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The Great Outdoors

(October 2008) posted on Thu Oct 30, 2008

Out-of-home's growth has no end in sight.

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By Stephen Freitas

SMS: Text messaging (aka SMS, for "short message service") continues to grow in popularity, with Americans sending millions of text messages every year. Out-of-home advertising is combining digital technology with SMS to engage consumers in new ways. A Nike advertisement in Times Square, for instance, allowed pedestrians to design their own sneakers on a billboard using their phones as a controller; they could then send the design to Nike and purchase the one-of-a-kind product.

And in an award-winning campaign for BBC World, passersby were encouraged to text votes to a billboard presenting provocative questions about major news stories of the day. For example, a picture of American troops in Iraq was accompanied by a choice: occupiers or liberators. The vote tallies were then included on dynamic signage that formed part of the board.

SMS presents a unique way to engage the consumer without being intrusive. By engaging with the advertisement, consumers are more likely to remember the message, making this a particularly powerful addition to outdoor advertising’s toolbox.

Digital: But perhaps the biggest change to hit the outdoor advertising industry since the advent of computerized printing of vinyls is digital technology. Digital is revolutionizing the way content is displayed on billboards and other formats. LED (light emitting diode) screens are allowing billboards to be updated nearly instantaneously by computer, rather than requiring billposters to replace copy.

Digital is also making its way into other out-of-home formats. Out-of-home video networks continue to deploy, from subway stations to health clubs to gas stations. Traditional media are using new technology to attract a great deal of attention, an advertisement for the A&E series, "Paranormal State" used cutting-edge audio technology to beam micro-pulse sound waves at a specific area of the sidewalk near the campaign’s wallscape to literally whisper in the ears of individual pedestrians.

Airports are also undergoing a transformation, as digital technology is being used to dramatic effect. The captive audience in airports is viewed as a major prize to advertisers, as business travelers make up the majority of the viewing audience. Digital has led to touch screens in some terminals and a digital "immersion" corridor in New York’s JFK International Airport, where consumers were literally surrounded by content promoting a software manufacturer.