Going Up: Elevator Media Gains Momentum

SAN FRANCISCO You just got to the office on a Wednesday morning and are heading to a meeting to discuss an upcoming trip to see a client in California. On your way up the elevator to the 10th floor, a screen shows you a weather forecast including the West Coast, where you are headed, it tells you the stock report for the company you are courting and gives you a new vocabulary word to try out in the meeting. At the same time it also tells you about car rental deals from Avis, new booking services from Orbitz and makes a pitch for Charles Schwab’s Web site.

Captivate Networks, a subsidiary of Gannett, has installed branded screens in 8,400 elevators in 860 office buildings nationwide, and from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday runs text-based news and features on half the screen and silent video ads on the other half. The company claims to reach 2.5 million viewers per day.

The elevator network is part of the burgeoning alternative out-of-home marketing industry, which is comprised of video advertising networks and screens in movie theaters, stores, offices and public transit. Ad spending on alternative out-of-home outlets grew 27 percent to $1.69 billion in 2006 and is expected to grow another 28 percent in 2007, according to the Alternative Out-of-Home Media Forecast 2007-2011 by PQ Media.

In comparison, total out-of home spending increased only 11 percent in 2006 and overall ad expenditures grew a measly 6.4 percent, according to the report. Alternative out-of-home represents 24 percent of all total out-of-home ad spending, per the forecast, released in May. Captivate’s income from advertisers, including Microsoft, FedEx, McDonald’s, Budweiser and Nike, will be at least 30 percent higher in 2007 compared to last year, says Mike DiFranza, founder of Captivate.

With ads in bathroom stalls, taxi cabs and at the gas pump, it seems like there is no place that is free from marketing. The trick for marketers is to be interesting without being intrusive. Ten-year-old Capitvate’s strategy is to understand consumers’ mind-set when they are using the space and try to match their desire for information and entertainment with the setting. Ad messages are treated as an integral part of that information-sharing service. Unlike other public spaces, however, elevators appear to be places where trapped consumers are looking for distractions, says Captivate, compared to other settings such as gas pumps or taxi cabs.

“The elevator ride is usually an awkward period for people when they are placed with people they have nothing in common. The video screen is a natural distraction for them at a time when they are looking for distractions,” says DiFranza.

The format of the elevator network is based on studying customers in the compact space and giving them small bites of relevant content that comes from authoritative sources. Captivate provides information such as weather forecasts, stock updates and news bulletins as static text, similar to a Web site. The ads, in contrast, look like TV ads with the sound turned off.

“Advertisers don’t have lots of opportunities to reach consumers right at the point where they are using our product,” says Tom Russell, vp, brand marketing at Orbitz Worldwide, a Captivate advertiser. Travel booking happens at work, Russell says, “and if it is snowing outside and I can show them a picture of a beach with a $200-off online coupon for travel on our site, well, then that will get their attention.”

Captivate’s research showed that it is more compelling to have content next to the advertising, so the network never devotes the whole screen to advertising, but always splits it 50-50 with non-ad content. The content is offered in 15-second bites because most elevator rides last at least that long and riders say they feel “unfulfilled” to only see a part of a longer segment during their ride, says a Captivate rep.

Research suggests that the audience is indeed receptive.

Based on Captivate’s online polls and in-person surveys, conducted in conjunction with Millward Brown, outside the elevators, about 97 percent of elevator riders have watched the screens and 85 percent watch them during every trip. (The 15-20-minute in-person surveys involve up to 40 questions, including demographic queries.)

Based on such viewer feedback, the network is expanding into advertiser-sponsored social networking polls and programming, such as asking viewers to send in their favorite vacation photos for use in travel segments and e-mail answers to questions such as, “Who is the one person you’d most like to be stuck in an elevator with?”

Research shows the most popular programming is general news, weather, business news and a vocabulary feature called “word of the day.” Men also like sports and stock market information, while women also like entertainment and lifestyle content.

Research further revealed that viewers prefer the content come from a variety of established media rather than a single source, such as sister company USA Today. As a result, the elevator content is sourced as coming from CNN, NBC, Wired magazine, Salon.com, the Los Angeles Times and other media outlets, in addition to USA Today.

Orbitz, an online travel service, is one of the advertisers trying to take advantage of the fact that high-rise office workers usually walk from the elevator to the computer at their desk. “Our goal is to drive viewers to our site for travel booking and updated flight information, says Russell.

The Orbitz elevator campaign is a version of its TV campaign, and is meant to fit seamlessly among its existing broadcast, print, radio, airport and online ads. Russell says consideration of the brand has moved up among the demo targeted by the elevator ads since they began two years ago, but it is difficult to say how the work has contributed to sales. The benefits are that elevator ads reach just about every rider, and the mix of travel- and weather-related content on screen at the same time as the ads prompts people to view the screen longer than if the program were ads only, he says.

But is the lack of sound a hardship? “Not really,” says Russell. “To replace our audio cues, we use dynamic visuals, such as the motion of the brand’s signature orbiting halo,” he says.

Orbitz is also experimenting with creative work that is designed for the setting, such as frames going up and down, similar to the elevator going floor to floor, and doors opening and closing on the scenes in the ads, similar to the elevator door opening and closing.

PQ Media’s research says the majority of consumers view alternative out-of-home media as “favorable and educational,” thanks to digital technology and creative positioning. Unlike its mass media peers, elevator ads and other alternative out-of-home media are “impervious to channel or Web surfing and are immune to audience fragmentation,” says Patrick Quinn, CEO of PQ Media. “Ironically, the trends impeding traditional media—consumer fragmentation and control, advertising accountability and the emergence of digital technology—are the very catalysts stimulating the growth in alternative out-of-home advertising.”