Archive for the ‘Opinion’ category

Industry experts weigh in on Wal-Mart TV 2.0

July 30, 2008

The online discussion forum Retail Wire attracts a very knowledgeable crowd — what it calls a Brain Trust — to comment on various issues of the day, including recent news that Wal-Mart is taking its in-store video network in a new direction.

This is a site requiring registration, but it’s free, and worth the few seconds it takes to capture your data.

What some industry experts have to say:

Obviously, Walmart has a lot to gain with their in-store media effectiveness, so it is no wonder they will roll out next generation, more creative in-store programs. Suppliers want to move as close to the consumer purchase decision as they possibly can, so moving general advertising dollars to in-store media with Walmart helps them and also ingratiates them with their largest retailer.

Buyers at Walmart have goals to attain, and the amount of in-store media support their suppliers purchase could well be one of their success measurements, so buyers will encourage and endorse this in-store activity.

Finally, suppliers can use these Walmart spends to help validate the specific level of investment support they provide to Walmart, so suppliers who are challenged to validate their support dollars to Walmart will have this support as an advantage when discussing P&Ls, which have always been a hot topic of discussion in planning meetings with Walmart.
Dan Nelson, CEO, Leadership Resources

It’s a smart move for Walmart to find ways to make in-store media more accountable and interactive. As marketers are moving away from TV spend (albeit slowly) there’s a great opportunity for retailers to pick up some of those above the line media dollars–if they can prove effectiveness.

The first couple of iterations of Walmart TV didn’t do a lot to distinguish in store advertising from general advertising but the promise of more interactivity and accountability make in-store media much more compelling. If there’s revenue to be captured, I think we can expect more retailers to move this way.
Lisa Bradner, senior analyst, Forrester Research

Of course, any retailer-operated advertising medium “fully financed by suppliers” is laughable on its face and questionable in its delivery. We’re all familiar with how it works. Suppliers don’t support efforts of this type willingly, but are strong-armed into paying the freight. This is followed by pricing adjustments that are eventually passed along to consumers, and a dearth of success reports for the medium in question.

On the other side of the equation, retailers have been numbingly unable for decades to convince product manufacturers that their stores are, in many ways, advertising tools superior to broadcast and print media. Retailers are chronically clumsy and ham-handed in their attempts to make this very credible case, including trying to tap into the more than $7 billion spent annually on distributing printed coupons. And brand broadcast expenditures are much, much larger. What is the best place to distribute coupons, the Sunday newspaper or a supermarket? No-brainer, right? If 70% of purchase decisions are made at the shelf, stores are the best places to communicate brand messages, right? And yet retailers haven’t made these cases because they always return to their tactic of choice: brute force.
M. Jericho Banks, Ph.D., Partner-Owner, Select Marketing LLC

It is hopeful that Wal-Mart’s in-store network would be really helpful to the customer. Let’s look at some facts about shopping at Walmart. The store is big! Some departments are easy to spot, others are obscured. How about using digital signage and interactive video to help the customer find their way to desired products…and first of all, finding out where they are in the store to start. That brings up another idea; how about a lost parents or Dad finder, similar to what theme parks do. Somewhere to sign-in if you get separated from your shopping companions.

Secondly, customers shop Walmart to save money. How about the system facilitating comparison shopping? This would be not only the cost compared to Walmart competitors, but how about bringing in Consumer Reports to tell the customers about products that are really a great value, or the cost trending of items that are becoming more expensive or reducing in price.

Not everyone shopping the aisles in Walmart, or any store for that matter, has current information on fashion trends or any idea on what goes with what. In an effort to help all of America to become fashion savvy and look good, how about information coordination, and detailing in the apparel aisles. Maybe even introduce “My Fashion Coordinator” software to allow the consumer the chance to input ergonomic particulars about their bodies, and get helpful input on a desirable fashion direction.

And this goes with my final fact; it is difficult to get help anywhere in a Walmart. So introduce a virtual store concierge who greats you when you arrive, and with motion or heat sensors, guides your through the store. I know that this may be a bit like “Minority Report,” but if that system was developed to be customer-friendly and not creepy, it would be really cool.

