36 drivers is a big enough sample to draw broad-sweeping conclusions from. I'd want to see a few hundred across a wider range of driving conditions, since traditional billboards are everywhere, whereas electronic billboards are clustered in only high traffic, high ambient-light, urban areas right now.

Also, while the OAAA (FOARE's parent organization) is a not-for-profit industry group, it's certainly possible that their desire to have positive results influenced the outcome of the study. I'd like to see a driver or public safety advocacy group run the same study and see if they yield the same result.

My gut feeling is that while electronic billboards are a lot more eye catching than their static counterparts, that doesn't necessarily mean that they're less safe. I can see the argument there, though, and I'll wager that placement, brightness levels and the content on the screens will have a much larger impact on driver safety than the mere difference between electronic and traditional billboards alone.

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

Measuring the value of an engaged viewer

Yesterday I posted a blog article on the WireSpring weblog about a Mediaedge:cia study examining how people devote some (or occasionally all) of their attention to different media. Their findings suggest that most of us are in a nearly-constant state of partial attention -- while we may appear to be focused on the task at hand, we're always leaving our eyes and ears open for something more interesting to focus on. Of course this has pretty severe implications for all forms out out-of-home media, since posters, digital signs and in-store audio systems all vie for little bits of our attention while we're focused on navigating aisles, looking for products, and generally, just shopping.

The research makes this article at Advertising Age (and the above image borrowed from the same) all the more interesting. According to Omnicom's OMD research group, a single "engaged" viewer of a medium (in their case, the one studied was regular TV) is worth eight regular viewers. From the article:

The research indicates that not only does consumer engagement with media and advertising drive sales, but it also can drive sales more than media spending levels. That suggests even a relatively small media outlay could work wonders should the ads draw keen attention from consumers within media they also find engaging, said Mike Hess, director of global research and consumer insights for OMD.
Granted Hess noted that more research needs to be done to establish a link between engagement and actual sales lift, which is really thing I found most interesting about this research. Normally we can take some research done for TV advertising, and without too much work we can figure out (or guesstimate, anyway) the implications for retail media networks.

But with this study, that's not exactly true. For example, we already know that there's a strong link between viewer engagement with a digital signage network and sales lifts for advertised products. Likewise, we know that the percentage of digital signage viewers that make a purchase
is muchhigher than TV viewers watching a commercial, but of course that's at least partially because of the psychological state of the viewer, the contextual relevance of the ad and the proximity of the ad to the advertised product.

Then, of course, there's the question of how to measure "engagement" in a retail environment. OMD used its own proprietary engagement measure, which primarily links how much people say they like an ad to an overall notion of advertising engagement. At retail, exit interviews, retail ethnographers or electronic glance tracking devices could all be deployed to try and measure engagement, and I'd guess that all three methods would yield different results.

So in the end, is an engaged viewer at retail really worth the same as eight not-engaged ones? I'd guess that if anything, the value is actually quite a bit higher since engaged viewers are already primed to purchase.

What do y'all think?

Tags: viewer engagement, advertising, marketing at retail, digital signage

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Lamar expands its electronic billboard network

While Clear Channel Outdoor has been stealing most of the lime light in recent outdoor electronic billboard arena lately, Lamar fought back a few weeks ago, announcing it would be increasing its outdoor electronic billboard presence to over 600 displays in operation by year's end, according to this blurb from MediaPost:

Outdoor division president Sean Reilly announced these plans at the Wachovia Securities 2007 Nantucket Equity Conference. That's about 150 or 33% more billboards than are currently in operation. Reilly added that whereas digital revenues represented 2% of the company's revenues in 2006, by May of this year, they represented about 5% of the total so far.
While 5% may still sound like peanuts, keep in mind that Lamar did about $1.12 Billion in 2006, so they're hoping to make in excess of $50 million on their 600-sign network this year. Even assuming that they had all 600 billboards operational by Jan 1 (6 months ago), that would represent about $83,000/sign/year, or just under $7,000/sign/month. When you consider that Clear Channel has been rotating 6 to 8 ads on every screen (and assuming that Lamar did about the same), that would suggest they could charge just under $1,200 per ad per screen per month, which seems pretty reasonable to me.

The trick for both Clear Channel and Lamar right now is figuring out how much cash to spend on the initial build out while the cost of electronic billboards remains high. Because of the large initial capital expense, only the most profitable locations can justify these electronic signs right now, and while both Lamar and Clear Channel certainly know which of their locations produce the right numbers, as we continue to go forward, the question of when and where to expand the network will become more difficult.

Tags: electronic billboards, Lamar, out-of-home advertising