Category Archives: Out of Home Advertising

A steak-scented billboard: Who ever sausage a thing?

This What’s In Store post reported on a billboard that not only visually evokes a juicy steak — it smells like one. Here’s an excerpt:

A billboard that smells as enticing as it looksCommuters [on a North Carolina highway] may find a new aroma commingling with exhaust fumes: The smell of grilled steak, coming from a billboard designed to entice shoppers by appealing to a sense other than sight … It pairs the smell with a big visual, showing a giant piece of steak and a French fry on a giant fork.

The post goes on to say that this is one of the first of its kind in the country. I was reminded by a friend this morning that the technique has definitely been enhanced by modern chemistry (by ScentAir of Charlotte, NC), but this tactic at least dates back to Wisconsin’s own Wienermobile.

For those who don’t remember it, this vehicle promoted Oscar Meyer wieners for decades, and often used the smell of cooking hotdogs to help build an audience.

… As if the vehicle’s design alone wouldn’t do the trick!

Can readers find an earlier example of out-of-home “whiff-appeal” to help sell a product?

Bokodes talk to you through your smart-phone camera

According to an estimate on this video, the world is teeming with a billion people who are armed with a “reasonably high quality” digital camera. Most of these cameras are in cell phones. The Camera Culture, of the prestigious MIT Media Lab, wishes to exploit this opportunity with a new type of barcode, called the Bokode. The video below shows the science behind this breathtaking new technology.

Geek Alert: Unless you’re an optical physicist, you’ll likely start zoning out by the third minute of this five-minute video. Hang in there. The more apparent business applications are discussed starting in the last minute of this thing.

If you simply cannot endure the details about how this system conveys tons of product information, and senses where your camera is positioned and communicates that position to your camera, here’s a link to a more benefits-oriented video, from BBC’s outstanding technology bureau.

Assuming you’re like me, a marketing professional who cares about technology, I urge you to educate yourself on this advancement in cell-camera-enabled barcoding. It’s the beginning of a more robust way for us to gather information about the products and businesses we encounter.

Unless I’m mistaken, that is. I’d love to know what you think.

Related links:

Digital out-of-home has unique power to interest consumers

Boring old out-of-home is a surprisingly promising medium for engaging consumers. This can be seen in its recent growth. Due in large part to the advent of digital billboards, spending for out-of-home advertising has grown by 8% for the last three years (surpassed in growth only by online advertising).

Digital Billboards Are “Interesting”

The ability to vary and customize digital billboards has yet to be fully explored. But even with relatively “dumb” billboards, consumers are paying attention. Research conducted by SeeSaw Networks (June 2007/July 2008), and reported in MediaPost recently (registration required), highlights the power of today’s digital billboards to generate consumer interest. Here’s one of the findings in that research:

Advertising On The Media Is Interesting

Medium Percentage of Base
Digital Signage














Mobile Phone


Base: Among those who have seen ads in the media in the past 12 months

As media options continue to explode — and consumer attention progressively splinters — reaching people where they work and play will be even more important to marketers. I’m excited to see how innovations in out-of-home step in to fill that need.

Guerilla (and gorilla!) marketing at its finest

How much must a truly stellar promotion of a new business cost? If you’re a small, scrappy start-up willing to take a few risks, the answer is not much.

Steve Fretzin and a few enterprising friends realized that their Chicago networking events were suffering from a lack of publicity. There was no calendar of Chicago-area events specifically for those seeking business networking.

Instead of cursing the darkness, they lit a candle. They created

Then they realized something else. NetworkingMonkey needed publicity even more than their events.

So Fretzin and company found a sharp PR firm and embarked on an aggressive publicity campaign. He told me, “We wanted to make a statement to the city. So we hired 10 actors and sent them into the streets.”

They didn’t leave unarmed. The came packing fruit.

“We had them dressed up in gorilla suits, and we gave them crates and crates of bananas — each with a card that had our value statement and web address. We gave away 7,000 bananas.”

