Thursday, August 30, 2007

Entertainment Execs Move To Out-Of-Home Advertising

Media Post Publications is reporting that major players in the world of entertainment are now accepting top positions with fast rising out-of-home advertising companies. According to the article, "[p]lace-based video is expanding its base. Shortly after the formation of the Out-of-Home Video Advertising Bureau, and the launch of an initiative to create a new measurement currency, some of the nation's biggest place-based video networks are bulking up their ad sales forces.... One key move: hiring senior executives away from TV and big ad agencies."

Among the major hires the article lists is David Goldstein, who was formerly an executive at Walt Disney Pictures and MGM/UA. Goldstein will handle all film, television, home video, video game and music advertising for Premiere Retail Networks (who operates Wal-Mart TV and numerous other retail networks).

This is a good development for the out-of-home advertising market, as it bolsters not only the prestige and experience of its major execs, but also strengthens its link with above-the-line media and advertising outlets.

New York City-sized OOH advertising campaigns continue moving further out into the rest of the world trying to command viewer attention, whether on the road or at the mall. The decision by major execs in other industries is a big admission that media consuming habits are becoming splintered, and that traditional ways of reaching viewers no longer work on their own.

Most importantly (and hopefully), the more powerful creative types that join the OOH ad industry, the better our content will inevitably be. This should mean less spam, and more quality spots, which should also lead to a greater acceptance by the general public. By adding more and more OOH ads in places like corporate building elevators and even golf carts, the industry runs the risk of irritating viewers due to over exposure. But if the ads are done with the proper amount of creativity and regard for what exactly is going to capture the attention of audiences, that risk is significantly reduced.

The addition of greater creative talent will also bolster the visual impact that OOH media has. This means there'll soon be an end to content that looks like it was shot at night on your college roommate's camcorder, and the standardization around high-end digital HD content featuring well-scripted and edited shots. It could even open the gates for more powerful celebrity endorsements and featurettes. If the money and the pedigree is there, the big name celebs will soon follow. Stay tuned.

Tags: out-of-home advertising, OOH, marketing

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Get a free copy of the ultimate digital signage primer, "Lighting up the Aisle"

According to an email I just got from POPAI, if you register for their At-Retail Media (ARM) conference by tomorrow at 3PM you'll get a free copy of Laura Davis-Taylor and Adrian Wiedman's digital signage primer "Lighting up the Aisle". I actually just posted a mini-review of the this great digital signage primer over at the WireSpring digital signage blog, so I can tell you that it's a must-read for anybody thinking about getting started with digital signage or interactive retail media. It also offers some great insights and much-needed perspective for those of us a bit more familiar with the subject matter, so it's by no means a "for dummies" book.

If you're interested in registering, click here to register or view a roster of speakers and a schedule.

For what it's worth, I went to the ARM conference last year and it was a really good, solid experience. This event is a one-day seminar that draws speakers from multiple different (but complementary) industries and managed to present both practical and theoretical information. Since my biggest complaint about these kinds of seminars is that they often stray too far into theoretical territory and provide precious little "take-home" knowledge, as far as I'm concerned ARM Expo 2006 gave POPAI real digital signage street cred.

While this year's conference features many of the usual suspects, Steve Yetsko's presentation on how to tell if in-store media is working could be the one to beat. Here's the synopsis:
Traffic counts and point of sale data only tell part of the At-Retail Media story. The book has yet to be written on what content mix makes digital signage advertising most effective. By utilizing video mining, Digital signage networks can become real world test labs to find out what content can attract, engage and motivate.
Plan on going?

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Philips to try their hand at 3D marketing

AdRants reports that Philips will be the latest company to throw their hat into the 3-D Marketing ring. According to the official press release, "Philips is introducing the 3D WOWzone, a large 132­inch (335 cm) multi-screen 3D wall, designed to grab people's attention with stunning 3D multimedia presentations. By creating a 'spell­binding' 3D experience, marketing professionals can use this eye catcher to increase brand and product awareness in larger public spaces at events, exhibitions, reception areas and theme parks."

The release also states that no specially designed 3D glasses are needed to view the ad. Which is definitely a plus considering that no self-respecting person in the world would be carrying around a pair.

This kind of thing is not new, we've seen it before here as well as here. The big question is does it really work? Can it improve brand recognition and recall, or is it just a cool diversion that most consumers won't give a second thought about? The key may be to look at it from the point of view that a good portion of ads (especially in the out-of-home market) succeed when they provide viewers with information they are genuinely interested in, instead of just playing up flashy colors and cool visuals. Said flash-and-dazzle is simply there to attract a viewer's attention and (hopefully) provide a tiny bit of entertainment while he's absorbing the information.

