From static signs to digital screens: how the oldest medium is adapting to the new world

Digital out-of-home is a big growth area for the outdoor sector, with significantly reduced hardware costs and growing awareness of the benefits it has to offer putting some major wind in its sails in recent years. It’s coming off a low base and it’s still in its infancy in New Zealand, but the investment is starting to flow from owners and advertisers. Here’s what some of the main players—APN Outdoor, Ooh! Media and Adshel—had to say about the state of DOOH in New Zealand and what they have planned for the future. 

APN Outdoor’s chief executive Phil Clemas says digital outdoor is split into two categories: small format (generally single screens that are <2 m2) and large format (generally single or multi-screen units >2 m2). There are also two distinct environments where digital outdoor resides: place-based and roadside. 

“Place-based are almost always inside environments like shopping malls, cinemas, health centres, medical facilities, sports stadia, airport terminals, a few pubs and gyms and can include both small and large format screens, although most common are small format. However, there is currently a lack of scale and consistency. Roadside, as the term suggests, are screens found alongside roadways and due to them almost always being large format, are often referred to as digital billboards.” 

A number of organisations are progressively investing in their own in-house digital signage networks. Lotteries NZ launched what was at the time the largest digital roll-out in New Zealand a couple of years ago with over 600 screens installed across most of their outlets. Most banks now have digital screens behind their service counters and in some cases, window fronts. Petrol stations, supermarkets and a growing number of retailers are also seeing the potential, with companies like Ngage installing and running infrastructure and also selling space on those networks to advertisers. 

He says small format, place-based media is more established than large format and generates the largest share of advertising revenue. And that continues to grow strongly. But large format roadside is quickly catching up. Clemas says investment in developing the media has not been cost-effective until recent times, but after launching New Zealand’s first digital billboard in Auckland in July last year, it’s just launched four more screens this week to create an inner-city network (the network will run on an advertising loop of eight second adverts, with up to six spots per rotation and the first advertisers include Symantec, BMW, Samsung, TVNZ, 2degrees and The Green Party). 

He says global advertising revenue growth from digital outdoor has grown at over 12 percent year on year since 2008 and it is accelerating. So, since 2012, APN Outdoor has invested heavily in research, sourcing, product testing and development, both here and in Australia, to try and get a slice of it. 

​​The next phase commencing in November will see a significant transformation of Auckland Airport’s advertising assets after it won the contract off oOh! and next year it will launch additional screens in markets outside Auckland. 

“The priority after establishing a viable digital outdoor advertising channel is to educate and inspire advertisers and agencies on how best to use this burgeoning medium [it has created a microsite called Pulse to do just that]. It is far more than just an electronic billboard. The immediacy, flexibility and mobile and social media convergence capabilities suggest a need for a complete rethink and APN Outdoor has invested heavily to help drive forward this necessary change.” 

Clemas says two of the pioneering advertisers (2degrees and The Green Party) have used different messages on specific times of the day and varied their communications to suit specific screens, which means the ads will be a little bit more relevant to the particular audience in that area.

“But the real innovative use of this very young channel in New Zealand is still ahead of us.” 

oOh!’s general manager Cameron Taylor says innovation is a key part of its business success and has been for many years. This has seen it introduce products such as gesture-control digital panels to audio and scent dispensing retail billboards. 

“And we are working on a range of other initiatives to take to market over the next year which will drive new levels of engagement.”

He says it is continuing to invest in growing its footprint of digital assets across its retail and study environments in New Zealand. But he doesn’t believe there will ever be a 100 percent digital OOH player.

“We don’t think digital on its own can deliver advertisers with the ‘big brand’ positioning that static signage can deliver. What we expect to see more of is static signage coming to life through technology and the spread of smartphones. We have already seen brands build a ‘big’ presence through static signage and then extending the experience through dynamic digital signs or the use of other technologies such as our Tap or Scan, which offers QR Codes and NFC functionality.”   

He says its John West Tuna Tempters campaign was a good example of its ability to provide full motion digital across its portrait and landscape retail networks. And the recent promotion of My Kitchen Rules, which created specially built panels that dispensed specific aromas each week and played audio of the TV show hosts Pete Evans and Manu Feildel promoting the series when shoppers at the mall pressed a button, was also a big success. 

