Archive for September 2007

A wee change

September 25, 2007

Back from another break — this one a getaway to mark 25 years with my wife Joy. I am not entirely sold on the cruise ship thing, but LOVED Bermuda.

I spent the better part of Monday back in the office, packed up, shook a few hands, and headed out from my gig with Digital View Media — where I’ve been the last 30 months.

Then I hopped on a plane too early this morning heading for Montreal, to drink the Koolaid of my new masters at BroadSign.

I am handling sales for these guys up here in Canada, essentially the same gig as I was doing until Monday with Digital View Media. DVM is in the gradual throes of rebranding itself as EnQii. It’s a great company with great people and prospects. I just needed a change of scenery and some new lines to learn.

I will still be writing this blog, and will be based out of my vast compound in suburban Toronto … as well as a lot of airport lounges and hotel rooms.

The industry continues to get traction and it should be a very interesting last quarter. Gimme a few days to get settled and oriented and I’ll get back on the blog job.   

Cool app in London bar (but bet a pint costs a FORTUNE)

September 14, 2007

My favorite gadget blog Gizmodo has a little hit in it about a hyper-cool cocktail spots in London that has gone over the top with digitally-driven ambient video.

The nightspot, called 24, has projection systems enveloping much of the wall space, and judging by some site photos, it is pretty spectacular.

London’s interactive bar, TwentyFour, promises one thing — if there’s a lack of feminine eye-candy, you can always pass the time by staring blankly at the ever-changing walls. The bar combines thousands of LED color combinations with walls that are, in fact, projection screens, creating one of the coolest bars I’ve ever seen. Apparently, bar-goers can even change and/or add their own images to the ever-changing environment, giving a whole new beauty to urinating on a wall, reports Gizmodo.

The coolest catch is the bar itself — which will summon the bartender when you lay your hand on it.

The Artisan Live guys did a nice with ambient stuff on tiled screens at Alice Fazooli’s in Toronto, but this is a whole ‘nother level.

This is pricey, high maintenance stuff, but it is also how I could see signage in bars really working well, even with spots that build ads into the ambient pieces.

Cisco not exactly taking over, but doing some business

September 14, 2007

norsk.jpg

When network gear giant Cisco bought tiny little Tivella at the start of the year and formally announced it was getting into the digital signage game, it captured a lot of attention.

Big company. Deep pockets. Great customer base. Fabulous products.

Those of us working with much smaller companies had to think a lot of the big enterprise accounts being chased would also now look seriously at Cisco as an option, albeit a stinkin’ expensive one. But in the intervening months, I have seen little indication Cisco is out there selling this.

But it seems they are indeed out there, and winning some business. They have already rolled out a big job, done in three months, with the Norwegian national lottery.

Norsk Tipping wanted to deploy the digital signage solution quickly, reads a study on the Cisco corporate site, before retailers adopted their own solutions. This would give the company a competitive advantage in selling advertising on the signs to the retailers and other third parties. Therefore, Norsk Tipping engaged a Cisco partner to install and connect the digital signs in 4,500 locations throughout the country.

Deployment was complete after just three months of work. The content management system resides at headquarters. A system administrator manages the digital signage centrally, over the IP network, minimizing onsite technical support requirements.

Once the deployment was under way, Norsk Tipping began publishing content to the digital signs. Each week, the company creates hourly broadcast plans that define the digital signage content to be broadcasted over its existing Cisco network. Typically, three or four messages alternate on each screen, providing more flexibility than possible with paper-based advertising.

To better target its messages, Norsk Tipping divided its retailers into two segments, based on whether they focus on lottery games or sports betting. Stores in each segment receive content that is targeted for their customers. During quiet hours in sports-betting stores, for example, Norsk Tipping stimulates cross-selling by promoting lottery games. “The Cisco Digital Media System helps us deliver the right communications, at the right time of day, to generate incremental sales,” says Onsrud. The displays are also used to broadcast odds of winning and weekly game results, eliminating the need for in-store TVs. 

That would have been a very nice deal for any of us, and there is another press release today about Cisco doing 70 employment shops in Belgium. So while I still don’t expect to bump into Cisco very often in pursuing deals, clearly they are indeed chasing this business, too.

Does Web “banner blindness” correlate with in-store screen viewership?