If you have trouble imagining what that must have looked like, click on the video below. The event was well-documented, thanks to their PR partners, who wisely planned the event to coincide with a local television newscast’s “Dance-off Friday.”

The value of this prime time television (and subsequent YouTube) exposure is hard to measure. But since the buy-in wasn’t much more than the purchase of a medium-sized plantation’s worth of bananas, I’d say the ROI of this clever publicity ploy was definitely huge.

The Take-away:

You don’t need a hefty promotional budget if you choose the right partners and use you imagination.

New Zoombak mini-GPS puts special events on the map

Marketing technology has focused on the potential of mobile marketing for years. But it has always just been potential. Like most bloggers in my industry, I’ve written with yearning about a day when you can conduct breakthrough events or execute innovative sales strategies using cell phone GPS capabilities, and about making a mobile-oriented device such as an SMS-enabled chandelier (below) a centerpiece of your special event.

Text-message enabled chandelierThese posts were written two years ago.

So what’s the hold-up?

The chief problem is carrier barriers. Our four cellular phone carriers refuse to agree on protocols. These shared platforms would make phone bells and whistles — features that users in many other countries enjoy today — possible in this country as well.

If you’re expecting these barriers to fall soon, think again.

But in the meantime, other technology has slowly come into the reach of event marketers, and to those others like myself who grasp that the next marketing technology wave has to do with place, not a faster internet or better web agent.

Or even the unlocking of domestic cell phones!

The ZoombakMeet the Zoombak

I’m thinking specifically now of Zoombak, a GPS device that is tiny, and cheap enough to buy in bulk and rent. It can become a way to create an unforgettable special event.

Don’t let this application as a high-tech dog tracker fool you. Here’s what Zoombak’s web copy says about this $200 device:

Our small, lightweight, water-resistant locator attaches comfortably to your dog’s collar with a durable and secure pouch. You can pinpoint your dog’s location on-demand via, mobile phone (coming soon) or live customer care. You can also determine your dog’s location in real time using our continuous tracking option. Simply log on to to view a map of her current location, as well as her path taken since leaving home. Once you create and activate your own customized safety zones, you can be promptly notified by text message and/or email (your choice) when your dog leaves the zone.

Imagine you’re a college recruiter, and that instead of tracking your dog, you invited a dozen participants in an exploration of your college campus. They could be on a high-tech scavenger hunt. The rest of your potential students could watch the competition on web-enabled monitors. They’d speculate on which person or team returns first with all of the requested items. (Because it’s against the law, there would of course be no wagering.)

Another example of the possibilities: Consider the popular fund-raising event of releasing dozens of rubber ducks in a river and seeing whose duck crosses the finish line first. How much more interesting would it be if, instead of a river, it was a sprawling shopping mall — or topiary maze — and instead of ducks, these where local celebrities willing to (temporarily) get themselves extremely lost for a good cause?

These are just two applications that come to mind when GPS suddenly moves within spitting distance of medium-to-large event budget.

Can you think of other applications for this?

(Thank you, David Joachim of the New York Times for getting my brain racing with an article on the Zoombak.)

New billboard mascot is another case of Analog = Tired, Digital = Wired

When I was in high school, in my sleepy, remote hometown, the local shopping mall wanted to do something different for the holiday shopping season. Not content with a mere Santa Claus, they had plans to build and “populate” a talking Christmas tree.

This hollow tree would contain a person — someone who would sit there all day and accost passersby, engaging them in clever yuletide banter. I must have gotten a reputation as someone who you couldn’t shut up, because I was offered the gig.

I declined.

I was 13 years old, and acutely aware that as soon as word got out I was the voice behind this blight on the retail landscape, I would become a serious candidate for after-school deforestation.

Everyone knows that mascots are not cool.

I must have given off a serious death wish, because I got a similar offer when I was in college. I was working as an intern at a bank.

They were shocked and crestfallen when I told them no, I would not spend my weekends prancing through the aisles of our football stadium dressed as a giant foam checkbook. What could I be thinking? I’ll tell you what I was thinking: Mascots are not cool.

