Media: Double Standards - How outdoor is cashing in on new technologies

Rather than being threatened by the likes of online social networks, two outdoor chiefs reveal how they are embracing the more 'futuristic' applications.

RICHARD SIMKINS - technical projects director, Posterscope

- Why is outdoor well placed to respond to the challenge of new media?

Many of these challenges will increasingly take place in the out-of-home space due to the proliferation of sophisticated mobile devices. For example, more people will search for different things on mobile devices and OOH communications are very well placed to influence and motivate these actions. We're getting better at understanding these dynamics and what the future might look like. For example, our joint "Point & Find" project with JCDecaux and Nokia helped reveal the appeal of visual search.

- What are some of the most 'futuristic' applications for advertisers that outdoor can offer?

There are some amazing technologies that are readily applicable in the out-of-home space, from the current favourite mobile "augmented reality" through to displays that react to gesture or voice. Check out Microsoft Project Natal for a glimpse of the future. We shouldn't get carried away with technology, though. It's only a tool, albeit a very flexible and creative one. Ultimately, it's about ideas, driven by a real understanding of how people behave when they are out and about and how this behaviour is being shaped by technology.

- How can outdoor compete with the offerings of social networks online, which allow millions of people to interact?

It's less about competing and more about collaborating and complementing. Let's not forget that the original social medium was called the pub and 77 per cent of brand-related word-of-mouth happens in the real world. We are already seeing applications that bridge the virtual and real worlds in spaces like this, such as our VH1 project with Locamoda that utilised Twitter and Facebook feeds as content for OOH screens. And our "Passionate Social Networkers" research suggests that, counterintuitively, these digital natives like the opt-in nature of the simple poster a lot more than they do the forced ad messages within online video-on-demand services.

- What will you do to protect the privacy of users when they are interacting with posters and using 'augmented reality'?

The privacy of the individual is as important, if not even more so, in the real world as it is in the virtual one. People won't, and shouldn't have to, tolerate an uninvited approach, and just because something is technically possible doesn't mean we should do it, so no Minority Report unless people want it! Trust is earned, so we need to think hard about how technology can add real value to people's out-of-home experience and how brands can be a genuinely useful and rewarding part of that.

- How much does the advent of something like the iPad - a mobile, interactive, high-quality screen - threaten the future of outdoor?

We don't see it as a threat, rather an exciting opportunity. Much of the content that makes the iPad so appealing is the sort of stuff you want to consume when out - music, films, books etc. What might motivate an impulse purchase of a virtual magazine? A poster, perhaps? Maybe I'll be able to purchase it just by taking a picture of the poster or touching my device to it. The combination of OOH ads and mobile devices has the potential to shorten the consumer journey from awareness to consideration to purchase, into a few seconds.

- What's your own current favourite use of outdoor technology by an advertiser?

The Adobe-sponsored consumer-generated electricity project in Shibuya station, Japan, which uses kinetic energy pads on the floor to power a digital display.

JAMES POWER - director of IDEA, JCDecaux

- Why is outdoor well placed to respond to the challenge of new media?

Outdoor is the original social media channel where people meet, talk and start conversations. According to TouchPoints, social networkers spend more time out of home with their mates than they do on the internet. The smartphone also keeps them in touch and allows them to share their experiences while outdoor advertising is welcomed, rather than seen as a turn-off. So if you want to start brand conversations, then outdoor is a great place to do it.

- What are some of the most 'futuristic' applications for advertisers that outdoor can offer?

For Five TV, JCDecaux turned the centre of Manchester into a Gadget Show zone as part of an internet versus outdoor challenge. Using augmented reality technology, a virtual Suzi Perry appeared in the palm of the hand when consumers held up a card to the digital screen. The public could vote for their favourite presenter with our latest "opinionators", play interactive games, download Gadget Show videos via banks of Bluetooth-enabled phone kiosks or peel off our special Gadget Show mousemats from the sides of our bus shelters. We're keeping our fingers crossed that we've won the challenge that will be shown on The Gadget Show on 2 August at 8pm on Five.

- How can outdoor compete with the offerings of social networks online, which allow millions of people to interact?

More than 90,000 people go to the Community Shield and we have advertising and experiential zones at Marylebone Station, Wembley Park and Wembley Stadium. Not only can you talk to them but we can also put your brand in their hand. We can do it for Royal Ascot, Goodwood, Twickenham and Wimbledon and, once again, it is welcomed by the consumer so the brand effect is hugely positive.

- What will you do to protect the privacy of users when they are interacting with posters and using 'augmented reality'?

A video camera is used as part of the AR experience but none of the images are stored. The camera is working as a "live eye" so we have no privacy issues. It's a choose-to-use technology - you have to hold up a card or download an app or activate your phone.

- How much does the advent of something like the iPad - a mobile, interactive, high-quality screen - threaten the future of outdoor?

It's a huge opportunity. Like the smartphone, it enables the out-of-home audience to be connected to the net. Today, 25 per cent to 30 per cent of consumers use mobile to access the web and this will only increase as the technology evolves. According to The Wall Street Journal, by 2013, mobile phones will have overtaken PCs as the most common way to access the web.

- What's your own current favourite use of outdoor technology by an advertiser?

The Nike "claim the streets" event that used StreetTalk phone boxes to create a London-wide event, which saw runners sprinting between kiosks to phone in their times to win on behalf of their postcode.

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