Tags: 3d marketing, digital signage, out-of-home advertising

Kiosk software vendor NetKey to buy digital signage firm Webpavement

I was really surprised to find this press release this morning announcing that Netkey, probably the biggest kiosk software vendor out there, has purchased Webpavement, one of the original digital signage software companies. In retrospect, though, there were plenty of clues that something like this was in the works for some time, and I probably should have seen it coming.

First, Netkey has been on the prowl for a digital signage firm to purchase for months (at least), and I've spoken to several folks who claimed to have turned them down for one reason or another. So it's clear they've been thinking of a non-organic way to quickly get into the digital signage market for at least a little while. Second, while they had a tiny booth at this year's Digital Signage Expo (and Webpavement had none), according to the most recent booth layout diagram that I got for the show, Netkey plans to drop a good $25K or so on space at next year's event, so it looks like they'll be working hard to try and build their brand in the market. And finally, while Webpavement was one of the companies we used to encounter a lot in head-on competitions, the only time we ever hear about them these days is when one of their former customers is converting to our kit, so I guess they've been struggling.

Not surprisingly, the press release doesn't say anything about the terms of the sale except that Netkey will be carrying over Webpavement's product line (at least for now). If I had to guess, I'd say we're talking about a sub $5 million purchase since Netkey is clearly looking at this is as a technology play, and while I could be wrong, Webpavement doesn't have a ton of customers that Netkey will be able to derive ancillary revenues from anyway (not to mention that I doubt Netkey had that much in the bank).

Now what they do have are customers. In spades. Netkey's biggest client is Target, whom they do all sorts of kiosk projects for, but they're not allowed to mention them in press releases, so it's unclear how deep that relationship goes. Of course, Target already has some digital signage in the form of Channel Red (which I believe is powered by Reflect Systems, who will have to stay on guard now), but there hasn't been any indication that they're planning to expand their digital signage project. Netkey also has a very capable interactive kiosk platform and a remote management system that will almost certainly overlap with Webpavement's "Sign Administrator," so it will be interesting to see what "new" products Netkey offers at the 2008 DSE.

Before I close, I have to say that I'm so relieved that Netkey is now the, "the only company able to offer businesses a comprehensive suite of best-in-class software products and services designed to increase sales..." etc, etc. Yup, they're the only one. So all you potential customers and prospects out there, if you're looking for the one good company on the market, there they are, and apparently there are no others (which, needless to say, comes as something of a surprise to me). And I thought hyperbole was dead :)

In all seriousness, any companies looking to start a new network would probably be doing themselves a favor to stay away from Netkey/Webpavement right now, since the companies will likely be focused on the merger of platforms, businesses and technologies for the next few quarters. Will they emerge as a new digital signage powerhouse by DSE 2008 by late February? I guess it's not outside of the realm of possibility, but with digital signage companies already coming out of the woodwork it's going to take some serious legwork to demonstrate what's unique, different and better about their product.

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Monday, August 27, 2007

This City Is Brought To You By Nissan

In an example of branding taken to the extreme, MediaPost is reporting that Nissan, in conjunction with Clear Channel's Branded Cities, has struck a deal to make their line of automobiles the official ones endorsed by Westgate City Center, an $850 million development near Glendale, Arizona.

According to the article: "Clear Channel's Branded Cities model for Westgate goes far beyond billboards, per Dan Jasper, vice president of Clear Channel Branded Cities. He says Nissan's two-year category-exclusive venture includes signage on three 100-foot tall Times Square-style media boards, and a live events package that gives Nissan the right to host test drives at 10-concert "Nissan Concert Series," starting this month with a show by rock band Great White."

It's out-of-home advertising on steroids.

The article also points out that Nissan is actually the second company, after Qwest, to strike up this kind of deal with the city. This means the gates are open and that more companies can, and most likely will, join in.

The idea of brands staking claim to large cross-sections of particular populations is nothing new (companies like Pepsi and Coca Cola branding universities as their own is one instance), but this deal belongs in a category of its own. To think about what this type of extreme advertisement can eventually lead to is mind boggling for any advertiser looking to re-enforce a brand in a sweeping way. How long before Starbucks becomes the official coffee of Manhattan (yes, I know, you could probably argue that it already is) or McDonald's becomes the official fast-food restaurant of Las Vegas? What's to stop major metropolitan areas from raking in some serious cash from ventures like this?

It'll be interesting to be see how the people who decide to live in the development react. Either they'll feel like they are living in a gigantic commercial or they'll just kind of roll with it as just a natural extension of large-scale branding already taking place. Or maybe they'll even see some benefit from living in a sponsored community.

