The vital stats
If there's one thing I've learned from writing a business blog, it's this: people love numbers. So without further ado, here's a summary of the findings:
- The study combined results of online surveys from a general respondent body of 1,790 individuals aged 13-55, and an additional 1,600 individuals from key demographic groups like teens, college students, Hispanic families and affluents.
- At 62% awareness (e.g. people who remember having seen ads on the screens in the past 12 months), digital signage is on par with billboards (a medium on the rise) and newspapers (one on the wane), but lags behind radio (75%), Internet (78%) and TV (92%).
- On average, adults see digital signs about 6 times per week. 18-24 year olds see them about 8 times per week.
- About 44% of respondents said they pay "some" or "a lot of" attention to ads running on digital signs. That compares favorably with magazines at 45% and TV at 52%, and trounces the current darlings of the ad world, Internet (at 32%) and mobile (at 27%).
- Of all the media mentioned, digital signage was dubbed the most eye-catching at 63%, followed by billboards at 58%, magazines at 57% and TV at 56%.
- Likewise, digital signage was also considered the most unique medium (58% of respondents said so), the most interesting (53%) and offered the second-most entertaining source of ads (48%), bested only by TV (56%).
- When it comes to intrusiveness, digital signage again does well. Only 26% of respondents find ads on the screens to be annoying, which ranks only slightly behind the category's winner, newspapers, at 23%. In contrast, TV and radio ads were considered annoying by about half the group, and Internet ads fared the worst, bothering about two-thirds.
- Digital signage is actionable: over a third of respondents said they took some action as a result of seeing ads on digital signage, and over half of 18-24 year olds said they did so.
- Given that half of all respondents regularly use their cell phones (and about three-quarters of college-age folks do so), it's not surprising that about half the group said they would be likely to respond to a specific message on a digital sign by sending a text message.
Some of the above results simply indicate how much time the respondents spend interacting with each type of media. For example, the awareness of digital signage advertising likely falls behind that of radio, Internet and TV because those three media have been ad-supported for virtually the entire time they've existed, and their primary benefit (to consumers) is not that they dish out ads, but rather that they dish out entertainment. Consequently, somebody who watches three hours of TV every day is going to be exposed to many more ads, and will be much more likely to recall seeing commercials on that medium, than on the digital signs that they only encounter for a few minutes each week. Similarly, ads on digital signs might be least annoying for any number of reasons. People just aren't exposed to them as frequently as TV, Internet and other media, so maybe they simply don't remember being as annoyed. Alternatively, ads on digital signs aren't interrupting entertainment content (as they do on TV, radio and even the Internet now), so that might account for them being viewed as less annoying. Or, because digital signs are frequently placed in commercial environments, perhaps people are just more receptive to viewing commercial content on them.
We can also spot another trend in this data: when it comes to advertising, it's good to be big, but even better to be big and sippable. Billboards and digital signs consistently rate highly for being eye-catching, which isn't surprising when you figure that even a small indoor screen is nearly four feet across these days. Compare that to a mobile phone that might have a "huge" three inch screen, and it's easy to understand why advertisers haven't had any huge successes with mobile advertising yet, despite the fact that it allows for unprecedented targeting and media delivery control. Also, both digital signs and billboards were counted as least annoying amongst ad media, which probably has more to do with the fact that they're designed to deliver a very small amount of information to a viewer at once, and viewers typically don't spend a lot of time standing in front of them.
Some caveats to keep in mind
Like any research sponsored by a party with a vested interest in the outcome, these results need to be taken with a grain of salt. That's not to say that either OTX or SeeSaw intends to mislead the industry with this research. In fact, given how open they're being with the data (though I haven't seen it for myself yet), the firms are giving the industry a good (and rare) opportunity to audit itself. However, past experience being what it is, I'll continue to approach all sponsored research cautiously :)
Additionally, there are some things that I'll need to learn more about before deciding how reliable these results are. My first question surrounds the methodology of using online surveys to collect data. This approach is cheap and fast, so it's easy to see why research groups love it. However, people aren't always who they say they are online, and I'd be interested to learn what kind of techniques OTX uses to verify that the 13 year-old girl respondent isn't actually a 55 year-old man, for example. Along the same lines, the respondents indicated that they spend a lot of time online -- 60% said they used the Internet at least 20 hours a week, which is about twice the national average. I thus wonder if the selected group is really representative of the typical US consumer today. I'm sure that Internet usage will continue to increase in this country, and I'd normally have no reason to think that higher Internet usage causes different shopping behavior, but in this particular case 30% of respondents also indicated that they make an online purchase at least once a month, which is also higher than average. Thus, I wonder if the respondent group is simply less likely to be annoyed by out-of-home media because they see less of it, or if they naturally decouple it from the purchase process. On the flip side, they might be more aggravated by Internet ads because they spend more time online.
One final point of concern is that it's hard to say what people were really thinking of when asked about "digital signage". Despite OTX's definition, which intentionally skewed to indoor digital signs (by my reading, anyway), it's definitely possible that readers also lumped in roadside electronic billboards. While these are technically digital signs, they operate under very different conditions and address a very different audience than indoor signs. One could easily see how this might alter people's impressions of what was eye-catching and memorable. While I don't know if there were added controls to weed out answers clearly leaning towards indoor or outdoor signage, it's something I kept in mind while reading the results.
How to use this data
Taken as a whole, OTX's research provides a good foundation for businesses that rely on advertising to drive their digital signage projects. If I had to pick one concept to latch onto, it would be that the format is least annoying to consumers. After all, if a TV viewer or radio listener doesn't like a commercial, he can simply change the channel, and there's still a good chance that he'll change back after a while. Newspaper and magazine readers simply have to turn a page or two. But if a shopper gets really turned off by an in-store ad, she could just walk out, and that translates directly into lost sales revenue. Thus, while retailers can make huge gains by effectively marketing at retail, they also risk irritating shoppers and reducing customer loyalty. With this in mind, it's encouraging to learn that when it comes to digital signage, shoppers have indicated that they find ads on the screens to be unique, eye-catching and entertaining -- and less annoying than virtually any other medium out there today.