The Digital MascotThat’s why I took special note when I heard this account on NPR’s On The Media. It’s of a mascot that is actually, certifiably cool. The podcast segment includes an interview with the actor who brings this mascot to life. And yes, he fully grasps that he has landed a truly plum job.

He’s the star of an animated, digital billboard in Las Vegas. Hidden cameras and microphones allow him to carry on conversations with pedestrians, while images of the products and services he’s hawking stream and flash in the background.

I’m still trying to fathom why this is so dramatically different from a talking Christmas tree in Escanaba, Michigan. I’ve concluded that it’s another example of The Age of the Nerd.

If it’s digital, it is most likely pretty awesome.

So, if the marketing department of that bank where I interned is reading this, I have something to say to you:

I’m a little long in the tooth to sell checking accounts in football stadiums, but if the offer still stands, I’m your man, on one condition: It’s got to be electronic checking.

Growth of out of home ads reflects our fragmented media consumption

Physicists tell us the universe is ever-expanding, a concept that can make the mind reel. Advertisers trying to reach their target audience know this feeling well, as media alternatives continually fragment and multiply. One solution: Forget about media as we would ordinarily think about them and look to the places your market congregates as the medium itself.

I’m only a recent convert to the power of out of home advertising, but that only seems to make me more of a zealot. Here are three examples worth filing away in your new media mental database:

  • Billboards that greet you by name — Tested last year and rolled out in the April of 2007, the Mini Cooper Motorby program is ingenious. Have owners register online, and receive a free key fob. When that key fob gets within 500 feet of a billboard, it triggers a personalized message. The billboard is 5 feet tall and 33 feet wide. My only questions: What are the results? And how are they translated to a true ROI?
  • Virtual billboards, Second Life-style — If an ad is on the side of a building, but that building is on Second Life, is that an interactive ad or out of home? A little of both, because it is far more interactive (try clicking through the side of a real building without getting injured or arrested), but has the same ambient quality of the real world. The biggest down-side: Ads are everywhere in Second Life.
  • Literally touch your consumers as they drink their coffee — Coffee cup sleeves have come of age. According to BriteVision, an industry leader in their production and distribution (they have their own ad network of coffee shops), the average consumer spends 49 minutes with their “Ad-Sleeve,” what an average recall of the ad at two-thirds (65%). The biggest up-side: Since many cafes offer WiFi, providing a URL can help measure effectiveness and reach an upscale segment of consumers. You can also include a phone number or short code for a mobile marketing play.

The reach and creative potential with out of home are a couple of reasons it is growing when other media types are stagnant or shrinking. According to the OAAA, revenue for out-of-home advertising so far this year has increased by 7.9% (within a rounding error of the growth seen last year, and the year before). This projection for 2007 is based on spending in the first six months of the year. The graphic below shows prior growth.

Growth of out of home this year is projected again at roughly 8 percent

All of this is great news for brands that want to make a difference. There are many ways to truly involve consumers — some quite high tech, some that are extremely “out there,” and some that are frankly both. It all makes for an interesting ride with plenty to see and do.

Out-of-home and into phone: Spectacolor HD boards add a mobile component

It was announced on Wednesday that a new type of digital billboard, Spectacolor HD, will be capable of presenting dazzling video and graphics. But eye candy is as cheap and ephemeral as the name implies. Where is the power to really engage a consumer? I got my answer in the fleeting, fifth paragraph of this BrandWeek article:

The Spectacolor HD board also promises to take the transformation of the outdoor medium one step further to engage the consumer through interactive features. Using mobile phones, passersby will be able to listen to audio for the board, play games on the screen, send text messages or download audio and video files.

Those who visit DigitalSolid regularly know that I get particularly excited by the prospect of ads with a mobile phone component. In prior posts I’ve discussed the direct marketing implications of standard digital ads, as well as the print-to-mobile promise of ShopText.

So you know my priorities.

I believe the news about Spectacolor HD that will have the biggest impact on us marketing technology types is the ability to push content to consumers for them to keep and share. As with the other examples I’ve discussed, this will truly use all of the marketing power of a digital ad.