This move presents a very lucrative opportunity for OOH advertising, as it offers to bring the dazzle and panache of Times Square to many smaller market that wouldn't have been able to pull off such a spectacle otherwise. It will be particularly interesting to see how rural and suburban folks react as the bright lights and big ads move out of their traditional homes in the cities, where for some they were actually a tourist attraction.

Ultimately, I believe that the key factor for advertisers and media planners/buyers looking to invest in this nascent trend will be to figure out whether the broad approach of "sponsoring" an entire city or development is worth it. At this point, though, it could still go either way: citizens might eventually reject Nissan because of over-exposure, or living in a branded community might become a status symbol. Only time will tell.

Tags: out-of-home advertising, branding

Retail digital signage: brand building, sales lifting, or both?

That's the question that Laura Davis-Taylor asks in her most recent query to RetailWire's BrainTrust panel, and as one might expect, the answers range from "brand building only!" to "sales lift only!" to a little bit of both. My opinion, you ask? Why, here it is:

I get asked this exact question all the time, and after working on both brand-building and sales-boosting projects, I've come to a conclusion that now seems pretty obvious: neither the medium nor the technology are sufficient to direct a retailer/advertiser to choose branding over sales lift, or vice versa.

If you're working with a big box retailer that uses posters and POP displays to sell product, they will expect the digital signs to do exactly the same thing. They're just dynamic posters, after all. However, take the same exact technology and put it into a high-end fashion boutique (where art photos and lifestyle shots of happy people in expensive clothing adorn the walls) and the screens will be used for branding and improving the in-store experience, because that's what the static fixtures are already doing.

Can digital signs be used to help a retailer or advertiser expand into new advertising strategies and techniques? Absolutely. But those who install digital signage networks and think they'll suddenly be able to flip their retail marketing and merchandising strategies on their heads need to realize that it's just another medium for the kinds of creative things that they've been doing all along.

We've written quite a bit about experience, branding and private label networks, private label merchandising networks and advertising-supported networks in the past, and the important thing for people to remember is that digital signs are not inexorably tied to any one business model. They're just another tool in your marketing toolbox. Thus, asking a question like "are they better for X than Y" is virtually impossible to answer, because it depends on whether the venue/advertiser/whomever is already any good at doing X and Y.

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Scientists find a way to measure visual clutter

One of the most common complaints from those who appose digital signage and out-of-home advertising in general is that it creates a visual clutter that "pollutes" the landscape with distracting and often unattractive messages. While I'm sure we've all seen our fair share of poorly-constructed ads that to take away from the environment, the argument over what constitutes "clutter" and what's merely an extension of the existing surroundings has been a difficult one for both sides, as there has been no way to quantify any kind of visual "unit". But all that might be about to change...

According to this article at MIT News, researchers working on a way to optimize graphical user interfaces on computers and personal electronics have been able to quantify visual clutter by looking at the things that make individual visual items easier or harder to pick out of the crowd (think color, contrast, edges, curves versus lines, and so on). The article notes:

To be useful, such a tool has to capture the effect of clutter on performance. In their paper, Rosenholtz and her colleagues-- MIT BCS graduate student Yuanzhen Li and BCS undergraduate Lisa Nakano--tested the influence of clutter on searching for a symbol in a map, like an arrow indicating "you are here." They found good correlation between the time it takes to find a symbol in a map and the amount of clutter according to their measure.

In earlier work they also showed that their clutter detector correlates well with human subjective judgments of clutter. In that case, the team asked 20 people to rank 25 maps of the United States and San Francisco in order from most cluttered to least cluttered. The maps ranged from a gray and green map of the 50 states to a San Francisco Bay area map overlaid with lines, words and colors.

Although there was a fair bit of disagreement among the people being tested about what constituted clutter, when the researchers compared results from their clutter measure to those of their human subjects, they found a good correlation.

While the tool has been created to study a relatively confined environment (namely, a computer desktop), it stands to reason that the same software could be used to create a metric that could be used in other environments as well, like the inside of a store, the exterior of a shopping mall, or the side of a road at a busy intersection. I certainly feel like there are times when being able to do a before-and-after comparisons and say something like "the signage increased visual clutter by 6.5%, but any negative aesthetic consequences are offset by 4.3% improved navigability" would be very useful.

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Saturday, August 25, 2007

Clear Channel adds more electronic billboards

Trying to extend their lead over Lamar's digital billboard network, Clear Channel announced that they'll be adding even more screens to their empire, further solidifying their position as the current industry leader. With a total of 76 of the large, expensive LED billboards installed since the first of the year, Clear Channel has now invested tens of millions of dollars in modernizing their static billboard empire.

