Potent signs of engaged times

If Lady Gaga can use outdoor to unveil her latest album, it must be the medium of the moment. Digital screens with new technologies have brands flocking to them to engage consumers – but there’s a strong showing from static sites too.

Above: Lady Gaga unveiled the cover art of her new album piece by piece in a global outdoor campaign that included social media aspects

Out-of-home media was once seen as an indiscriminate advertising platform for broadcasting messages on a mass scale – an effective channel but not necessarily a precise one. But with the growth of digital screens, social media and near field communication (NFC) technology, brands are now combining the huge reach of outdoor with the ability to personalise and target ads like never before.

For example, last week property website Zoopla launched a trial campaign using taxis to broadcast homes for sale or to rent in the areas the black cabs are driving through. ConnectaCast technology geo-locates the vehicles to change the screen displays to the relevant postcodes. 

On a much larger scale, Lady Gaga’s new album Artpop used outdoor media company Clear Channel Outdoor to run a campaign across digital billboards in which fans around the world participated in a piece-by-piece unveiling of the cover art. Fan tweets using the hashtag #iHeartARTPOP were incorporated into the backdrop of the creative reveal, which took place across 18 cities during a 30-minute timeframe.

The campaign was described as the first time a performing artist has collaborated with fans through social media to create an “iconic, global moment” using out-of-home media. More than 220,000 strands of conversation were generated using the hashtag on the day of the unveiling, including a significant proportion of comments that acknowledged the role that outdoor media had played in the campaign. The word ’billboards’, for instance, appeared in 9,342 tweets.

This August saw the launch of ’Art Everywhere’, a project set up by Innocent Drinks founder Richard Reed, where 57 works of art were displayed on 22,000 poster sites across the UK. Speaking at Outdoor Works, a conference run in September by Marketing Week and the Outdoor Media Centre, he said the medium “can get to everyone in all social contexts.” To see his presentation go to outdoorworks.marketingweek.co.uk.

But outdoor advertising does not necessarily have to take place on a huge global scale to engage consumers. Last month shopping centre Trinity Leeds launched a giant interactive video wall in its indoor food hall.

We wanted to liven up the mundane commute by giving digital ‘high five’ to Mini drivers as they passed

The touchscreen wall encourages shoppers to play food-related games, access social media streams and participate in ‘wonder experiences’ in which the screen changes according to users’ gestures. Content and bespoke games were provided by digital out-of-home agency Grand Visual.

Claire Reynolds, development marketing manager at Land Securities, owner of Trinity Leeds, says the wall is designed to enhance the shopping experience and increase dwell time inside the centre. “We continue to look for ways to evolve our shoppers’ experiences, whether it is through our social platforms, free Wi-Fi, personalised apps and large format gesture walls,” she adds. “Installing touch was the natural next step.”

Shoppers can connect on Instagram by posting photos and reviews of their dining experiences and these appear on the wall instantly via OpenLoop, a digital outdoor dashboard. Reynolds explains that the wall is part of a larger network of screens at Trinity Leeds designed to promote retailers’ offers, cinema and event information and public transport details in real time. “Our expanding digital estate helps to connect our retailers with their customers,” she says.

In the first two days of launching the wall, more than 1,000 people initiated a gesture-activated ‘wonder experience’, and nearly 800 played the touchscreen games in the first week. Shoppers with the highest scores appear on a leader board that is broadcast to screens across the shopping centre and players are invited to enter an email address so they can be entered into a prize draw.  

In addition to games and social media feeds, brands can also encourage interaction and glean data from consumers through using NFC technology in their out-of-home advertising. This enables brands to conduct transactions with consumers by their outdoor media, including e-voucher transfers or sending free content to people’s mobile devices.

Confused.com used huge poster sites across London and Brighton, each featuring a call to action tailored to the location

In September, hip-hop duo Rizzle Kicks ran a campaign at Westfield London to help launch a network of more than 100 NFC-enabled digital screen ‘pods’ owned by CBS Outdoor at the shopping centre. Shoppers could tap their NFC-enabled smartphone against one of the pods to download an exclusive remixed Rizzle Kicks track for free. People also had the option to pay to download the group’s second album via the pods.

According to CBS Outdoor, the campaign resulted in more than 1,000 interactions with the pods over two weeks. While 68 per cent of these were facilitated by NFC technology, the remaining 32 per cent were the result of shoppers scanning the QR codes on the pods with their smartphones.

This type of outdoor technology is becoming more systematic as a result of various large-scale projects. Earlier this month, Manchester City Council and MediaCo launched CityLive, an outdoor media venture that allows advertisers to target specific audiences in real time according to their location. Working with launch brands GoogleO2 and Vodafone, the new ad units contain various interactive technologies such as facial recognition, NFC and touchscreen.

