In the past few years, screens and digital billboards have mushroomed across the streets, subways, shopping centres and airports in all major cities around the world. Digital signage (DS) represents a new medium and communication channel in its own right. Understanding how it works and what effect it has on its audience is essential to reap the greatest benefits from digital out of home (DOOH) networks.
Cities have had advertising or information posters pasted in their walls for centuries and it has been a good way of bringing a message to a vast number of people. But it has always been difficult to know how much of an effect these have and how good their return on investment is (ROI). DS has changed the story.

DS is not television. In fact TV ads don’t work for DOOH. Neither should it be used as an electronic way of posting a succession of static posters on a loop. The most effective DOOH ads are the ones that include animation or video.

Finally, with today’s wide spread of mobile devices, the medium is no longer passive. QR codes, near Field Communication (NFC) and image recognition allow audiences, and potential clients, to interact with the content. They can take it with them if they want to, forward it to their friends through social media and also purchase. The convergence of out of home technology, such as mobile devices and screens, is set to create new revenue streams for virtual impulse buys.

DOOH inhabits spaces where it coexists with other traditional media. In fact many media owners take advantage of this and use wraps, posters and digital screens to create a more of an impact. A good example of this is London’s Euston Station, which includes over and underground transport. The site has nine billboard screens plus six sheet posters and escalator screens. For some campaigns wall wraps are also used (see example bellow).

What DS offers that traditional advertising doesn’t is the ability to accompany its audience through out their commuter journey, its daily routine or its shopping trip.

What is DOOH’s real impact?

Media owner Eye, which operates in transport, airports and shopping centres in the USA, Australia and the UK, has carried out several studies to try and bridge the gap to understand how consumers respond to Out of Home advertising. Using neuro science techniques they took a look inside consumers’ minds and measured their emotional response to advertising.

Not surprisingly, the results show that different environments, formats and creative treatments have a profound impact on how consumers think and feel about the brands advertised, which is key to influencing future buying behaviour.

For instance, certain brands can really benefit from using DS in airports. Eye survey unveiled that 52 per cent of people say they have more time to shop and browse at the airport than they do when they are on the high street. Fragrance buying is at the heart of the experience; 53% would not leave the airport without buying any and 60 per cent are more likely to buy a new brand of fragrance at the airport than anywhere else. 72% of people agree the airport is the right place to advertise beauty and grooming products.

Neuro Imaging also gave insight into how brands can create the most effective creative campaigns. The human brain likes puzzles and stories; so having to put some work into solving a campaign, making the connection back to the advertiser, means that the advertised brand is more likely to be committed to long term memory. And there is certainly a growing trend to using interactivity to achieve this.

“Airport Stories,’ a piece of research from JCDecaux one of the world’s largest outdoor advertising companies, showed that airports are ideal places to spark the “touch dialogue.’ Respondents said they would like to see more interactivity and opportunities to download to their mobiles. This is a great chance to establish interaction with the screen and generate “talk media’, for example word-of-mouth recommendations. 91 per cent of respondents believe that brands benefit from advertising at airports.

Airports are one example of a specific sector; retail, hospitality, corporate, have their own dynamics. In any case, how does this influence and brand recall result in real sales? Historically it was believed that the customers’ experience on their purchase process was like a funnel: they would start with a wide range of options, which then narrowed down and resulted on the final buy. This is also known as the AIDA (Awareness, Interest, Desire, Action) model.

However, “The Customer Journey,’ a study carried out by the Outdoor Media Centre (OMC), a trade and marketing body representing the interests of the outdoor advertising industry in the UK, found that this model no longer applies.

The purchasing process is not linear. The new path is convoluted with feedback loops. The decision to buy is influenced, changed expanded and narrowed, by diverse stimuli and several times along the way. From online and word-of-mouth to social media, they all play a role. Advertising media was found to be a more effective stimulus to purchase, with a higher share of effective encounters than non-media.

A previous research by the OMC called “The Last Window of Influence,’ revealed that shoppers are indeed influenced by the advertising they see just before shopping, and outdoor advertising was noticed by over 80% of the people interviewed. 72% of shoppers said they could be swayed towards a product by recent outdoor advertising and only 17% stick to a pre-determined shopping list.

Using show cards, interviewers probed which media each shopper had been exposed to in the 30 minutes leading up to the start of their shopping experience. 40% of shoppers recalled seeing an outdoor advertisement. Other media fared less well. 8% of shoppers had heard a radio ad, 4% each had seen a TV or Internet ad, 3% a newspaper ad and 2% a magazine ad. Of all the 274 respondents who said they had seen or heard an advertisement in the half hour preceding shopping, 88% had seen outdoor advertising.

Digital technology encourages more than just higher engagement. It also offers higher frequency, thanks to its flexibility and longer viewing, either because the person is attracted to the moving image or because of the repetition of the ad though out the journey.

Me, us and the billboard

DOOH networks provide a social experience for oneself and for others around us. The content needs to be relevant, timely – offered at the point of sale (retail) or point of wait (transport and airports). Good DOOH elevates the smart lessons that online offers – using interaction and social networking – and make it even better. A good example of this was the Lynx campaign using augmented reality for its “Lynx Excite Angel Ambush’ ad in London Victoria (you can find it on YouTube).

This year, the UK National Centre for Domestic Violence (NCDV) launched an interactive billboard campaign called “Drag Him Away’ at Euston Station in London to raise awareness about how people can intervene to help put a stop to domestic violence. Created by JWT London and produced by Grand Visual, the campaign, runs on JCDecaux’s large format e-motion screens and encourages passers by to get involved in the advert by controlling the scene using their mobile phone. The participant is able to control the characters by dragging the man away from the woman and onto on that adjacent billboards. The screens then synchronise to urge people to report any domestic violence situations to the NCDV so that they can intervene on the victim’s behalf.

The five-screen execution is supported by four additional e-motion screens plus D6 formats featuring QR codes that take the user to the website to activate their phone as the remote control. Handing the public control of on-screen content is a powerful call to action, which fosters a deeper level of engagement among outdoor audiences.
Another remarkable campaign at Euston Station was the one for breast cancer care. The campaign demonstrates how everyday, women have a thousand and one things to check upon and take care of. The call to action was to include observing their breast health into these. JCDecaux, which owns the media at the station, worked with creative agency Iris to create a campaign that used nice feeds running live information; from horoscopes to the date and the time in Tokyo and Paris, detailing the little things consumers are compelled to “check on’ every day. A great awareness campaign.

Digital screens bring cities to life. They allow brands to continue the conversation that start online. But above all technology has to be an integral part of the daily experience helping with navigation, information and advice, as well as promoting products.

It can help to flex the touch points in the customer’s journey and remove the barriers to purchase, but it has to be people-centric in order to work.

By Geny Caloisi

ProSystems magazine – 3rd Quarter 2012