The decision by JCDecaux, the UK’s biggest outdoor media owner, to jump on the content bandwagon with the launch of a dedicated division for its digital billboards demanded attention last week.
The unit has already created a campaign featuring photos of members of the public who are "snappy dressers" to tie in with London Fashion Week. Further activity during National Curry Week featured pictures of chefs on outdoor digital screens. In future, brands will be able to work with the division to create their own branded content.
But are digital billboards the right medium for running editorial-style campaigns? Posters used to be known as the "eight-second medium": the average time people spend looking at them. Go big and keep it simple is how many approach it, often with powerful effectiveness. So, does hosting more content – branded or otherwise – risk distracting the public and upstaging ad campaigns?
Janet Guest, the editorial director of JCDecaux’s new unit, points out that the company already offers editorial content, running Sky News updates on digital billboards at rail stations.
"Launching a content division makes sense for us because we have national scale and it is giving something back to customers. We are bringing something different that complements advertising on our screens," she says.
JCDecaux has 1,500 screens across roadside, rail and retail, and its digital sites are seen by 40 per cent of the UK adult population. Guest says that this makes JCDecaux the equivalent to the fifth-biggest "TV station", after ITV2.
The success of the venture will in part depend on the quality of the campaigns. People will need to learn to see posters as more than simple advertising; there could be an element of confusion on seeing billboards bearing editorial content.
This sums up the challenge for every medium as hybrids between editorial and advertising are explored.
It is still unclear quite what the public make of branded content or how effective it is at giving brands a boost. The industry can’t seem to agree on the implications either, as the responses to the above question show.
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