The Digital Signage Insider

Digital signage tips from an unlikely source: Reality TV

Published on: 0000-00-00

After two weeks of numbers-heavy blog articles, I think it's time to give the ol' right brain a little exercise. Fortunately, I came across a great article from Adaptive Path that was designed to apply to business in general, but ended up being remarkably relevant to digital signage and the content that runs on our networks. Don't get me wrong -- I really liked writing about CBS's purchase of SignStorey and re-examining the costs of building a digital signage network, but today I'm going to talk about how digital signage content is like the contestants on VH1's The Pick-Up Artist. How often do you get to do something like that? Plus, I think you'll find the takeaways to be fun and useful.

If you haven't seen the show, well, let's just say it's entertaining, but very hard to watch sometimes. The premise is that a professional pick-up artist named Mystery helps his socially-challenged students learn how to pick up members of the opposite sex, boosting their confidence along the way. I know it sounds like there's no way this could have any relevance to digital signage, unless your network has a matchmaking focus. But check out Adaptive Path's distillation of the rules, and you'll start to see what I'm talking about:
Why can't companies use the same advice these nerds are using but instead of picking up women, using the advice to make themselves more attractive to partners, customers, and clients? Turns out, the advice translates pretty well. To wit:

Peacock theory. No one is going to come talk to you unless you put on a display. Make yourself stand out. Don't be afraid to be unusual. But don't take it too far. You don't want to be a freak.

Have a gameplan. "If you don't open, you won't get the girl." Have something to say to get the conversation started -- with partners, clients, customers. But don't be overly invested in them -- don't depend on their validation for your self-worth. But have something provocative to say. A question works well.

Attract, don't comfort immediately. Once you have caught attention, don't immediately make the other person comfortable. You want to interest them instead. This makes you more attractive. You can make them comfortable later -- after they are attracted to you.

Be interesting."If you are interesting, people will be interested in you." Speak with passion and enthusiasm -- it almost doesn't matter what you talk about as long as you care about it. You need stories, lots of stories. These let people know you have a full life and don't need them in it, necessarily. Make them want to be part of your life.

Demonstrate your value. Show through stories that you are interesting and worth talking to.

Set boundaries. You have to set up the rules for how you want to be treated. Be willing and able to walk away. Make them earn your interest.

Looks aren't enough. You need game!
Now let's investigate how these apply to digital signage:
  • Peacock theory: This concept might seem straightforward to content creators, but the challenge lies in creating a compelling, eye-catching clip that still meets the branding guidelines of the advertisers and retailers (or whatever type of venue the clip will be shown in). This often leaves content producers with the unsavory task of taking out all the flash and sparkle they were going to use to attract viewers in the first place. Truly remarkable pieces will still be able to stand out with the right balance of eye-catching pizzazz and ties to the store's integrated marketing policies, but it's hard to be truly remarkable.

  • Have a gameplan: The emphasis should be on finding something provocative to say, and using questions effectively. Most of the ads that I've seen -- whether on screen, in print or elsewhere -- do tend to rely on either an impressive-sounding (but often unsubstantiated) claim, or else a direct appeal to the viewer's needs. The former makes an assumption about some latent need the viewer has and answers an implicit question, e.g. "DanActive helps strengthen your body's defenses!" The latter identifies a need and asks the viewer whether it applies directly, e.g. "Are you paying too much for your car insurance?" Both methods then provide an answer to the question (whether asked or unasked) by showcasing the advertised product or service. These strategies actually work better in-store than elsewhere, because it's easier to predict what a shopper's needs might be. For example, it's far more likely that a question about your dog's health will be relevant to someone walking down the pet food aisle at the supermarket, compared to a random consumer watching TV at home.

  • Attract, don't comfort immediately and Be interesting: To me, these are both synonyms for "be engaging." Measuring and increasing ad engagement are hot topics on Madison Avenue right now, and we've written about making engaging digital signage content before. Omnicom's OMD has told us that a single engaged viewer is worth as much as eight regular viewers. But what does it mean to engage a viewer when she's checking out a rack of clothes or pushing a cart down a store aisle? Exit interviews, retail ethnographers and electronic glance tracking devices could all be used to try to figure it out. But I'm sure each of them would produce different results, since each is based on a different definition of what engagement means. While I hate to do this, I think I'll have to settle for an imperfect definition right now. To paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, "viewer engagement is like pornography: I know it when I see it." My impression is that a lot of agencies and brands are still operating with this understanding anyway.

  • Demonstrate your value: Building on the concept of having a gameplan, you need to deliver something of value after your initial setup. Your advertisement should make good on its promise of solving the customer's problem, or they will look away and ignore it.

  • Set boundaries: This might seem odd at first. After all, why should your viewers have to make a special effort in order to appreciate your content? Isn't it your job as a content creator to make your content tell a story that's immediately understandable and likable? Yes and no. While you don't want to make your spots unintelligible or overly reliant on viewer participation, encouraging the viewer to invest themselves in your story is a wise thing to do. But that's nearly impossible with a single five-second ad. To meet this challenge, consider linking your ad to an existing print, TV or out-of-home marketing campaign. These other media channels can then contribute characters, back story, etc. that are carried through to the content on your in-store displays.

  • Looks aren't enough: As we've said before, the best-looking content in the world won't help unless it's optimized to take advantage of the place- and time-specificity that digital signage affords. It's that simple.
With so much confusion and disagreement over what makes good digital signage content, I've been looking for new sources of ideas that might help further the discussion. While I can't say that I'll be relying upon The Pick-Up Artist as a top idea source, Adaptive Path did a great job identifying the key issues at hand and showing how even a banal reality show can contribute valuable insights into broader business issues. Reality TV wasn't at the very bottom of my research list, but it was close. If nothing else, this reinforces the importance of taking cues from established media channels, understanding how and why they work, and then seeing how this might relate to what works in-store.

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