I'd love to know what they expect their time-to-positive-ROI will be, but one thing's for sure: they obviously expect the ability to rotate through multiple spots to pay big dividends.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Mobile Advertising = More Intrusive = Viewers Want Free Stuff

An article in MarketingVOX talking about a new study by Universal McCann concludes that even though mobile advertising presents new opportunities, viewers are irritated by new ads on mobile Internet and TV services.

Unless, of course, they are given free stuff.

According to the article, "recent reports also suggest the world's 2 billion mobile users are turned off by tactics simply imported onto their phones from the desktop and TV. The solution to this problem may lie in offering a different value proposition to users in exchange for perceived "intrusions."

The global study found users were more receptive when they got free content from advertisers, such as branded content and opt-in Bluetooth downloads. For example, Coca-Cola gave away free songs on iTunes."

So what does this mean for an advertising world that has to increasingly up it's level of intrusiveness in order to reach constantly diverted audiences? It's simple: make the ads (regardless of what form they take or medium they're displayed on) worth viewers' time and make sure they are getting something out of them.

While the idea of free iTunes songs is great, a give-away is not the only method for making an ad worth a viewer's time. For example, it sounds simple enough, but if an ad provides a viewer some kind of genuine knowledge about a product they are already interested in buying, then they'll view it as more helpful than intrusive. While it's hard to know when a viewer is interested in a product or not, it's somewhat easier with in-store advertising, since customers are typically in the store because they want or need to buy things sold there. It's thus important for in-store ads not to rely simply on flashy, spam-like content, but instead focus on features, benefits and a useful message that can encourage shoppers to pay attention, at least momentarily. Otherwise, they'll just look the other way.

We live in an increasingly media literate society -- this is no longer the world portrayed in AMC's Mad Men. People know when advertisers are trying to sell them something, and with their new found literacy they want some respect. They recognize junk ads when they see them and are now well conditioned to simply ignore them. And while it's impossible (or at least not cost-effective) to a have a giveaway incentive for every ad, it really should be possible to up the quality of in-store media to the point where the message itself is the thing that delivers value to the shopper.

Tags: mobile advertising, in-store advertising, digital signage

Thursday, August 23, 2007

GSBC... maybe not so ready to take over the digital signage world

Oh man, I was so excited that I'd be able to do a follow-up post to my original story on GSBC and their weird and wild rollup strategy to the digital signage market that I missed the boat and Dave Haynes beat me to it. Here's a quick recap of what has come to pass:

Back in February of '07 a heretofore unknown satellite company based out of Thailand and operating (to some extent) in Asia decided that they were going to start the be-all and end-all of digital signage companies. They acquired a few of the smaller players in the Asia-Pacific market (namely Wallflower Digital and M-Cast), and then announced that they'd be going public on a US stock exchange, and would attain revenues in excess of $43 Billion by 2012 by using their "patented" technology to run out, aggregate and control all of the big digital signage networks in operation today.

Needless to say, none of that has yet come to pass. Later in the year the company did a reverse triangular merger with a tiny, publicly-traded company whose prior business was taking risqué photos of lady bodybuilders (and I use the term "lady" loosely here). A quick but unimpressive way to get onto a US exchange, the company hasn't done much since then, and has even cut back on the grandstanding.

While Haynes and I can sit around and speculate about the probability of success or even the legality of their operation (there have been some questions), aka has taken the high road and done some actual research into the company's current state of affairs. Needless to say, they don't look too pretty.

My guess? GSBC will die a quiet death before the end of 2008, with maybe a handful of significant investors ticked off enough to pursue options of the legal variety.

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Disclaimer: the above article is an opinion, and should be used for entertainment purposes only. Bill is not a financial professional and is not qualified to give financial or legal advice.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

YouTube's InVideo ads give advertisers yet another place to spend money

MediaWeek, along with a ton of other media news sources has reported that YouTube will begin inserting ads into the content on their site. According to the article:

"YouTube executives say that these ads are designed to be as non-intrusive as possible to users while balancing advertiser needs. InVideo ads don't even appear on screen until a video has been playing for at least 15 seconds, and they then disappear 10 seconds later unless clicked upon."
This is a big development for several reasons, not the least of which being that YouTube, Facebook, MySpace and others are leading an advertising revolution, siphoning ever more money away from traditional media (i.e. television, print or "old-school", etc.).

The main benefit that YouTube touts is similar to our pitch for out-of-home advertising: it targets a very specific audience at a time when they are well positioned to take an advertisement to heart, and hopefully act on it. With OOH an ad might reach a consumer in a department store where she's just a few steps away from making a purchase. On YouTube a viewer might watch a video of one of their favorite bands playing live and then watch an ad for that band's new CD pop up, leaving them only a couple clicks away from an impulse buy on Amazon.

