The future of out-of-home advertising is rosy, and digital .
Apr 20th 2011.
ROADSIDE billboards, posters on buses and subway escalators, ads in airport terminals—a type of publicity known as out-of-home advertising—used to be the end of the industry. No more. The falling price and improving quality of flat-screen displays mean that static posters printed on paper are being replaced by digital commercials with moving pictures, sound and sometimes interactive features. As some advertising media, especially newspapers see their audiences fade, streets, airports and other public spaces are becoming crowded with more potential viewers than ever, as people continue moving to cities and travel more.
MagnaGlobal, a media researcher, predicts that worldwide spending on out-of-home advertising will expand by 8.3% in 2011 to about $26.4 billion, faster growth than that seen for other non-internet forms of advertising (see chart).
Spending on digital billboards and posters is expected to double in the next five years, to $5.2 billion. William Eccleshare, who runs the international operations of Clear Channel, an American firm which is one of the largest out-of-home ad companies, thinks that in some countries more than 90% of its business will be digital by the decade’s end.
Clear Channel is so optimistic about digital posters because it believes they offer enormous potential for making advertisements more effective. Advertisers can tailor their choice to the time of day: McDonald’s can advertise its sausage and egg McMuffin at breakfast time, change to its regular Big Mac at lunch and follow that with ads for apple pie and ice cream during teatime. They can also react to events as they happen: when Spain won the football World Cup last year, digital billboards in Madrid, sponsored by Nike, showed the result within seconds.
Advertisers constantly talk about wanting to “engage” with consumers, so they are taking great interest in the potential for interactivity that digital technology will bring. JCDecaux, for example, is offering a free iPhone application called U snap: when a consumer sees a poster (paper or digital) for something that attracts his interest and takes a photo of it on his phone, the app recognises it, gives him product information and discount vouchers and directs him to the nearest retailer.
Then there is “gladvertising” and “sadvertising”, a rather sinister-sounding idea in which billboards with embedded cameras, linked to face-tracking software, detect the mood of each consumer who passes by, and change the advertising on display to suit it. The technology matches movements of the eyes and mouth to six expression patterns corresponding to happiness, anger, sadness, fear, surprise and disgust. An unhappy-looking person might be rewarded with ads for a sunny beach or a chocolate bar while those wearing an anxious frown might be reassured with an ad for insurance.
Such Big Brotherish software would no doubt detect a satisfied grin on the faces of out-of-home advertising bosses as they contemplate the next 18 months, in which a string of big events will boost their business: the Rugby World Cup, the American presidential election, the Euro 2012 football championship and the London Olympics. Wherever you go—the street, the subway, the airport or the bus station—there will be no escape from ads linked to these events.