Visa and Ford Digitize the Great Outdoors

Anywhere – Check out how brands are delivering interactive elements to potential and current customers on the go. Whether it’s in the air or on a nearby billboard, they’re capturing attention in exciting ways.

“Digital is making outdoor sexier.” That brief statement from Alan James, CEO of the U.K.-based Outdoor Advertising Association, best sums up how this market sector appears to be on the cusp of an explosive expansion.

“It’s creating added communication opportunities and is making advertisers, creatives and media planners want to look at outdoor again,” said James.

The digital outdoors has faced some hurdles — price, lack of infrastructure and bandwidth constraints — but these are being surmounted. In fact, according to Indianapolis-based WatchFire Digital Outdoor, by the end of 2007 there will be about 1,000 digital billboards in operation throughout the U.S. While this represents only a fraction of the total number of billboards nationwide, usage is expected to grow considerably.

“It used to be small projects, with companies putting up a screen in their reception room to welcome guests,” said Iain Campbell, sales director at True Colours Distribution, another U.K.-based organization. “The fog is lifting and it’s no longer seen as a golden art. Firms are realizing that they need to get their message across and this is a platform for doing that.”

Digital displays advertising goods and services that can rotate frequently, so messages can be fresh and regularly updated for targeted customers. The technology is far enough along, noted Darrin Friskney, director of WatchFire, that digital billboard artwork is now similar to art created for traditional vinyl billboards, “only it’s delivered via high-speed internet connection as a .jpeg file.”

With digital billboards, schedules are similar to those used by TV and radio stations, where advertisers change their message to coincide with a particular product/service.

“This allows advertisers to present timely and relevant marketing messages that take advantage of the technology and the ‘always-on’ reach and frequency that is the traditional strength of outdoors,” said Friskney. “In addition to managing schedules, software such as what we offer provides 24/7 monitoring and reporting of a digital billboard’s performance. It also automatically controls brightness levels and provides proof-of-performance reports for operators and advertisers.”

Advertisers are finding these digital billboards very attractive, noted Mike Ribero, CEO of Reactrix, a Redwood City, Calif.-based interactive out-of-home advertisement and entertainment media company.

“Consumers are able to interact with brands in an environment that’s totally branded,” Ribero said. “It combines the best of both traditional linear media and interactive, allowing groups of consumers to form a consensus around a brand. People can be part of the advertising experience in a way they can’t anywhere else.”

One of the earliest and most successful digital outdoor campaigns was launched in Canada in June 2006 by Digital View and Pattison Outdoor Advertising for Nike Canada to kick off the World Cup. Digital signage of well-known soccer players was created and broadcast throughout popular shopping malls in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.

Consumers were encouraged to select, via text-messaging, one of five Nike soccer videos that rotated on the screen. Text messages were routed to an SMS receiver device controlling the output of a digital signage player; the chosen video was then played in full audiovisual mode. The program was able to track the video’s popularity by counting requests; consumers were reeled in by getting return messages. They were encouraged to visit a dedicated website and opt-in to receive other Nike news via SMS.

Billboard Connection

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