Ambient media on the cusp of a technological revolution
Ambient advertising used to be a catch-all phrase for small media owners which offered anything from urinals to shopping trolleys. But technology innovation means that outdoor’s “little brother” has come of age, argues Sophia Jamsheer.
The days of bucket and paste and "grubby" outdoor are gone.
The signs are everywhere – media owners are investing in a wider portfolio of products and innovation is rife in production techniques, from "live" ads that update copy to giant formats that dominate sides of buildings.
However, these are equally exciting times for outdoor's "little brother" – the world of ambient advertising, which has seen significant growth not only in investment but also opportunity.
To drill down even further, there has been a marked growth in digital environments with more than 10,000 screens in more than 8,000 locations nationwide to date, this growth being underlined by the fact that digital revenue in 2003 totalled £5m with predicted revenue in 2004 set to hit £9m.
So what does this mean for consumers? Increasing technology allows the general public out-of-home to access digital information and services such as LED and plasma screens, as well as wi-fi, Bluetooth and SMS messaging.
With technological advancement across the board – from digital radio to digital cinema – it is a necessity for outdoor to keep up with not only their media counterparts, but also keep in line with the new generation of mobile phones and wireless technology.
Outdoor has traditionally been viewed as a vehicle to capture consumers while travelling.
However, where ambient and, in this case, digital comes into its own, is the fact that it creates a buying environment "at destination".
This automatically indicates longer dwell time, among many other factors, therefore giving advertisers the opportunity to utilise moving images and engage the consumer. In my opinion, the creation of an opportunity to buy at destination can only be viewed as a positive.
When out, moving images certainly catch my attention.
However, as time-poor as the rest of us, one consideration I feel is crucial is that of time length – which media owners are addressing by offering flexibility in spot length.
The launch of Tesco TV was seen as a significant milestone within the industry. Not only for the opportunity it represents, but also to set a benchmark for quantifiable success of such a platform and what affect it may have on consumer behaviour.
To date, although it has managed a degree of success, it is some way from winning the war of POS (point of sale) opportunities.
With other supermarkets trialing TV opportunities, the focus will be on accountability as to how much success they will reap.
We are all aware of the range of current digital opportunities – from digital screens in bars to interactive capabilities on six sheets. However, one exciting area within digital outdoor is Bluetooth.
At this point, let me pose a question: How many of you truly understand not only what it means, but what opportunities it represents?
Adland can, at times, be guilty of thinking that all the best ideas come from within the Media Village which, in my opinion, could leave us way behind many other industries in terms of understanding the latest technology and how it might affect our business.
We must ensure we are all responsible for keeping abreast on new developments and, in turn, educating our clients. I feel this is paramount to ensure we do not miss the boat, so to speak, in terms of opportunities available to us.
All marketers want to create a strong relationship with customers and technology like Bluetooth is beginning to demonstrate how the digital world can assist. However, what needs clarity is the mindset of the technologically educated.
As we are all fully aware, life today is time poor. Added to the fact that we are bombarded on a daily basis with thousands of commercial messages, this makes it challenging for advertisers to build and nurture consumer relationships.
A further challenge for advertisers is to make the content of digital technology relevant. The mindset of the digitally aware will have no time for "Brand X Is The Best" – they need more.
There needs to be a reason to request information. What makes things relevant? Cutting edge, humour, innovation and ingenuity.
By this I mean a message via download which incorporates not only what the brand is communicating, but to be set against a background of additional information which is of interest to the consumer.
They need to take away more than just a brand message – there has to be more on offer.
Plus of course we need to throw into the mix the massive digital divide. There are the under-21s who treat the latest technology as the norm, and the over-21s, who in essence have absolutely no idea.
This split is evident in my own circle of friends, a clear line between those who want to know the latest technological advancement in an attempt at "youth" and those who, quite frankly, can't be arsed.
In short, a lot of factors before we even consider the implementation planning and buying of such a medium.
A big opportunity lies in dynamic copy on Transvision, where the client can remotely change any aspect of the creative such as pricing – which essentially means that outdoor day parts finally become a reality rather than an ongoing myth.
A challenge is to teach people how to use it properly. So how do we educate ourselves on this technological advancement and where in the marketplace can we confidently plan and buy digital outdoor?
Surprisingly, there are very few digital specialists as, currently, the existing opportunities have been lumped in with ambient outdoor.
It doesn't fit into traditional media departments, therefore it becomes fringe.
We need to recognise its strengths to understand the potential and then fuse the disciplines – digital outdoor, mobile technology and online.
Moving forward in 2005, with billings estimated to be circa £20m, it is almost a given that media agencies and outdoor specialists alike will be looking to create specific units to cater for the impending growth in this exciting arena.
Currently there is only one digital specialist function, OneZeroOne, which forms part of Poster Publicity's outdoor umbrella.
Digital outdoor is currently not appearing on many media schedules. I think that this is largely to do with the fact that the diversity in technology, regionality, creativity and accountability make it difficult to plan.
This is coupled with the complexity and unfamiliarity of the technology involved which can be overwhelming.
Therefore, education is key and this must come from media owners. They need to transfer the energy they have demonstrated in the creation and delivery of research in traditional outdoor to deliver accountability and understanding in the digital arena.
We also have a key role to play in the work they do to understand and interrogate the media behaviour of consumers.
There are indeed interesting and challenging times ahead.
Watch this space.
Sophia Jamsheer is outdoor media manager at Starcom
Bluetooth– the future of outdoor?
The capabilities that Bluetooth offers are astounding.
In essence, it is an advancement of infrared technology and allows mobile phone users to communicate between handsets as opposed to between networks. For free.
It is also permission based, meaning you only receive data when you enable the facility – which is as quick as turning your phone on. Furthermore, you need not point your phone to a device as this technology is roaming – basically, the data finds you rather than you finding it.
The only media owner currently trying to utilise this technology is Maiden Outdoor, scheduled to go live in Spring 2005.
They are looking to apply Bluetooth technology to Transvision, their rail termini network of digital screens, giving consumers the opportunity to download files onto their mobile or Bluetooth enabled devices, such as a laptop, in a very short period of time.
This will be possible from a distance of up to a 100m, essentially creating an electronic leaflet, so music advertisers, for example, could provide a sample.
It would also be possible to create e-vouchering and even e-ticketing in real-time, therefore giving it the potential to make digital outdoor more accountable in terms of a ROI.
This article was first published on Media Week
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