Understand that none of these suggestions is better than a front door greeter, a personal shopping assistant, or KNOWLEDGEABLE help available when you need it. But if not, these would be the next best things.
Jerry Gelsomino, Principal, FutureBest

A few thoughts:

1. For in-store digital media to succeed in Walmart or elsewhere, there has to be the realization that, no matter what anybody calls it, this isn’t a television network. While content is king and the reason for someone to go beyond simply noticing and actually watching what is on a digital screen, the medium is not about stopping people for extended periods of time. The environment is retail and people in that environment are on the move. They can get pretty ticked off if someone else is taking up space and interfering with the traffic flow. Messages need to be communicated quickly and be targeted to a given store’s consumers.

2. Digital images on a screen are ultimately unsatisfying even with amazing production values. Retailers need to be looking for ways to use the medium to connect consumers with the solutions available through the store or merchant’s website. Interactivity with video kiosks, especially those that tie to the back-end to recognize a consumer through a loyalty card, RFID key fob, smart phone, password, etc, will provide a level of personalization that will transition digital media from big screens blaring in a store to a tool that helps consumers get the most from their shopping experience.

3. Professionals in this space understand that digital media goes beyond a bank of screens in a consumer electronics department or a monitor offering food preparation tips in front of a fresh meat case. Stores need to start thinking in terms of other locations including store exteriors as a banner and brand-building medium, as well. Look at what Walgreens is doing in New York’s Times Square as an extreme example of another means for retailers to generate revenue and promote products and services.

4. There’s no doubt that marketers are looking more than ever to communicate with consumers in stores. Ultimately, however, the dollars that are starting to move in-store for digital signage and other merchandising tools will go right back out if some, at least vaguely, reliable source of measurement is not in place. There are a lot of companies (brands, retailers and digital tech vendors) working in the digital media space today that are focused on that very issue. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.

The new Walmart network may have sleeker flat screens and a more elaborate audience measurement mechanism than PRISM, but it has yet to deliver the kind of behavior-based metrics that (in my opinion) would put shopper media over the top.

Despite the glowing, rectangular screens, this is not TV. Shoppers are busy people focused on a task who want to get their stuff and go. Messages that are not relevant to their mission of the moment or located away from the product in question have very low value. And measuring opportunities to see a message is a poor proxy for tracking behavior that may be influenced by the message.

That said, I am an enthusiastic advocate of shopper media. The store environment offers an outstanding opportunity to reach and influence shoppers. But framing its value in the antique conception of 1950s television advertising is worse than quaint–from the perspective of the brands themselves, it’s probably negligent.
James Tenser, Principal, VSN Strategies


White paper lays out why networks fail

July 8, 2008

UK-based Future Source Consulting has released a good white paper on digital media networks and their prospects for success.

Not surprisingly, the group determined that of the 100 or so projects they looked at (in Europe), nine were complete failures, 10 were only partial successes, and for “a significant proportion it was too early
to judge success, the risk of potential failure was high.”

The report says a variety of reasons were provided for decisions made, but the group boiled down the factors behind a lack of success to five key things:

1. A lack of clear ROI modelling

Often large upfront costs to implement and maintain a network make such a signage network very risky and sound ROI models critically important. There is a need to prove that screen networks lead to sales uplift, and
simply measuring footfall and dwell time is not enough. Proof is needed that screen networks deliver measurable and lasting uplift.

2. The lack of advertising proof points

Whilst a number of companies are using technology to provide screen ‘footfall’ and ‘dwell time’ metrics, this has not provided a raft of proof points. Compared to TV, radio, posters and the internet, screen media
networks still have a way to go in proving their value.

3. Too much network fragmentation and not enough scalability

With so many independent networks in operation it is very difficult to tempt advertising and media agencies to spend on digital signage. ‘Opportunity to see’ statistics are not at all persuasive and it is almost
impossible to run a coherent campaign in multiple locations.

4. Project complexity
In some cases eight individual parties can be required to complete a project. This is simply too complex.

5. Little understanding of content requirements

Issues such as the expense of refreshing content, the mix of content and what the content (particularly advertising) is supposed to achieve are frequently overlooked. However, this is the most important aspect of a network to get right.

I would add underfunding to that list, and the lack of a good, experienced management team.

The paper also makes a great point about content that I don’t think gets enough attention:

The industry has a clearer understanding of how content should look and what it aims to achieve. Gone are the days of reusing a TV commercial in its entirety, where only 10%, at best, has any kind of call to action. Furthermore, dedicated signage channels are currently in development to help smaller budget constrained networks overcome the problems of keeping content fresh and interesting. However, with an ever growing reliance on content feeds from broadcasters to ‘fill in the gaps’ it is a worry that the impact and effectiveness of signage may get lost in a homogenous mess of unoriginal content.

