The Digital Signage Insider

Five seconds of fame: Digital signage as a Sippable Medium

Published on: 2007-09-30

Over the past few weeks, a lot more people have been asking us how to make compelling digital signage content. I don't know if it's because the technical issues have finally been solved and they're ready to move on to the next step, or if there are simply more project managers who understand that a network is only as good as the content that runs on it. Whatever the reason, I'm glad that more companies are thinking about specific content creation strategies for their retail, financial and health care networks. Their efforts should make these networks more effective at engaging viewers and delivering the right messages at exactly the right place and time. As if to emphasize the increasing awareness of digital signage content, I came across another article that reinforces just how little time we have -- and consequently, just how compelling our content needs to be -- when trying to woo shoppers at retail.

In his article at MediaPost, Nigel Hollis talks about the changes made to the Tesco network over in the UK. Tesco TV was a banner child for the digital signage community when it was first rolled out by their media partner, JCDecaux. Unfortunately, mismanagement and a misunderstanding of how in-store digital media works caused the network to languish, and some people questioned whether the whole thing would be scrapped. Thankfully, under the skilled management of Dunnhumby (which handles Tesco's POP arrangements), the network is now thriving, and the group has even shared some of their secrets. For example, we all know by now that a brand only has a few seconds to win its First Moment of Truth with a consumer. While P&G may have discovered this phenomenon, Dunnhumby's research confirms it, as they note that content shouldn't be longer than 15 seconds. In fact, a mere five seconds is even better, though admittedly these quick bursts of content are best suited to high traffic shopping aisles, rather than high dwell-time areas. As Hollis notes, "The power of these 'alerts' rests not in their creativity but in their proximity to purchase. The alerts reported to be most effective are those for price-off events and new or seasonal items. And that's both the strength and weakness of in-store video. Because its influence is concentrated at the point of purchase, it will be most successful for categories that are already impulse- or activation-oriented. Though useful for encouraging switching, in-store video is not as good at building long-term brand loyalty." The latter part of the argument notwithstanding (since strategies for using digital signage to build brands are entirely different from those using it to boost sales), we're once again confirming that digital signage content usually works best when delivered in short bursts.

With this in mind, I would like to officially dub digital signage the "Sippable Medium". What do I mean by that? Well, to explain it we'll have to go back to the Cola Wars of the late 1970s and early 80s. At that time, Pepsi (who was rapidly gaining market share as the beverage choice of the Next Generation) went around the country conducting televised, blind taste tests between themselves and Coke. Everyone from celebrities to children to the elderly seemed to be involved. The tester was given a small cup of cola from box A, another small cup from box B, and then asked which they preferred. Invariably, the tester chose the Pepsi.

While you might just chalk it up to scripted tests and TV magic, Pepsi also performed better in more scientific tests, and even Coke admitted it. Why? Because Pepsi is much sweeter than Coke. So when consumed in very small amounts (a few sips), it comes across as more flavorful. However, when taken in larger amounts (say a 12 ounce can), many people find the cola to be cloying and instead prefer Coke. Pepsi understood the strengths and weaknesses of their product, and engineered a test optimized in its favor. They were able to legitimately say two out of three (or whatever the proper ratio is) preferred Pepsi, conveniently leaving off the little asterisk explaining that this is only true when consumed a mere ounce or two at a time. Coke was so scared by this that they introduced one of the biggest debacles in marketing history: the short-lived New Coke. Designed to be sweeter and more sippable, the drink was widely rejected and very quickly replaced with the Coke Classic that we know and love today.

Back in digital signage land, we face a challenge, especially in light of ongoing in-store media measurement studies by POPAI and Nielsen/PRISM (one of which just announced some preliminary findings). Digital signage is a lot like Pepsi to a static POP display's Coke: best consumed in small quantities. Whereas a POP display or an endcap is designed to be shopped, walked past, seen from a distance, examined up close, and constantly navigated around, a piece of content on a digital sign often must be impactful, but fleeting. Take more than a few seconds to make your point, and lose the shopper's attention. Repeat yourself too often, and your message becomes annoying. Unlike Pepsi, though, we don't get to choose how we're tested and measured, so it's entirely possible that when these organizations release their findings, the true nature of in-store digital media won't be accurately portrayed. On the other hand, we continue to gain insight into how our product is best perceived and used, just like Pepsi did. With that information, we can continue to get better at developing successful content strategies, optimizing network execution plans, and enjoying the sweet -- but not too sweet -- taste of success.


+2 # Steven Skinner 2009-01-26 21:23
Bill, I find your insights (even this dated one) to always be insightful. It seems to us at Miller Zell that perhaps the PRISM initiative suffered from too many appendages. Perhaps the better way to go is to build out a smaller more economical data model that all agree to as part of their shopper (or customer) data warehouse models. We can then as an industry begin to capture consistent data and have a consistent view of the whole shopper insight medium. Let's define this thing from a pure shopper insight perspective as opposed to muddling the water with all other media elements...start small and then build it.
0 # Bill Gerba 2009-02-03 20:37
Hi Steven, Thanks very much for the kind words. I think there are two competing forces here that partly explain the failure of PRISM: On one side are old-school agencies and planners that MUST have an apples-to-apples comparison to TV, print, etc. in order to get their jobs done. They were interested in PRISM, but perhaps not enough to foot the whole R&D bill. On the other side are shopper marketing experts (like Miller Zell), as well as the retailers and brands themselves, who would much prefer the type of data you're talking about, because it will enable them to do more business (as opposed to CPM-style ads, which just enable them to maybe sell some ads). What we're seeing from the measurement newcomers is exactly the kind of approach that you're talking about, and in the end, it may well prove to be the right one.

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