On the flip side, one of the major issues this raises (which also makes it similar to OOH advertising) is how viewers will tolerate the extra level of intrusiveness. Will they be put off by how much the ads interfere with their media choices and avoid using the service? The YouTube execs were silent on the issue because, put simply, this is going to annoy people. YouTube viewers are not used to ads popping up in the videos and there is sure to be a backlash. In fact, one of the reasons the site became so popular in the first place is because it was "by the people and for the people" and it didn't belong to "the corporations." Sadly, those days are gone and now YouTube's cultural weight has to reap financial rewards. The key will be finding the right balance between keeping the annoyance factor low but still yielding strong results for advertisers.

Want to hear more opinions on the matter? There's a great c0nversation on this very topic taking place on LinkedIn right now, so check it out!

Tags: Google, YouTube, advertising

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Cheap media, cheap ads

Seth Godin, master of business 2.0 marketingspeak, had a great riff the other day that rings true for so many digital signage projects that I've either witnessed or have been involved with:

When the ads are cheap (think banners, or cable or AM radio), the content is lousy.

A SuperBowl ad costs a few million dollars to run... so the beer companies and the dot com companies spend millions creating the ad, even if it runs only once. A banner ad that you can buy for $200, on the other hand, appears to be created by a small chipmunk in the secretarial pool.

There's no economic reason for this. You can run that banner ad in a thousand places. You can run that radio ad in 200 cities. If the media is cheap, it might just be a good value. And if you can run an effective ad, you can run it far and wide and turn a profit.

Or you could just run a cheap ad.

You and I can probably both think of a dozen digital signage networks where we've witnessed this effect. The screens will go live with gorgeous content, professionally-shot video, high-end animations, and the like. Six months out, the content budget will have dwindled, or maybe it's taking longer to attain a positive ROI, but whatever the issue, the content takes a turn for the worse. Advertisers become stingy, network operators are happy to get anything fresh at all, and consequently everybody settles for a much lower quality of content than they did in the beginning.

What's the solution? Well, from a technology standpoint it's getting easier and easier to make good looking content. Not great content, mind you. That will never be easy. But more powerful tools can get you further into "good" territory than ever before. From a business standpoint, as more digital signage standards emerge (for things like content resolution, file format, spot length, etc.), and as more networks become available to advertisers (either independently, or through some kind of aggregation network), the potential value of each spot should increase. According to Godin's theory above, if you can run an effective ad far and wide, it should be profitable.

One thing's for sure, though: while content doesn't have to be expensive to be great, cheap, uninspired spots will never perform well. And if you can't turn a profit running your ads, why bother running them at all?

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Germans combat DWI with pee-powered interactive digital signage

Could I make this stuff up? We've all seen/heard about purely non-interactive digital signage in public restrooms before, but I've never heard of anything like this (courtesy of Brand Experience Lab, and originally from Adfreak).. I would love to have been in the initial strategy meeting, which may have gone something like...

German Public Service Guy: We're having a big problem with drunk drivers leaving the pub at 4am and getting into car wrecks.

Saatchi & Saatchi: We can certainly help you with that.

GPSG: We need something really great, really catchy -- something that will grab a person's attention and make them realize what they're about to do. Like that "Think Different" campaign you did for Apple.

S&S: Um... that was TBWA\Chiat\Day

GPSG: Oh. Well, just do what you did in those Volkswagon commercials. Germans love Volkswagons, you know.

S&S: No, that was Chiat Day again.

GPSG: Ah. Well, what have you done lately?

S&S: Well, we did Lovemarks. That was a big success. Lots of mindshare. Tons of press.

GPSG: No, Lovemarks doesn't sound like it will work with a bunch of drunk guys in a pub. What was the name of that other agency you mentioned?

S&S: No, wait... it's coming to me... guys... pub... booze: I know! An interactive video game played on LCD screens in pub bathrooms and controlled by a stream of urine.

Other S&S Guy (you know, the quiet one who never says anything and nobody's ever quite sure why he's there): Brilliant. Massive ROI, just massive.
There's no talk of how they'll be measuring the performance of the screens, but at least we know it will be easy to measure viewer engagement.

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Monday, August 20, 2007

AdMob Launches Advertising Aimed at iPhone Users

The folks over at AdMob have recently announced that they will launch an advertising unit geared specifically towards reaching iPhone users.

According to the press release, “AdMob's ad servers will now recognize iPhone users and serve iPhone-specific advertisements. The new unit leverages the core technologies available for the iPhone, including mapping technology for location-based advertisers.”

AdRants posted a quick blurb about the subject, along with a YouTube video showing an example of the kind of advertising iPhone users will need to grow accustomed to.