Precisely. Beats me why network operators want to use conventional broadcast TV clips in environments where they are wildly unsuited. All I can think of is its cheap (possibly), looks polished, and somebody else is doing it, so it must be the thing to do.

Is the Office a fertile DS advertising ground?

June 24, 2008

I am done, done, done starting ad-based digital signage networks (I’ve renounced my poverty vows), but I still noodle around ideas for different ways to go at this business.

Like maybe running a network of screens in workplaces – providing office managers with a staff-facing messaging platform but bolstering it with targeted advertising.

Sounds slightly nutty, but we all run steadily into people looking to drive the costs down for these installs to little or nothing  because they’ve been given a teeny budget and no real support from their employers. And then there’s the research to suggest workplaces are fertile advertising grounds.

The results of a new study, conducted by consumer intelligence firm BIGresearch, into the media and shopping behavior of consumers at work, finds that Americans are spending 60% of their waking hours at work, more than ever before. Marketing chiefs are rethinking their ad budgets and advertisers are preparing to meet a new, highly coveted, yet entirely untapped demographic on their own beige-carpeted turf.

Those results are summarized in a blog post by the Center for Media Research.

At-work consumers research products online before purchasing, with 47.2% of them reporting having researched electronics online in the last 90 days during the workday before making a purchase in a store. And, almost ¾ of at-work consumers indicate they regularly or occasionally dine out or purchase groceries and beverages during the workday, says the report.

The survey looks at the unique shopping behavior of consumers during the workday, including the role of online search as a catalyst to retail purchase, grocery shopping, casual and fast food dining preferences, and new media consumption.

Phil Rist, EVP-Strategy at BIGresearch, says “… As marketers are looking to maximize ROI, the importance of targeting gainfully employed, value-seeking consumers is essential.”

With rising pump prices and busy schedules, consumers are highly likely to consolidate shopping trips, making purchases on their drive to or from work, or during their lunch break. Online research during the workday and consolidated trips, says the report, can be leveraged by marketers, to influence purchase decisions in the workplace and buying during commute time.

A screen network would have to target key employee crossroads like lunchrooms, and the advertising would have to be very carefully managed, not to mention a clear message to staff that the ads were paying for the system.

There’s history to suggest the office market is attractive, particularly with the footprint and success of Captivate in office tower elevators. No one I’m aware of is targeting the billions of square feet in low rise or single level offices that don’t even have elevators.

There’s the challenge of determining how much cash (millions) it would take to reach a critical mass of installations in enough markets, and that crazy little thing called advertising sales strategy. But I have to think companies like Staples and FedEx and the entire convenience food industry would love to target the suburban office crowd.

Interesting, but I’m not doing it.

Analyst – “Advertising is simply not a sufficient revenue model to sustain content companies into the long-term future”

June 4, 2008

Media analyst and writer Jack Myers has a piece from his website republished in the Huffington Post about the state of the digital media industry, focused on underperforming ad-based networks.

It’s about online, but you could pretty much switch that out for digital screen networks.

Advertising is simply not a sufficient revenue model to sustain content companies into the long-term future.

For the foreseeable future, the pool of available advertising dollars will be stagnant. There are new media alternatives virtually every day and ad budgets are splintering into micro-fragments. Advertisers are being pulled in multiple directions. Dollars are seeping from traditional budgets into search engine marketing, event marketing, cause-related marketing, merchandising, experiential marketing, location-based marketing, public relations, conversational and word-of-mouth marketing, social and mobile media, and consumer and trade sales promotion.

This year’s national television Upfront market could be a bell-weather for determining advertisers’ continued appetite for paying significant cost increases for eroding audiences. Unfortunately, the “tried-and-true” no longer can be relied on to deliver steady growth. Compounding that reality, “steady growth” is insufficient when investors require double digit — and even triple digit — increases.

Myers suggests advanced media targeting tools are hurting, not helping, generate ad dollars because that pool of money is being distributed even more broadly to more and more things like blogs that would never, in the past, be able to get real ad dollars.

The digital media industry will under-perform ad-revenue expectations if it continues to define itself with outdated values, metrics and marketing initiatives that are undifferentiated from those of traditional transaction-based mass media.

There are two paths for advertising-dependent content companies:

1.) Drive mass audience reach and build powerful advertising engines for delivering targeted audiences at cheap costs based on traditional mass media metrics with added measurable interactive capabilities.

