Towards the end of 2005, we were lucky enough to get word of several noteworthy digital signage pilots popping up in Europe. I've highlighted a number of European deployments here in the past, including our last article about the Tesco TV digital sign deployment. However, the sheer quality and quantity of leads, trials and deployments in the fourth quarter (and so far, this year) leads me to believe that the European digital signage market is finally starting to mature. I was so impressed by some of these trials that I flew out there last week to see what was going on first-hand. Having now been back in Florida long enough to thaw out, I thought I'd share some of what I learned. Of the dozen or so trials that I had the opportunity to examine, three really caught my attention -- both for what they did right and what they did wrong. Thus, over the next few articles I'm going to try to get some thoughts down on each of these. To protect the confidentiality of the retailers, I'm not going to mention any city, country or company names. But a few small (and mostly irrelevant) cultural differences aside, these things don't matter too much within the scope of this analysis. The first of the three trials that I'll tell you about is a chain of 70 supermarkets that has partnered with a third-party digital signage firm to deploy an ad-supported digital advertising network. Next is a soft goods chain piloting a digital signage network as a merchandising tool to supplement their static POP displays. Finally, the last trial utilizes a half-and-half approach, combining internal merchandising messages with advertisements for private label and name brand products alike.
Let's start with the supermarket
trial. I only had the opportunity to visit one of the aforementioned
supermarkets, though I was told that all of the stores followed roughly
the same layout, and each of those trialing the digital signage network
had approximately the same number of screens, placements, content
channels, etc. To give you a rough idea, I'd say that the store was
about 30,000-40,000 sq. ft., and had a partially finished warehouse
look to it that was not dissimilar to a Sam's Club or Costco (aside
from being smaller, of course).
I think that the first words out
of my mouth when noticing this digital signage deployment were "Wow,
this layout looks just like Tesco's," which is somewhat ironic since in
last week's article we hypothesized that Tesco's in-store advertising network might not be doing so well.
This store had the same "power aisle" layout, featuring seven or eight
floor-standing product displays, and about as many 42" plasma screens
suspended from the ceiling about 10' off of the ground (that's a bit
more than 3m for you metric folk). All of the screens in the aisle were
showing the same content, providing the entering shopper with a tunnel
view of repeating, moving images. It was an impressive sight, albeit a
little dizzying. There were at least four other channels of content in
the store (produce, bakery, etc.), each of which was playing on between
4-8 plasma monitors. No matter where I stood in the store, I could
always see at least two channels of content playing (and in some
places, I could actually hear two or more channels at once).
Considering the visual and auditory clutter (and the aforementioned
similarity to the Tesco layout), I wasn't surprised when I later found
out that this network was also having trouble selling its ad space.
Though the supermarket chain had opted to try and sell their space
themselves instead of using a media buying organization (a'la Tesco
using JC Decaux to sell their ad space), they were running into many of
the same problems, with advertisers unsure of the profitability of the
screens, and customers complaining about their obtrusiveness.
the other hand, the store appeared to be doing a number of things right
in this trial (at least in my opinion). To begin with, somebody clearly
made a large capital expenditure to install this network the correct
way, right from the beginning. The store utilized high-brightness
displays, the mounting work was clean, and some of the screens that
were integrated directly into the floor-standing displays were
extremely well done. Likewise, much of the store's custom content was
eye catching and informative, featuring bold, bright colors, big text,
and friendly-looking people "talking" directly to passing customers.
Unfortunately these custom content segments were too few and far
between, and overall the content loops were too short, never spanning
more than five or six minutes on any given channel. Considering that
these stores are fairly large, I'd be willing to bet that the average
customer might see the same content several times during the course of
their visit, which contributes to increasing indifference towards the
message. I also noticed that most of the ads were simply re-purposed TV
commercials lacking any kind of locale-specific information, such as
pricing or availability. Even more notably, though, none of the ads
featured a call-to-action.
I'm still amazed at how often this critical step is missed. All it
takes is a simple "Buy me now in aisle 4!" or "Try our product today!"
to turn otherwise marginal pieces of content into sales-boosting spots.
back to my first observation about the sheer quantity of screens in the
store, I'm starting to wonder if we'll ever be able to come up with
some kind of generalized observation about when there are too many, too
few or "just enough" screens in a retail venue. Considering how many
different merchandising strategies, store layouts and corporate
cultures there are, I think it's going to be hard to come up with a
standard definition of what to use. In this particular case, there were
perhaps fifty 42" plasma screens in the store, which was simply too
many. Some of them were extremely well placed, merged into the store's
existing fixtures in such a way that the screens were unobtrusive, but
still extremely eye-catching. Others, though, were either placed in
less-visible areas or were located too close to the customers. It's
almost as if the installers had an exact plan for the first 30 screens,
and then were told to do whatever they liked with the last 20 (apart
from selling them to the general public out of the back of their truck,
From a practical/implementation standpoint, I think
we can learn a few things from this trial deployment. First off, unless
you have a really, really big store, 50 big-screen displays is probably
going to be too much. An endless plain of ceiling-mounted digital signs
might sound like a surefire idea, but it may be more likely to irritate
customers than using a more reasonable number of screens placed at more
strategic locations, or varying the screen sizes to compensate for
predicted viewing distance, etc. Next, if you're working with a fixed
content budget, or you're running a limited number of spots, make sure
that the content you have running on each channel is about as long as
the average customer visit or dwell time for that area of the store. If
your entire store-wide channel only has four minutes of content and a
shopper's average visit duration is 20 minutes, those shoppers will
probably see the same content four or five times each visit. Combine
this with the current trend of many shoppers to make several short
trips to the grocery store in a given week, and you could be flooding
your prospective customers with repetitive content and training them to
tune out the messaging before long. Finally, even if you're going to
simply reuse TV content and commercials on your digital signs, take a
moment to add call-to-action text or audio (or both) for a quick and
easy way to boost your network's performance.
In next week's
episode, we'll look at a digital advertising trial at a soft goods
retailer, where they use plasma and LCD screens to augment (and in some
cases, replace) traditional POP displays. I'm quite excited to start
reviewing my notes and report the most interesting finds to our
readers, since these stores have arguably elevated digital merchandising concepts to a whole new level.