With media behemoths such as Apple and AdMob (they rep Coca Cola, Starbucks, Reuters, etc.) behind this advertising, it’s a safe bet that mobile ads designed to exploit the multimedia features in the next generation of smart phones will become more common. Along with digital signage and other out-of-home media, this kind of one-to-one advertising is a great way for companies to reach desired audiences based on very specific interests, and really tap into their desired demos. Critically, it has the ability to reach consumers when it matters most: in a climate where they hold cash in their hands and are waiting to make a buy.

Yet unlike digital signage, which represents a technology that people can choose to interact with based on their interest level, the iPhone ads seem like they have the potential to be a little more intrusive. Therein lies a potential problem.

When walking around a mall, we expect to come face to face with advertisements and enticements of all shapes and sizes. This is not necessarily the case with our phone calls, which represent a more personal investment of our time. Is it too far fetched to think that in the near future all iPhone calls will end with some deep-toned ad narrator saying “Thank you for your phone call. It was brought to you by McDonald’s. I’m loving it,” with a coinciding ad for a value meal popping up on the screen?

That kind of extreme approach to the iPhone ad could easily result in a backlash when consumers grow tired of being sold things based on private conversations, whether they are on the phone or writing an e-mail. This is not to say that AdMob’s new product is a negative addition to the ad world. Far from it. When used properly, and in conjunction with other out-of-home media techniques, this technology can certainly reinforce brand dominance in a powerful way. It just needs to be willing to meet its audience when they are ready for it, and not pop up at unexpected and unnecessary times.

Fortunately, AdMob offers a good degree of flexibility when it comes to reaching audiences. Clients have the opition of choosing from text only ads or ads with banners, and can use "Target Tree Technology" to help pinpoint how small or large an audience the client wants to appeal to. These measures should help ensure that advertisers will get the right level of exposure, and that their ads won't be more intrusive than they'd like.

Tags: out-of-home advertising, mobile advertising, iphone

A fresh perspective on digital signage

Between WireSpring's digital signage and kiosk weblog, this blog, the Kiosk News blog and the In-Store & Retail Media News blog, I've been working double-time trying to keep up with all of the amazing news and innovations coming out of the industry lately. I've also found that the rampant BS press releases, unsubstantiated claims and excessive hype have somehow made me even more cranky and jaded than before.

Thankfully, we've brought in a new blogger, Phil Contrino, to take some of the heat. He's a smart, very media-savvy guy, and most importantly, brand new to the retail media industry. Hopefully that means it'll be a couple of months before he gets sick of the junk that we have to slog through daily in order to get to the real news :)

Phil's first post will be some time tonight or tomorrow, so keep your eyes opened!

Unrelated, what do you think of our new site redesign? We tried to better integrate the three blogs, since we realized that there was a big audience overlap. Also, comments are enabled on all three blogs, so hopefully we'll see some great conversations start popping up across the board (you can also subscribe to the comments directly, if you're into that kind of thing).

NBC TV coming to a New Jersey train near you...

... provided that you live in New Jersey and take the PATH train, that is. According to this blurb on Media Buyer Planner, "NBC content, including local news from NBC's New York flagship,

WNBC-TV, will play for PATH train passengers beginning in 2008. Eight
TV screens are being installed in each of 340 train cars that make up
the trains that travel between New Jersey and New York City. Screens
will also be installed on PATH train platforms." The deal is apparently part of a larger agreement with JC Decaux, and is a further indicator of NBCU's intent to get more seriously involved in out-of-home media.

I've always been a fan of in-train entertainment. When I've run into it in the past, the screens have generally been non-intrusive, they've run useful information (usually news, weather, and a smattering of other locally-relevant info), and most importantly they've had the audio turned off. I've even seen a few cases where they broadcast the audio on the FM band, so if you have a walkman or MP3 player that can tune FM, you can listen in. But it's entirely at your option. One thing that I'd hate to see is an NBCU in-train TV system that had the audio blaring all the time. That would get me irritated in a hurry, even if I was already trying to drown out the din of the train with tunes blasting from my iPod.

That having been said, I know of some other people (who ride trains much more frequently than I do), who've repeatedly complained about the numerous in-train TV systems that have gone to trial. There's a certain subset of daily commuters who look at their train ride in and out of the city as a last bastion of quiet time. Sure, they can whip out their Blackberry or laptop if they really want to get some extra work done. But they can also listen to music, read a book, or just vegetate without distraction.

Then, of course, there are the economic issues to consider. For example, how much distraction is it worth to keep train fares low? If installing an in-train TV system will allow the train operators to avoid a $2/ticket price hike, would that make it more acceptable? Will the additional revenue from advertisers allow the companies to run more trains, reduce congestion, or improve other services? What if they rolled it out with free WiFi for people who did want to use their laptops while riding?

