Take it outside

Digital outdoor advertising is gathering pace with investment targeted at London Underground, stations and airports to reach consumers with strong branded messages. By David Benady

UndergroundDigital outdoor advertising is expected to spread dramatically over the next five years as poster contractors roll out hundreds of screens across the country.

Cut-down Television executions, internet banner-style ads and tailor-made promotions will confront the public in rail stations, airports, shopping centres, football grounds, entertainment venues and on London Underground.

The only places the screens are unlikely to show up are on roadsides where drivers speed past.

The advertising needs to be creatively powerful if digital outdoor is to become a potent medium for influencing consumers rather than an intrusive annoyance.

The content is controlled via the internet with ads been uploaded onto the digital screens. The screens have the advantage of allowing ads to be changed at short notice, so they can be used for tactical promotions.

One easyJet campaign on digital screens broadcast regular updates on the snow levels in various ski resorts around Europe then gave details of flights to nearby airports.

However, static posters are likely to stay around because they make a "permanent" statement in a way that the screens do not.

At present, UK advertisers spend £48m a year on digital outdoor advertising, five per cent of the £950m spent on static posters. But Chris O’Donnell, business development director of media sales house Kinetic, believes this could double over the next few years.

He says there will be significant opportunities for linking the content of digital outdoor advertising interactively with mobile phone marketing. "There is a natural affinity between mobile marketing and digital outdoor. In places such as football stadiums or shopping malls, people are in a mindset where they like to be advertised to." So an ad could be flashed up with a text number for people to receive an advertising jingle ringtone or a text voucher to spend at the venue.

One of the biggest concentrations of digital outdoor screens is going to be on London Underground, where CBS Outdoor, which handles the tube’s poster advertising, is investing £40m in outdoor digital sites.

It will install cinema-style screens on tube platforms. There will also be digital escalator panels in 20 stations and another development will see 200 high definition 57-inch screens placed in corridors.

Jon Lewen, account director for Alive, CBS Outdoor’s digital division, says the high quality and huge scale of the audience underground will make the screens attractive to advertisers and allow them to target different messages at different times of day.

Lewen says they offer advertisers a halfway house between the authority of a static poster and the flexibility of radio and press ads and are ideal for running tactical campaigns.

"There is a fine line between being engaging and being intrusive. We feel we have made the right decision about where to put the screens for when people are looking for information," he says.

Attracting investment
There are fears that brand owners may fail to produce tailored advertising to populate the digital screens. Dan Thwaites, planning director at direct marketing agency Hicklin Slade, says: "There is a danger that not enough money will be invested in the creative output. The challenge for the media owner is to convince brands to put resources behind it."

Thwaites believes there is likely to be a battle between advertising and digital agencies to lead this area. But he thinks digital agencies will be best suited as they have experience of creating simple, moving banner ads on the web.

The roll-out of screens on London Underground is seen as providing an important watershed for the development of the outdoor digital medium. Don Sperring, managing director of JC Decaux Airport, says:

"For the first time, there will be a market that has been created by CBS Outdoor in the underground and we will use that market for screens at airports. They are both environments that are very much the channels for early adopters."

Titan Digital runs the Transvision network of giant digital screens in 17 UK mainline train stations. It has just signed a deal with Sky News to broadcast news content, which changes in emphasis during the day. The company’s group head of advertising Pete Beeney says the stations are powerful environments for brand owners to target audiences. "It is competing with standard posters, so is dependent on good creative and it has to be eye candy. It is like a web ad without sound, it has to attract people’s attention."

The cost of running spots on the Titan network could be about £82,500 for a two-week period on screens in all 17 stations.

One innovative development in this field, which is being tried out by JC Decaux and Clear Channel uses a technology called Magink. Ran Poliakine, the founder of Magink, explains: "The technology is based on organic material, which is like ink but never dries. The look of the display is like paper but you can change the image when you like. It is not like LED or television screens, it doesn’t emit light but reflects it."

Just like any technology, digital outdoor may offer superior delivery but the public has to be persuaded of its benefits. It seems brand owners will also need to be persuaded.

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