How would it harness this marketing power? Well, what if, from this billboard, you could download a podcast to your cell phone — for instance, a song with a branding element or offer presented at the end, or a walking tour narrative? Or even a “treasure hunt” set of instructions? (Think Geocaching — a fast growing hobby for the GPS enabled.)

This would give your brand a tremendous amount of bang for the buck. It could be listened to multiple times and shared with others who haven’t seen the digital billboard. This is huge if the campaign is properly crafted.

But the billboard being discussed in the BrandWeek article is an exotic, rarefied animal. It will go up in New York City’s Times Square, at 47th Street and Broadway.

Most digital billboards will be on the sides of teeming freeways, where viewing time is brief, and the opportunity to download something, based on the range that Bluetooth grants you, is minimal indeed. Too bad there isn’t a way to pass information to a more far-flung group — a group of people who must stand still long enough to receive it.

Yours Free To Download (Just Wash Your Hands First, Please)

Should the meme of downloading from digital ads become more commonplace, I know of just such an audience. They are standing as I type this, gazing at digital ads all over America. I’m referring to the men in public restrooms equipped with digital, ad-serving monitors.

These units have always struck me as too clever by half. For one thing, they are positioned on the wall above a urinal mere inches from the viewer’s nose (I hope!). That makes ignoring the ads it flashes all but impossible, but it makes focusing on said ads just as difficult. And these ads have never promised me anything of value.

What if these same monitors were equipped to send the people in the restroom (hopefully after they’ve washed up!) the same goodies that were heretofore only available to New York tourists? 

Once you’ve stopped chuckling, think about the valuable mobile marketing you could accomplish by designing and executing a campaign that people receive by using any cellphone equipped with both Bluetooth and an MP3 player. It’s not so farfetched a future to imagine.

Ironically, these audio media may be delivered by a digital display ad. In an odd way this makes perfect sense.

And hopefully, by the time all the other moving parts are in place to make this advertising feasible, there will be more types of public spaces available where digital ads are displayed.

In the future, I would hope these campaigns wouldn’t be relegated to the type of room polite people excuse themselves to visit.

ShopText promises to make print ads more useful for impulse purchases

The promise is scintillating: You’re paging through a magazine or newspaper, or you encounter an out-of-home ad (even, perhaps, a digital billboard), and you decide you simply must have that product. You type a six-digit short code into your cell phone, send the number a text message with a keyword, and after a verifying second text is received and replied to, your product has been ordered.

The consumer wins by getting the product, and the marketer wins by fulfilling what may have been a passing whim. It’s the QVC network without ever going near a television or talking to an operator.

That is the promise of ShopText, as described in a recent New York Times article.

This technology’s potential audience is substantial. Everyone is aware of how ubiquitous the cell phone has become in our society. But what may be surprising to many is the fact that two out of every five users has sent a text message from their phone. According to recent M:Metrics statistics, 39.2% of cell phone owners send a text message at least once a month.

Now imagine that you are paging through a newspaper and you see something about the latest Harry Potter book — the one that is being pre-sold now, and will be delivered in the early summer. And then let’s just say that you’re a huge fan of the series, and want to see if Harry dies in this concluding volume. And finally, let’s say for the sake of example that once you’ve pre-registered with the ShopText site, all you need to do is send out a text message, directed to the short code “467467” (think of short codes as cell-phone-specific mini phone numbers). The actual text message would be easy to type because it contains only one word — “Potter.” Done! That’s all you need to do to lock in your pre-release book and have it mailed to you when the official release date arrives.

As you may have already surmised, this is no idle example. It’s exactly what I did, about four hours ago. The purchase took less than a minute. Time will tell if I become a satisfied customer, and even a repeat user. But since I really did want to lock in a copy for this new book, but kept forgetting to do so, this service fulfilled a real need that I had.

What are the implications if this mobile purchasing system fulfills lots of other people’s needs, and truly catches on?