September 11, 2007

For those of us who found our way into this weird little space after a stint in what was “new media” 10 years ago, many will know the name Jakob Nielsen – a Web design and usability guru.

Much of his work has focused on the whole keep-it-simple-and-spartan look and feel for Web design. But he looks at other stuff, and recently wrote a piece (which I noticed in the MIT Ad Lab blog) about something called Banner Blindness. Simply put, this is the proposition that most Web surfers don’t even notice the banners that top and flank the pages of many commercial Web sites.

Nielsen’s group has done eyeball tracking studies on what people look at it surfing and came up with these conclusions:

The most prominent result from the new eyetracking studies is not actually new. We simply confirmed for the umpteenth time that banner blindness is real. Users almost never look at anything that looks like an advertisement, whether or not it’s actually an ad.  

I mention this because I think what goes on with people who are Web surfing has at least some correlation with what happens in store and in other public places. Intuitively, I have to think people wandering around stores, malls and other public spaces are looking for stuff, and the screens are like banner ads. I have even heard network operators talk about how they think it takes a while — as in repeated impressions — for the ads to start burning in to people’s heads.

There’s even research to back up the assertion that repeated exposures will over time generate positive feelings about a product, even if people aren’t really paying attention to the banner ads.

banner-blindness-examples.jpg 

Back to blindness:

At all levels of user engagement, Nielsen writes, the finding is the same regarding banners (outlined with green boxes in the above illustration): almost no fixations within advertisements. If users are looking for a quick fact, they want to get done and aren’t diverted by banners; and if users are engrossed in a story, they’re not going to look away from the content.

The heatmaps also show how users don’t fixate within design elements that resemble ads, even if they aren’t ads.

Even when we did record a fixation within a banner, users typically didn’t engage with the advertisement. Often, users didn’t even see the advertiser’s logo or name, even when they glanced at one or two design elements elsewhere inside an ad.

There are four things that WILL make people look:

  • plain text ads
  • faces
  • a woman’s cleavage, or other slightly naughty parts
  • ads that look more like content or site elements (in other words, ads that don’t look like ads)

Neilsen explains:

In addition to the three main design elements that occasionally attract fixations in online ads, we discovered a fourth approach that breaks one of publishing’s main ethical principles by making the ad look like content:
    – The more an ad looks like a native site component, the more users will look at it.
    – Not only should the ad look like the site’s other design elements, it should appear to be part of the specific page section in which it’s displayed.

Using that notion, would that mean that spots running in a retail setting should try to share the look, feel and attitude of the store design and POP material. I’m not sure that’s going to work in the same way.

However, I can easily see more people noticing a healthy chest or a six-packed set of abs than a spinning product shot on a screen.

A year later, ShopCast ready to roll out

September 7, 2007

The folks at ShopCast — the teeny Toronto start-up that bagged a national in-store advertising deal with WalMart Canada — have had a hell of a rollercoaster ride for the last year as they have raised funds to get the thing moving.

The deal with WalMart was signed last September, and the ensuing months have been spent on the VC, private equity and acquisitions circuit telling a story and drumming up the necessary cash.

Many term sheets and proposals and offers later — having met a roster of suitors that ranged from media powerhouses to people my kids would call “sketchy” — they finally closed a deal last weekend that sees London, Ontario-based Ek3 buying majority ownership, and with it the media rights and technology deal to roll this out across the national WalMart estate.

It is an interesting move by the somewhat shadowy Ek3 folks, who until now have been known as a propeller-head driven shop focused on an equally hard-won deal putting screens in the national Tim Horton’s coffee and donuts chain.

A pile of companies had a run at the software and hardware piece of business, but in the end it came down to who could also step up and bankroll the thing.

This is an important rollout for the industry, particularly in Canada. Undoubtedly, many retailers will be paying attention to how third-party ad screens are received by consumers, and what the take-up is like from brand advertisers.

I got to know the people at ShopCast well in the close pursuit of this business, and I congratulate them in finally seeing five years of scrabbling away pay off for them.  I hope it goes well, and has much more of a strong consumer impact than what I see when I stray by a PRN screen in U.S. WalMarts.

The deal has not yet been formally announced, but is circulating widely in local industry circles.

CBS buys SignStorey for $71.5 million (and I am not making this up)

September 6, 2007

Two words: Holy crap!