“Shoppers who tweeted the scent each week were given the opportunity to win some coveted official MKR aprons. Having this opportunity to create a two-way connection with the audience, as well as a full sensory experience, was too good an opportunity for the client to resist … Increasingly we are seeing brands look for ways to engage consumers with multiple channels in an integrated way. We have seen great outdoor campaigns that have driven social conversation and vice versa. Even though we are still in the early days of integration, we have helped clients work out how they can integrate the most traditional media with new media to amplify campaigns.” 

Just as brands are searching for added relevancy with targeted online ads, they’re doing the same thing with digital signage, with savvy advertisers now able to show specific creative depending on the time of day or, in the case of a recent Dimetapp campaign, the temperature.  

Adshel’s marketing manager Angela McDougall says digital is becoming much more important, both for its business and consumers in general. She points to a recent report by Nielsen called The Connected Consumer that found 90 percent of all our media interactions are now on screen.

While digital billboards have a commanding presence, she says smaller-format options, including digital roadside, allow for more interactivity. And, like oOh!, she says it will be a big play for Adshel as advertisers can be further tailor messages to day part, day specific or weather.

“A great example of this is Meat & Livestock Australia, which ran an NFC-enabled campaign with Adshel that provided shoppers with different recipes depending on how warm the weather was. New technology not only enables out-of-home to deliver pertinent content but enables a broadcast medium to transform seamlessly to narrowcast. In addition, we are able to track consumer interactions with our digital and mobile campaigns by location and offer real-time reporting which we can use to monitor campaign effectiveness.” 

Of course, the majority of the business for most major outdoor providers is still static images, so these creative digital campaigns are still outliers. But McDougall says the more complex, more creative executions attract more attention, as evidenced by the results of BNZ’s Emotion Scan Adshel and the interactive digital panel at Britomart that was used to launch Neutrogena’s Rapid Wrinkle Repair Cream

“We’ve undertaken significant research to prove that the addition of this type of interactive execution delivers an increase in brand recall and creates talkability around a campaign. The Adshel Neuroscience study in 2011 showed that adding an Ignite or Immerse element to an Adshel campaign can increase awareness by up to 11 percent. And research by our shareholder, Clear Channel, has shown that consumers love interacting with out-of-home. In fact 82 percent of them agree that interactive digital campaigns are more engaging.” 

That research showed that touchscreen was the most appealing method to initially interact and 93 percent of participants said they are likely to notice an interactive OOH advert in the future, with 3 in 4 likely to interact again.

New Zealand’s other major outdoor player, iSite has been asked for comment on its digital developments, but has yet to respond. 

Speaking of outdoor, OMANZ, the association representing members comprising more than 80 percent of the NZ OOH industry, has announced some important changes in the way billboard audiences are measured.

“Our members have moved to address a stated impediment to OOH revenue growth, namely agency frustration at inconsistency between companies in the time period in which audiences were expressed and in some cases a lack of confidence in the numbers themselves.”

To address this need, all member billboard operators (APN Outdoor/iSite/Media5) will adopt a single currency: daily traffic visuals (DTV).

The new system delivers significant advances in three ways: Firstly and importantly, the base traffic counts are not supplied by the media operators. Leading independent geo-spatial experts, Critchlow have derived the latest and most accurate traffic counts for relevant road sections for each billboard ensuring the integrity of the base data. Secondly, Critchlow in conjunction with iSite has developed a series of rules which, when applied universally greatly refine the audience outputs. For the first time agencies can take confidence that there is a consistent, independently verified methodology for applying variables such as billboard orientation, traffic flow and effective viewing distance. Thirdly, DTV numbers will be accompanied by a Critchlow trust mark assuring their authenticity. Member operators have agreed to publish DTV numbers on their site cards and proposals in the public domain, and to further guarantee transparency the outputs will also be available on the OMANZ website for reference.

“The introduction of DTV currency is a modest but nonetheless significant step in the continuing maturity of the OOH industry,” says OMANZ chairman and iSite chief executive Wayne Chapman. “Members have demonstrated an ability to work collaboratively towards an outcome that will deliver our customers a superior product and give them the confidence to further invest in the growth of our medium.” 

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