The CityLive launch comes after Tesco recently agreed a deal with Amscreen, the Lord Sugar-backed out-of-home media network, to roll out its interactive advertising screens across 450 of the retailer’s petrol stations in the UK. The Amscreen system is able to assess the basic demographic data of passing shoppers, such as gender, age and volume, via its OptimEyes system, and feed this back to advertisers in real time so they can adjust the ads displayed on the screen to suit the audience.

But despite these significant developments, there remain plenty of brands that continue to see value in more traditional forms of outdoor advertising. This includes breakfast food brand Moma!, which last month launched its first outdoor campaign using posters across seven London train stations. Although the campaign does not harness digital technology, its locations are carefully selected to help the brand target both existing and potential customers. 

There is a lot of value in statics – it’s your space and you know every consumer who passes by will see your message

The brand began life as a mobile stall that sold porridge and muesli to morning commuters at London train stations. However, after Network Rail stopped such stalls from trading last year, Moma! moved into the wholesale market and is now stocked by a number of major retailers including Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and WHSmith. The outdoor campaign is therefore located across the capital’s train stations in order to remind the brand’s former customers about its existence, while also attracting new customers who tend to eat breakfast on the go. 

Moma! brand manager Malcolm McDermott says that despite the exciting potential of digital, brands can still achieve impactful poster campaigns by having a striking creative that is placed in the right locations. Moma! has opted for a simple design in its campaign with strong colours and a clear call to action under the line ‘Missed breakfast?’ Each poster is tailored to its location by having a list of the retailers where Moma! is stocked within that station clearly displayed at the bottom.

“There is still a lot of value in static sites because that’s your space,” says McDermott. “You’re not sharing it with anyone else and you know that every consumer who passes by will see your message.”

Outdoor remains a flexible medium, therefore, where brands can create compelling and targeted campaigns regardless of the technology used. This is reflected in the growing number of brands that are combining outdoor advertising with experiential campaigns to create original brand experiences. This includes car marque Mini (see box) and gaming brand Scrabble.

In the latter case, commuters at train stations across the UK were invited to tweet words that could be made from letters displayed on large JCDecaux screens over a period of seven weeks in September and October.  The highest scorer at the end of each week received a prize, while a team of Scrabble brand ambassadors with lettered tiles on their heads entertained commuters by miming words with their costumes.

The idea was to use the different media formats and marketing tactics to support Scrabble’s campaign of ‘bringing letters and people together’. Indeed, the campaign is a good example of how a traditional and rather conservative brand like Scrabble can be brought to life through outdoor innovations.

Case study




To coincide with its recent ‘Not normal’ brand campaign, car marque Mini ran an outdoor advertising campaign that combined digital billboards with different experiential activations.

Working with media owner JCDecaux and outdoor agency Posterscope, the brand targeted Mini motorists driving down Cromwell Road in London, which features a number of large digital screens. People were placed along the street in order to spot Mini vehicles passing by and activate messages on the billboards using tablets.

Some Mini owners were greeted by a personalised message, addressing them by the colour or model of their car, while others had their photos taken and posted immediately on the next digital screen. Motorists were also invited to pull into the nearest garage to pick up a treat from Mini brand ambassadors such as a bacon sandwich or flowers. 

Mini brand communications manager Michelle Roberts explains that the campaign was intended to celebrate the ‘not normal’ relationship people have with Mini and allow the brand to say thank you to its loyal fans.

“Mini also wanted to liven up the mundane commute for thousands of Londoners by giving the digital ‘high five’ to Mini drivers as they passed,” she adds. “It was a tribute to the long-held tradition of Mini owners greeting each other on the road and to remind them of the special club they are a part of.”

The campaign engaged 1,941 Mini drivers in one week and also reached a wider audience via social media, says Roberts. “Both the public and drivers took lots of pictures of the digital billboards and messages on their phones and tweeted about the activity.”

The big three challenges

1. Being seen

Today’s consumer is bombarded with media from every angle, so outdoor advertisers must ensure they attract attention. Engaging designs and content can help, but so can the size of the outdoor display. In June, comparison website Confused.com ran a two-week campaign using eight huge posters across locations in London and Brighton. Each featured a simple call to action that was tailored to its particular location. One poster in the City district of London measured 225sqm and reached an estimated audience of 1.2 million people, according to King Media, the outdoor agency behind the campaign. 

2. Being relevant

Digital outdoor screens present brands with opportunities to target specific groups of consumers through social media. The challenge is ensuring that those consumers engage with the campaign and respond with their own content. Last month, on-demand streaming service Netflix launched an eight-week digital out-of-home campaign targeting students across the UK. Working with outdoor agency Grand Visual, the campaign encourages students to interact by posing regular questions alongside a university-specific Twitter hashtag and features localised replies on digital screens across 36 universities.

3. Tech failures

Advertisers dabbling in new outdoor innovations must ensure they test their creative thoroughly before launching it on an unsuspecting public. Touchscreen games, NFC-enabled units and gesture-activated screens all present lots of interesting opportunities to brands but they could also spell trouble if a campaign runs into technical difficulties and leaves lots of expectant consumers disappointed.



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