Well, imagine trade shows where you can have samples and brochures sent back to your home or office (on the vendor’s dime of course). Or you could “buy” free or nearly free samples that you read about in display ads. These samples could be of just about anything — from cosmetics to pet supplies.

I find this incredibly exciting.

Watch this space to find out how this new consumer experience turns out for me. In return, I promise you I will be as objective as possible. Oh, and I won’t blab about Harry’s fate, if my copy arrives before you have a chance to read it yourself.

I am boldly going on record now, though, to make two predictions about future purchases:

  1. If this quick, convenient way to purchase on impulse lives up to its promise, I definitely will be buying lots of other things this way 
  2. Regardless of the above, Harry will be buying the farm

You read it here first.

As long as you’re stuck in traffic, can we talk?

Actor, comic and screenwriter Steve Martin wrote the character of God — or at least an omniscient sage — into his 1991 romantic comedy L.A. Story. This is car-centric Los Angeles he’s talking about, so the voice of God wasn’t in the form of a burning bush or an intervening angel, but was the flashing lettering of a freeway sign. Instead of the sign reporting the typical warnings of delays, it gave the lead character personal advice and admonishments. Our star eventually heeds these digital messages, and his own personal heavy traffic magically lifts for a happy Hollywood ending.

Digital BillboardI was reminded of this when I pulled to a stop at a notoriously busy intersection near my home. There, in the muted half-daylight of dusk, was a glowing billboard so rich in color and crisp in detail that it almost seemed to open my door and climb in beside me. I was riveted.

This was a new digital billboard by Lamar Advertising. Both Lamar and competitor Clear Channel Outdoor have posted these LCD boards in my city, along with many others. Over coffee this past Sunday, a friend of mine mentioned the sighting of one of them. They are noteworthy enough that their arrival gets people talking.

It also got me thinking.

LCD billboards grab attention by their picture quality and brightness, and also by the fact that they can rotate ads as frequently as every six seconds. These boards have helped fuel incredible growth in this ad category, called out-of-home advertising. The category is second only to Internet ads in terms of its growth. These boards have also fueled traffic safety concerns, as reported in this recent New York Times article:

“There’s a perception in the advertising industry that you have to up the ante,” said David Zald, assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University. “We see so much information coming at us that for it to actually leap out and capture our attention, one has to go at a more salient level than you used to.”

But, he added, “there’s a trade-off between the advertiser’s need to grab our attention and the actual safety implications of that attention capture.”

It’s a real concern, especially when the signs are new to a particular roadside. But the danger caused by their novelty will fade. Perhaps their introduction can even be made less jarring by slowing the rotation time — less to gawk at, and thus, more time to think about driving.

What really got me thinking was how a formerly analog medium can work harder when it goes digital. I’d like you to consider for a moment a digital billboard that’s smart enough to anticipate traffic speeds and potential dangers. There are a couple of methods being tested now using things like anonymized cell phone signals to better understand in real time the traffic speeds and conditions of pinpointed stretches of road. Using this sort of information, the signs could respond. When traffic speeds up, rotation could be throttled back.

Now take that traffic-sensitive capability a step farther. Remember, these digital billboards have essentially taken a two-dimensional ad medium and added the third dimension of time. Driven by a computer, anything can be served up on a board, and changed at any time (sometimes the computers fail, with comical results).

What if, when traffic slowed to a crawl, a message was flashed that drivers could respond to immediately, with their cell phones. When you’re bumper-to-bumper, it’s easier to manage a phone conversation and still remain safe. This slowly passing line of drivers would be flashed direct response offers that they have the capability — and free time — to respond to immediately.

Anything that eases their frustration with the wait would drive interest and action. As a public service, and as an added incentive to make the call, the end of the recorded message that consumers would hear would be specific information about the cause of the slow-down — an accident, stalled car or construction — along with verbal instructions on what might be done to ease the slowdown.

Is this smart? Dumb? I’d like to know. What do you think? One thing I’m quite sure of. This idea absolutely cries out to be tested.