Electronic fly-posting? Or are out-of-home channels a must-see?

Technology has revolutionised screen media in the outdoor world. Even London taxis are now getting a channel. But is the advertising industry guilty of over-kill?

Tom Paton is sales and marketing director at Cabvision

With the relentless march of technology it can be of little surprise that the digital environment – specifically TV screens on outdoor and mobile platforms – has really taken off for brands looking to overcome consumer apathy and, of course, create more of an impact.

When I'm out and about, I often hear people saying "there's a TV screen everywhere these days".

I was in Liverpool Street station last week waiting for a train and caught myself watching the news on the big screen.

The big surprise was that, instead of feeling irritated, I was actually enjoying it and the realisation came over that, yes, different types of screen media are a good idea and engaging in the right environment.

From an advertiser's perspective, I'm in no doubt that screen media suffers from the niche effect or innovative-advertiser syndrome and that its potential hasn't been realised as an effective part of an integrated brand campaign.

Nor have advertisers embraced what really differentiates screen media from other media – ie, standout and engagement.

Outdoor has traditionally been viewed as a vehicle to capture consumers while they are on the move, and it was hailed as the new way to "connect with consumers" who spend more time out of than in the home environment – and it's still a powerful medium for delivering this audience.

However, combine this with today's digital capabilities and this is where screen media really comes into its own – creating a buying/engaging environment "at destination" for consumers on the move.

With moving images and a mix of advertising and editorial, screen media engages consumers, which can only have a positive impact on "at destination" sales or improving brand association, making it an excellent advertising opportunity for a range of brands.

In the majority of instances, the client has the power to remotely change any aspect of the creative in real time, which is obviously a huge bonus for creating timely and impactful ads.

It also means that outdoor day parts finally become a reality rather than an ongoing myth.

But a note of caution – for screen media to make a genuine and positive impact it must be targeted and relevant.

There is little point in building these channels on the "one size fits all" premise and displaying a generic content loop to all who happen to be in the vicinity.

This is no doubt where the genre grew up from and, while this no doubt registers high footfall, it is simply not an effective way of communicating – let alone engaging the consumer.

Give them a little of what they need and marketers will find it far easier to capitalise on this state of mind. Today's consumers – especially the lucrative 25 to 34 ABC1 audience – are highly tech savvy and want more from communication than simply "buy brand X because it's the best". They want to be engaged with intelligence and humour and the dynamics of new technology allow us to deliver this.

But, of course, screen media is not solely limited to fixed screens in bus and train stations.

More recently, screens have sprung up on public transport and we have just launched Cabvision – an in-cab TV system in 1,000 London taxis. One of the main areas we focused on when designing the system was customer choice and variety.

We offer consumers a range of editorial and advertorial content identified through the independent Continental Research. The aim is to engage and entertain the passengers while they retain complete control over what they watch – they are not just being "sold to" through 100% advertorial.

Most important for advertisers is that the advancement in technology means that screen media can deliver to advertisers a very sophisticated level of real-time accountability on par with other media, such as the internet and beyond that of just panel-based measurement.

By utilising technology to enhance the value of the outdoor proposition, I believe that digital screen media will soon become a "must-have" for any advertiser's cross-media schedule.

David Harris is creative partner at LIDA

I went for dinner once in the beautiful, Andre Puttman-inspired Manhattan apartment of an ex-colleague.

There was a TV in every room – including both bathrooms. "It's so I don't miss anything" I was told. Six months later, they'd been replaced by a single (but still pretty impressive) home cinema. The TVs, he told me, had "become electronic wallpaper".

Recently, plasma screens have popped up everywhere – on buses, in the street, in cabs, in travel agents, in hairdressers.

There's even talk of plans to roll them out in doctors' surgeries and hospital waiting areas nationwide.

In other words, in places where there is a bored audience. But are these the right environments to sell to people and are they in the right mental state to be receptive?

On-screen media is environment-based and, because it's in the public domain, is a mass-marketing tool.

We're some years away from the world of Minority Report – where an on-screen message actually addresses someone by name – and at a time when many advertisers are looking for more targeted communications, it's impossible to tailor this media to the most receptive consumers.

A company that specialises in putting screens in trains tells us that advertisers can choose which time of day will most likely attract different audiences – ie, businessmen during rush-hour, young people at night.

But how on earth can you truly measure the audience you are reaching? Besides, most business people I know either work or are on the phone while on trains – assuming they can sit down!

There is a huge danger that on-screen media will alienate the very people it is trying to attract. It's potentially very irritating – the very fact that screens in French airport terminals are silent by customer request speaks volumes about consumer attitudes to the medium.

It could potentially backfire in the same way that SMS did in the 1990s. Marketers who over-enthusiastically tested every mobile number they could get their hands on, forgot the golden rule of any communication...relevance.

The backlash resulted in many big brands dropping SMS from the media mix, including McDonald's.

Since the Privacy Directive a year or so ago, marketers have had to reassess their use of SMS and have consequently become more creative with the channel. It is used not only as an advertising message, but as a useful customer tool (ie, banks telling you when your salary has been paid, etc).

So, we have a poorly-targeted medium which may, or may not, have audio, but which could potentially engage us with some dramatically engaging imagery. Dream on.

Look at the dumbed-down, shot-on-a shoestring, mindless stuff you see on daytime TV and that's what you can expect.

Just look at Post Office TV. Watching a toddler having a screaming fit in the queue, the 16 people in front of you are far more entertaining.

Trailblazer Tesco was the first to use the medium in a retail environment, testing a screen network in 2003 and rolling out in store TV to 300 stores in mid-2004.

The usual suspects followed with Asda Live TV having been trialled recently and Sainsbury's has now responded with Fresh TV. With their huge power over manufacturers, it makes absolute commercial sense for supermarkets to embrace on-screen media and I can already start to see the potential for showing beautiful imagery of food being prepared.

Hot toasted teacakes dripping with butter; fresh cream cascading over succulent strawberries.

But who's got time to stop mid-aisle with their trolley of shopping and a couple of kids about to lose it, and watch TV? And wouldn't a poster do the job just as well?

Because isn't that what on-screen media will end up being? A silent (or muffled) moving poster. Media owners, quite rightly, are always looking for more ways to make money, but I worry that marketers will see this media as a TV channel and run infomercials.

The most successful advertising has cut though and impact, is insightful, relevant and memorable.

Obviously, consumers will decide in the end, but my worry is that on-screen media can't deliver any of these and will, at best, be simply electronic fly-posting – or, as my ex-colleague in New York put it, "electronic wallpaper".

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