The Great Digital Outdoors.

If ever there’s been a media vehicle which was being overlooked, it’s digital outdoor.

I recently spent the better part of a week in New York City and was taking note of the array of beautiful digital displays that paper Times Square as well as the backs of bus shelters and kiosks throughout the city. If you live in the Bay Area and you drive 101 South or cross the Bay Bridge in either direction, you’ve seen the gorgeous outdoor boards that feature a rotating array of advertisers with timely messages that are exponentially more noticeable than the standard outdoor ads you see. These digital screens are detailed, robust in color and mush more easily controlled than the previous paper iterations.

In coffee shops and elevator banks worldwide, we see companies like Danoo and Captivate bringing digital screens with local and national advertisers supplementing targeted content that allows the user to bide their time while waiting in line or waiting for their floor. It sort of takes the term “elevator pitch” to a whole other level.

Digital outdoor is currently the responsibility of the traditional outdoor agencies. For years I’ve been predicting that digital shops would get involved and that companies like Doubleclick would start ad serving to these boards, but the simple fact of the matter is that digital agencies are too busy trying to stay above water with their own workload to get involved in this burgeoning area and the ad-servers have had bigger fish to fry with standard online video. There is an opportunity here that is being pushed off the plates of digital experts and onto the plates of the traditional folks.

The digital iutdoor opportunities are becoming a boon to outdoor marketing agencies throughout the world! A ruling last fall from the Federal Highway Administration opened the door for digital billboards to be placed near roadways, and now the locations are being changed. The costs for these boards are high, but theoretically the reduced cost for managing and placing creative on these boards should more than make up for the installation over a set period of time. Outdoor has always been a fantastic medium for promotions and time-sensitive messaging such as movies and other entertainment, but digital means that these promotions could be changed out by day of week or even by day part. Imagine the possibilities of limited offers for fast food and/or radio station promotions being changed out to match that of the retailers or stations themselves!

The indoor/outdoor boards offer the same flexibility. But while the gripe with these formats has been lack of sound or inconsistency in size and placement, both of these issues are fast being resolved. The indoor screens are becoming bigger and placed with a higher resolution format and the locations are becoming more scientific. It may have appeared that some of the initial locations were selected by divining rod or the proximity to the peanut butter cups, but they appear to be moving towards more obvious line of sight for customers and patrons alike. As for sound, that remains to be seen. The entertainment companies like sound so they can use their trailers, but as the medium becomes more enticing and it begins to prove its effectiveness I think we will see more tailored creative, resulting in better use of the vehicle regardless of sound requirements.

What remains to be seen is the state of additional regulations that will be placed at the local and state levels governing roadside digital boards. In mass transit cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco, these digital boards will keep getting built out. In commuter areas where the majority of consumers drive, these local regulations will affect the placement of digital signage, but of course that assumes that everyone keeps driving. With the costs for gasoline continuing to go up, people may begin to change their driving habits substantially.

By Cory Treffiletti
Cory is president and managing partner for Catalyst SF.
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