This came across the press release wires today:

CBS Corporation announced today that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire SignStorey, Inc., a leader in the distribution of video programming and advertising content to retail stores.

The purchase price is $71.5 million in cash. SignStorey will be renamed “CBS Outernet” upon closing of the deal and is expected in the fourth quarter of 2007, pending regulatory review.

With digital video displays in more than 1,400 grocery stores in major markets across the United States, SignStorey offers advertisers the opportunity to reach consumers with targeted content that can be customized by region and by daypart. The company’s satellite-delivery system enables immediate, customized programming and messaging to each individual system.

SignStorey has long-term exclusive contracts with SuperValu (Acme, Albertsons, Jewel and Shaw’s), Pathmark, ShopRite and Price Chopper, among others, and is currently installed in six of the top 10 markets in the U.S., with traffic of more than 72 million consumers every month. The company’s revenues more than doubled year-over-year in 2006, and it has additional contracts and pilot programs in grocery accounts representing thousands of stores across the United States. As CBS Outernet, it will continue to expand its distribution network to other retail locations and shopping environments.

“CBS Outernet will offer our advertisers a tremendous, broad new platform to reach consumers out of their homes,” said Leslie Moonves, President and Chief Executive Officer, CBS Corporation. “This acquisition is highly complementary with many of CBS’s content and advertising sales relationships. As we’ve seen with CBS’s outdoor business, the burgeoning use of digital advertising allows great flexibility in tailoring messaging to consumers, and can be efficiently controlled from a centralized location. At the same time, retail outlets will now have access to CBS’s wide array of national and local entertainment, news and sports content from across the Company.”

“We are extremely pleased to join the CBS family and to continue to develop a more exciting shopping environment in local communities across the United States,” said Virginia Cargill, President and CEO of SignStorey. “Our state-of-the-art digital screens give consumers access to information where and when they want it; and the addition of CBS content, resources and contacts will make for an even richer experience for retailers, shoppers and advertisers alike.”

SignStorey benefits from strong relationships with retailers who partner with the company to provide enhanced in-store shopper experiences and to increase store sales and from advertisers seeking to reach consumers at their point of purchase. Among the Company’s top consumer packaged goods advertisers are: Johnson & Johnson, Colgate, General Mills, and Dannon.

CBS has a pre-existing relationship with SignStorey since 2006 as part of the CBS Television Network’s promotion strategy.

“Out-of-home digital media has become a crucial means by which we and advertisers can gain invaluable impressions in this crowded media landscape,” said George Schweitzer, President of the CBS Marketing Group. “We began working with Virginia and her terrific management team to promote CBS’s fall lineup last summer as part of what we called our ‘Outernet’ strategy, which uses exclusive partnerships to expose CBS programming to consumers outside their homes. We’ve achieved so much together already and now look forward to all that is to come as the new CBS Outernet becomes part of the CBS family.”

If you got into this game thinking you’d grab land and tie it up through contracts, and hope a big guy comes a long to buy your paper, this is a good moment.

I’ve seen SignStorey’s installs here and there, and been something less than excited about, really, any of it. But they have a footprint, and CBS felt it was a $71.5 million CASH footprint.

Again, HOLY CRAP!!!

More signs this stuff is getting on the planning radar

September 6, 2007

Elevator News Network, now known (sigh) as Captivate, paved the road for a lot of the ad-based digital sign networks trying to claw out a living in this business. It was really the first out of home digital play that got ANY attention from media planners, and they remain market leaders.

So I was intrigued to read a press release today from Global TV, one of Canada’s national broadcasters, blabbering away about their innovative approach to launching the fall schedule. Among the things they will be doing:

Global Television has targeted all ad space on Captivate Elevator Networks for two full afternoons during premiere week across Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary, generating over 8 million impressions per day.

Unless things have changed wildly since I worked there, the ad schedule is set up in such a way that ad clients always get more impressions than they bought. So I doubt they have to compensate other ad clients for that time period. What’s cool is simply that the medium is at a point that a major advertiser is making it a big part of the buy and the splash.

What will be a little distressing for more traditional media is the elevator thing is but one of several ways Global owner CanWest is promoting the fall schedule, including slapping stuff on the windows and floors of Sears stores and putting things on trays and tables at Burger Kings.

I am sure there is a traditional media buy, as well. But that’s money that used to only go to print, radio and outdoor — with digital getting thrown the odd table scrap.