Commuters - Tube - Time is of the essence

Digital outdoor advertising is a brave new world. Kim Benjamin goes Underground to explore some of the new digital media that advertisers are using to target commuters at different times and in different ways.

Commuters - Tube - Time is of the essence

The London Underground advertising network has come a long way from static posters and billboards. Digital has transformed these traditional formats, resulting in digital escalator panels (DEP) and LCD units where messaging can change in a flash.

There are currently about 1,130 digital screens on the Underground, but CBS Outdoor eventually plans to have more than 2,000 screens across 30 key stations after investing about £73m in upgrading.

One of the latest innovations on the Tube advertising network is cross-track projection (XTP). Launched in June by Alive, the digital division of CBS, which has a monopoly on the Tube network, XTPs are the equivalent of 14-foot television screens, but without sound. Consisting of hi-tech projectors and giant panels, XTPs are linked to a digital advertising network, enabling brands to update their messaging remotely.

Alongside DEP and LCD units, XTP offers brands the ability to target commuters at specific periods, by advertising at various timed slots during the day at stations across London (right). Morning slots typically run from 6am to 10am on weekdays and evening slots from 5pm to 7pm on weekdays. Consumer day parts run from 10am to 5pm on weekdays and from 6am to 5pm on weekends, with so-called entertainer slots filling weekdays from 7pm to midnight and from 5pm to midnight at weekends.

Tim Bleakley, managing director of sales and marketing at CBS, says: "Theatre companies can tempt commuters with footage of the latest productions on a Friday night, while travel businesses can exploit the Monday morning blues with pictures of a tropical paradise."

Steve Parker, managing director of Starcom MediaVest, says the key to making the most of formats such as XTP is to deliver a product message at a time when people will have a stronger disposition towards it. The messaging and creative will depend on product, format, time and even station location.

Commuter mindset
Tapping into the mindset of commuters on the Underground presents some lucrative advertising opportunities - not only are they a repeat audience, but they are also a captive one. According to research agency TGI, frequent users (adults aged 15+ who travel on the Tube five or more times a week) are more than three times as likely as the average adult to be in the top 20% of consumers of outdoor media. They are also slightly more than twice as likely than the average adult to agree that advertising helps them choose what they want to buy. It sounds like an outdoor advertiser's dream, but it comes with a catch - these commuters' expectations of advertising are also higher than the average adult, with 52% expecting what they see to be entertaining.

It's a challenge, however, to which a growing number of brands are increasingly rising, through the use of digital sites and time-of-day targeting. The Evening Standard, for example, has used LCD screens on both day-of-week and day parts to update its messages to show the various front pages of any particular day's newspaper.

Charlie Edelman, head of marketing at the newspaper, says: "LCDs provided us with an ideal medium to engage with our customers in a meaningful way. We've been able to use LCDs to show our newsbills, creating real-time advertising messages to stimulate sales."

Simon Jenkins, strategy director at MPG, which has used digital formats on the Tube with clients such as Camelot and Magners, says time-of-day targeting makes outdoor advertising much more flexible, increasing the relevancy of the message.

"Different formats work for different purposes. DEPs are best suited for sequential messaging and storytelling purposes, whereas XTPs are focused more on dwell time, and can capture the consumer's interest for longer," he says. "LCDs sit between the two formats, because you have a few seconds to get your message across."

Time sensitive
Broadcaster Sky has tested DEPs and was one of the first brands to sign up to XTP, trialling time-of-day and day-of-week advertising. According to Robert Tansey, director of brand strategy and marketing at BSkyB, the ability to define content by time enables Sky to vary the messages used to promote its brands. For example, Sky News uses a morning slot to advertise to commuters, while SkyOne and Sky Movies use evening slots to promote that night's entertainment or sports schedule, encouraging commuters to tune in for a movie premiere or football match that same evening.

"We ran up to six different ads across any one week, and there was a day-part and day-of-week strategy behind them all," says Tansey. "There was a strong morning versus evening divide, but we also needed to consider weekend travel and late-night Tube users. They all have different needs."

Glen Wilson, managing director of Posterscope, agrees that the commuter mindset is more complex than a simple morning and evening divide. "Consumer mindsets alter throughout the week," he says. "Different consumers are more receptive to some messages than others, depending on when you try to reach them and what you are trying to say."

Posterscope's research on the mindset of young professionals shows they are focused on their jobs when they are travelling to work. When they are heading home, this shifts to what is on TV, what to do in the evening and spending time with family, opening up opportunities for the entertainment industry, for example. Magners Irish Cider has run XTP campaigns towards the end of the working week using up to five executions, including images showing apples and the product being poured over ice. The brand's marketing manager Scott Fairbairn says targeting is by location rather than a time-of-day divide, but the biggest challenge is getting the creative right.

"The best place for our campaigns is a station in the West End," he says. "Consumers are in an enclosed space and can't avoid the messaging, so it needs to be relevant and use timing well. We've tested different formats such as background and size. It's not as simple as taking an existing TV ad and translating it to XTP - it's bespoke creative." Rum brand Bacardi, working with agency Grand Visual, ran its Superior Rum campaign on DEPs in the evenings, targeting commuters on their way out to popular night-spots at stations such as Angel and Leicester Square.

As digital technology develops further, new opportunities for advertising on the Underground are likely to open up, including user-generated content, such as reviews and videos, and integration with mobile, such as downloading content in real time on mobile phones. Developments such as XTP are still in the very early stages. It may be some time before its potential is fully realised, but the digital outdoor transformation is well under way.

Digital Tube

Cross-track projection (XTP) has been rolled out to 29 screens across five stations, including Piccadilly Circus, Bank, Liverpool Street, Euston and Bond Street. There are plans for the technology to be spread on 150 screens across 24 stations, giving an average of two XTP sites per platform

Digital escalator panels (DEPs) were launched in 2005 at Tottenham Court Road station and are being installed across 20 stations, including Green Park, Waterloo and Knightsbridge, with a total of 932 screens in operation so far

There are 169 live LCD screens on main exit routes and in ticket halls at the busiest Tube stations in Zones 1 and 2, such as Marble Arch, Victoria and South Kensington.