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Average media usage drops; experts see shifts to targeted marketing

As reported by Ad Age, for the first time in a decade, US consumers spent less time using media compared to the previous year. However, even in light of that we still consume a ton of the stuff -- about 3,530 hours/year (or about 9.6 hours/day) on average. One of the trends that might have caused the decline has been consumers' choice for "faster" media like the Internet over slower ones like newspapers and magazines. I can scan the Wall Street Journal, and the BBC, read several relevant articles, and move on to my next task in far less time than reading a single section of the WSJ's print edition. Consequently, even though I might be exposed to the same amount of information (or at least the information that's important to me), I can get at it faster than before. Hence, an overall decline in the amount of time consuming these media.

As a consequence of this, non-targeted ads are losing ground as marketers strive to be as timely and relevant to their audience as possible.
"In the overall advertising area, dollars are moving from advertising to targeted media," Jim Rutherford, EVP and Managing Director, Veronis Suhler Stevenson (a private investment firm) said. "They're not willing to pay for broadcast TV advertising. Dollars have
come into the targeted media, and the dollars shrink because the
targeted media is more efficient." Consequently, VSS foresees a significant shift in ad spending, with online being the biggest winner (it's expected to reach $62 in the next 5 years, surpassing newspapers).

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Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Bar patrons have good recall for ads on digital signs

Judging by Andrew Hampp's surprised reaction to the news in Advertising Age, I might suspect that maybe he's knocking back a few too many when he goes out with friends. Granted, I probably would have suspected, like him, that most bar-goers wouldn't notice ads running on digital screens, and if they did, they almost certainly wouldn't remember any of them. But that thinking runs counter to research done by Arbitron and Ecast, the owners of a 10,000 unit strong digital jukebox network. In fact, "a recent Arbitron study of bars and nightclubs found the average brand recall was 43% for an ad on the Ecast platform," when limited to "patrons who spent more than one hour in a bar and interacted with the Ecast platform, which consists of banner ads that accompany music selections."

So what does that mean? Well, for one thing, hanging out at a bar for an extended length of time (say an hour or more), you probably will start to notice all of the ads being broadcast at you. For another, if the product being advertised is sold in the bar (like premium liquor or something), that 43% number is likely low, since, let's be honest, I'm sure a lot of the people surveyed had poorer recall the next day due to alcohol consumption than they would have while they were actually in the bar. And let's not forget that POPAI's famous "70% of brand decisions are made in-store" quote applies to bars, nightclubs and restaurants as well. Getting somebody to switch from Coors to Bud, or from Absolut to Stoli is a big deal to alcohol marketers, so while the longer-term recall rate at 43% is nice, the shorter-term recall rate is almost certainly higher, and that should have the makers of all sorts of food and drink makers taking notice.

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Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Avanti Screenmedia struggling, seeking additional funding

This just in, thanks to Adrian at DOOH:
LONDON (Thomson Financial) - Avanti Screenmedia Group PLC said it is urgently seeking additional funding, as it is currently reliant on its overdraft facility, due to lower-than-expected sales in the period to June 30.

The implementation of the new strategy — following the demerger from the satellite networks business — also compounded the situation, Avanti said in a trading update.
However, the in-store digital solutions provider added that trading is showing signs of improvement. ‘The company will update shareholders of further progress in due course,’ the company said.
Ouch. Avanti is one of the oldest and largest digital signage firms in the industry, and one of the very few that are publicly traded. Thus it's a bit disappointing to think that even with all of the time they've had and money they've raised they still haven't figured out the secret recipe for making an ad-funded digital OOH network profitable.

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Monday, August 06, 2007

The usefulness of HD content on digital signs

This New York Times article (brought to my attention via this article at Experientia) helps to make a point about something lots of people ask about, but few understand: the use of HD in digital signage applications. With every Best Buy and Circuit City salesrep singing the praises of "true" HD screens that can display a 1920x1080 resolution, it's easy to understand why so many people jump into a digital signage application thinking "we're going full HD on this." But the truth, as far as I've been able to tell, is more complex. While we've all seen stunning HD images of aquariums, sports cars and exotic tropical isles, and while these are certainly eye-catching in a home theater, they are decidedly less so in the retail store. Additionally, the kind of really impressive high-motion content that best demonstrates what HD has to offer is typically a poor choice for in-store sales and merchandising. Yes, sharp, high-contrast content is important. But I've yet to see a case where the benefits of using HD content outweigh the size and performance penalties associated with doing so (especially in non-trivial screen setups that utilize dynamic content).

