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

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