Digital Billboards Transitioning to ‘Anti-Static’ Phase

Large digital billboards are slowly transitioning to a new phase that might be referred to as “anti-static.” Campaigns are becoming increasingly interactive, allowing both consumers and advertisers to instantly manipulate imagery and information. Texting, news flashes, countdowns, competitions and snapshot postings are all part of executions. And customers involved in the activities range from local clothing stores and McDonald’s franchisees to major brands like Coors Light and JVC.

“Local advertisers love it because it’s cost-effective, and the national people like it because they can purchase a national buy in major cities and control it centrally,” explained Tony Alwin, svp of creative marketing of Clear Channel Outdoor.

That said, “the biggest users of digital are really the local advertisers,” added Tommy Teppell, CMO of Lamar Advertising.

One of Lamar’s most striking campaigns last year involved McDonald’s franchise owners in Kansas City. The campaign invited consumers to come up with slogans for the new Angus Third Pounders via Web postings or text messages. On Sept. 24, the franchise owners bought up all the availabilities on Lamar’s 13 digital boards in the market and threw up more than 3,000 slogans that had been submitted, rotating them out on boards every six seconds.

Teppell said his team had a real “aha” moment about a year ago when they figured out that their advertisers could post tweets directly to the digital boards. One upscale women’s store in Baton Rouge, La., called Stella’s, uses Twitter postings on boards that have encouraged customers to come in and try on some rain boots when the weather’s bad, or check out a hot new top on a sunny day, he reported.

But in many instances, it’s the consumers who are using their mobile devices to respond to displays. For example, Chrysler’s Jeep brand engaged people attending Six Flags theme parks with commercial messaging and a “text to win” competition last summer on
Jumbotrons as well as place-based displays. The come-on prompted 10,000 text messages from people intent on scoring a brand new Jeep, noted David McKillips, svp of corporate alliances for Six Flags Media Networks.

Coors Light opted for a countdown approach with two related executions in Miami and Atlanta, heralding the brand’s status as the official sponsor of the National Football League.

It took full ownership of one board in each market, according to David Krupp, managing director of Kinetic, which arranged the buy.

On the Miami board, Coors is currently counting down the days to Super Bowl XLIV, which takes place in that city on Feb. 7. And in Atlanta, Coors tied the messaging to both the NFL and responsible driving during the New Year’s holiday, counting down from five bottles of beer to one between Dec. 27 and Dec. 31, and then displaying a celebratory message between Jan. 1 and 4.

Sharing photos has also become popular among advertisers, noted Harry Coghlan, president of Clear Channel’s Spectacolor Division. For example, a holiday campaign from JVC allowed consumers to go to a special JVC Web site and post a personal photo, which then appeared on a Times Square display.

In a somewhat ironic twist, Damon Pierson, svp and director of out-of-home and local print for ZenithOptimedia, forecasted that OOH will be stealing more dollars away from print and television in the coming year. Yet OOH network executives say that both TV stations and newspapers are becoming big users of digital boards, which allow them to post news flashes and headlines, refreshing them constantly.

One particularly noteworthy example involved Fox’s owned-and-operated station in Orlando, WOFL-TV. Last November it posted updates on a shooting incident that took place in a downtown office building. The Clear Channel board that WOFL used was right near the building and gave commuters tied up in traffic an idea of what was going on as police tried to find the killer. Stan Knott, vp and gm of WOFL, noted that “even though the billboard was there for a marketing purpose, at the end of the day, when you’re delivering a public service, you’re getting marketing value out of it.”

Clear Channel’s Alwin said that that kind of news flash is just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of the types of instantaneous information that appears on his company’s boards. Hospitals constantly refresh information about wait times for their emergency rooms, and some radio stations post info about the songs they’re currently playing.

Cable networks are getting into the act too. Norm Chait, svp, director of OOH investment at Mediavest, noted that one of his firm’s clients, E! Entertainment Television, ran a live ticker on 125 displays in nine top markets last September and October to promote its show E! News.

Opportunities like that, said Chait, “are bringing new clients into the business and allowing [established OOH] clients to use it in new and different ways.”

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