But what about text, you say? After all, the best thing about all those pixels is that you can display ultra-fine details and hence use smaller, sharper text, right? That's where the aforementioned NYT article comes in, discussing the industrialized world's aging population, and specifically, their eyes:

As baby boomers grope their way through middle age, they are encountering the daily indignities that accompany a downward slide in visual acuity: trying to read a road map in a car at night; cellphones designed for 20-year-old eyes; the minuscule letters on a bottle of aspirin; nutrition information squeezed onto a bag of peanuts.

And unlike their parents and grandparents, they are not shy about expressing their displeasure, in some cases, taking matters into their own hands or prompting some companies to pay attention.

“Everything is so much more eye-oriented than it used to be,” said Phil Taunton, a 62-year-old optometrist in San Diego.

By their early 40s, many people are noticing the first symptoms of presbyopia, or “old man’s eyes.” As the eye ages, it is less able to take in light. At the same time, the lens inside the eye loses its flexibility. The result is blurred vision.

Every day thousands of the nation’s 77 million baby boomers turn 50, an age when reading glasses are perched with some permanence on middle-age noses.

So the next time you're thinking about installing some fancy new electronic posters, digital menu boards, or any other signage that's going to be showing lots of text, stop and think a moment about who your primary audience is. There may be some cases where the resolution that HD enables really does improve the performance of the sign. The rest of the time, though, it's a red herring that can increase production costs and reduce data transfer and display efficiencies without providing any real benefits.

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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Digital signage improves vending sales

It's always nice to see research results coming out of the industry, especially when they help to make the case for digital signage as a viable out-of-home advertising medium. According to this press release, Automated Vending Technologies (AVT):
demonstrate[d] a dramatic improvement in sales in the 10 vending systems equipped with AVT's custom personal computers loaded with proprietary digital signage software displaying flash advertisements, including advertisements for Otis Spunkmeyer, 5 Hour Energy and Tropicana....The field tests utilized 20 vending machines filled with identical merchandise but 10 of the systems were equipped with AVT's digital signage software displaying flash advertisements.
The company doesn't not exactly what "dramatic improvements" are, exactly, but given that they're now considering rolling out the technology to all 900 of their vending machines, there must be a pretty reasonable time to ROI under the model.

BlueFire brings user-generated content to digital signs

About a year ago we first started looking at the possibility that somebody would figure out a way to bring together the some of the biggest buzzwords in marketing today -- namely, user generated content (UGC) and digital signage. There have been a few attempts so far, with BlueFire Digital's being the latest, as announced in this press release. The system, designed for bars, night clubs, malls and other places where young, tech-savvy people tend to congregate, gives patrons the opportunity to capture content with their camera phones and send it to nearby digital signs. The idea, I suppose, is that by getting people to engage with the screens, they'll be more likely to pay attention to advertisements running alongside the UGC, more positively associate marketing messages, and so forth.

Most interestingly, perhaps, is the fact that BlueFire is not bundling the service exclusively with their own hardware/software, but instead will offer it for use on competing solutions as well. While the business and cost models surrounding the use of UGC is still uncertain, by allowing anybody with a digital signage platform to give it a try, BlueFire is reducing their overall risk by maximizing the chances of the software's adoption by the industry.

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Thursday, August 02, 2007

Zoom Media enters the digital signage fray

According to this press release from Forbes, Zoom Media & Marketing (they operate a static signage network of over 19,000 billboards in 3,500 locations like fitness centers, indoor soccer facilities, bowling centers, family entertainment centers, restaurants and nightclubs,etc.), is expanding into digital signs, and expect to have 50 venues outfitted by November, "with further expansion to follow," says the company.

I've always said that digital signage is more like posters than TV, and I'm guessing that Zoom has figured that out as well. From business model (presumably ad-sales based) to content production techniques, they'll be able to transfer a tremendous amount of their static signage knowledge over to the digital realm.

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Out of Home Video Advertising Bureau (OVAB) Announces Ad Agency Advisory Board (AAAB)

The OVAB AAAB (ok, I made that second acronym up) was recently unveiled to the public, and as one might guess, includes people from lots of big agencies, like Starcom, GSDM and Universal McCann. While the group's purpose is to "[help] OVAB to break down the barriers to adoption of digital advertising networks," according to Kim Norris, president of OVAB, I wonder how much progress they'll really be able to make, given the myriad business models out there for monetizing screen space.

Still, agency involvement is going to be important for certain types of digital sign networks (most notably those who rely on external advertisers to generate revenues), and if nothing else maybe OVAB's AAAB will be able to produce the list of items that we need to address (e.g. standards for selling screen time, measurement, etc.) before we can be taken seriously.