Interactive digital billboards launched in Auckland, designed to feature Kiwis’ social media posts

Vodafone has collaborated with Image Centre-owned* digital media agency Ngage and APN Outdoor to launch a series of interactive LED billboards that members of the public will be able to engage with via their mobile phones. 
The content displayed on each of the three billboards, currently on display in Ponsonby, Eden Terrace and Parnell, is delivered in real time via Vodafone’s machine-to-machine technology, which negates the need for additional cabling and infrastructure.

“It was going to be logistically problematic to get an internet connection running up to each of the billboards so Ngage chose to use Vodafone’s M2M platform, which provides connectivity to the billboards in real time over Vodafone’s mobile network,” says Vodafone spokesperson Michelle Baguley.

And while this is Vodafone’s first foray onto digital billboards, the use of machine-machine (M2M) technology is by no means new to the telco.  

“Vodafone has been selling M2M technology in the New Zealand market more than ten years, and has over a million M2M connections in New Zealand – the Interactive Digital Billboards are just an extension of the breadth of possibility with M2M,” says Baguley.

The system uses Aerva software (licenced exclusively to Ngage in New Zealand) to enable users to interact with the billboards via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, RSS feeds, pic-to-screen, or text-to-screen.

The billboards are updated in real time with a hashtag linked to the campaign, giving users the opportunity to distribute their narcissistic social media tendencies into the real world.  

But Vodafone’s head of machine-to-machine technology Tony Baton says that the benefits of the responsive digital signage extend beyond giving Kiwis another channel on which to express themselves.  

“Digital allows the vendor to renew their advertising message in real time to suit time of day, weather conditions and other environmental variables,” he said in a release. “We’re also seeing companies adopt digital media as a way to broadcast internal communications. Strategically placed screens around the office or factory keep staff updated on company news, the latest campaigns and provide important OSH reminders. Using the mobile network means avoiding additional infrastructure costs and provides the ability to change out campaigns very quickly.”

Ngage business director Alan Nicholas says that while digital signage is relatively new to the Kiwi market, it has already enjoyed significant success abroad, particularly in the United States where Taco Bell recently experimented with interactive billboards for a product launch.     

“In 2013, for Taco Bell® Cool Ranch Doritos® Locos Tacos product launch, Aerva built on the previous year’s marketing program to include photos (along with Twitter and polling) to increase further self expression and, in turn, engagement with millennials,” says Nicholas. 

“Taco Bell’s #DoritosLocosTacos campaign leveraged paid (DOOH, broadcast), owned (in-store, POS, tacobell.com, Facebook fan page, YouTube) and earned (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook)—as well as augmented reality engagement—resulting in their most successful product launch campaign in history.”

But by placing so much power in the hands of consumers, an advertiser risks the possibility of having its brand image sullied in a very public space by offensive tweets and—possibly worse—inappropriate imagery (thankfully, Anthony Weiner doesn’t frequent Ponsonby).

So, in an effort to ensure that nothing unsavoury trickles onto the digital billboards, Vodafone and Ngage have established a moderation system that enables advertisers to control what is published.

“The platform has built-in automated moderation engines as well as a user-friendly moderation interface to allow brand marketers the ability to review and approve all user-generated content, along with avatars and handles incorporated in programs,” says Nicholas. “This system protects the brand and provides almost instantaneous review-and-approve capabilities.”

However, given the steady stream of Twitter faux pas that slips through social media channels annually, it seems inevitable that something inappropriate will eventually end up on one of these billboards.      

*StopPress is part of the Image Centre Group.

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