2.) Invest in building relevant and differentiated media brands that generate multiple revenue streams, and invest in organizational resources that enable marketers to connect in meaningful ways with their consumers through your brands and brand extensions, understanding this requires risk and a long-term commitment to innovation.

The ideal media companies of the future will offer both. Content companies that fail to deliver either will continue to struggle in a purgatory of under-performance.

I’d expect most of us engaged in conversations with new and existing companies getting into this space are most comfortable with companies that are not pure play third-party ad models, or have the means to either build a mass audience network quickly or have a very tightly focused and unique vertical they can service like no one else.

What does an ideal industry event look like?

June 3, 2008

I was asked the other day to provide my point of view on what I think a good digital signage industry event would be all about, with the notion of this helping to pull something together that is not for profit and therefore not driven by vendor interests.

I have my own thoughts, but would LOVE to hear from people what they think. Please, please comment if you have thoughts.

Mine …

  • NO vendor-driven sessions
  • Tight controls on speakers and a quick hook for those who don’t behave (as in go off the agreed topic and start pitching their own pots and pans)
  • Presentations made available by FTP after the event
  • A minimal number of the usual suspects (the same people people keep popping up on panels, and most of us are tired of their schtick)
  • A demo theatre that allows selected vendors to show their stuff without setting up a booth and all that associated, hassle-heavy crap. Those that demo should be approved based on genuine innovation, not on how deep their pockets may be. I’m not real interested in the latest version of some established software, but cool new stuff like biometrics, you betcha.
  • More people from outside the industry but who know something about this industry (how many times have you seen agency people who had just a fleeting idea of what this whole thing was about?)
  • Teacher/student sessions – some really smart people get up at these things, do a canned talk, and then get swarmed as they leave the stage. Maybe instead, just have a structured Q and A that gives a small group great access
  • Speed dating – a lot of people go to these things to network, so why not set it up that people looking for money and money people looking for people who aren’t nuts can find each other through a bit more than serendipity, and also give them a quick out when there is clearly no fit. We’ve all been trapped at cocktail parties by people trying to bleed us dry for free information and advice
  • Forget about the afternoon of day 2 – from what I have seen it always peters out
  • Wine at lunch – it’s just civilized
  • Lunch – I suspect most of us see heaps of restaurants and don’t need a big sit down meal. Contain the costs and let people grab from a spread and chow down wherever
  • Internet access – make it available, and build it into the fee
  • Oh yeah, the fee – companies that run events for a living need to make a buck … for organizations just trying to advance understanding, charge a fee but explicitly say that fee is going to attract people you really want to see, hear and meet, and to optimize the venue and the time spent there

There’s mine. Got any ideas of your own???

Are we really that news starved?

June 3, 2008

From Digital Signage Today:

Thomson’s Premier Retail Networks Inc. (PRN), a provider of digital media solutions at retail, and the Associated Press (AP), a source of global independent news and information, have announced a programming agreement to present a unique blend of AP news content on PRN’s Checkout TV network in supermarkets and retail stores nationwide.

PRN operates the world’s largest checkout TV network, presenting programming on more than 19,000 screens that entertains and informs shoppers while they wait in line at supermarket and retail locations. Several categories of AP news and entertainment content will be integrated as a scrolling ticker across the bottom of PRN’s multi-paned eye-level screen.

The one thing I ever saw on a supermarket checkout line screen that I thought was clever was a DVD preview, for a DVD release that had copies sitting in a rack right below the screen. THAT made sense.

News headlines, from the venerable AP or whoever, not too much.

I rant about this all the time but it keeps on coming, and people seem excited about it. But common sense tells you checkout line screens are not where people look for news. If they cared that much, and there is much evidence people generally don’t, they would be listening to the radio on the way TO the supermarket. Or tapping news in the endless ways it is now available.

Here, by the way, is a sample of what you would get from top AP News to run on a DS screen right now.

  • Japan searches for soldiers’ remains on Aleutian island
  • Art museum celebrates tattoos
  • Grandfather builds Web browser for autistic boy
  • Bus with 41 on board overturns on Ind. interstate


Or … you could use the darn screen to tell shoppers about loyalty cards, credit cards programs, upcoming sales, new store openings, upcoming products.

I just don’t get it … and I spent my first 20 working years in a newsroom.

NY Times has a gaze at face-tracking “controversy”

May 31, 2008

Maybe I’m naive, but the whole fuss that seems to be bubbling up about face tracking technology for digital billboards and screens has that much ado about nothing feel to it.

As an old newspaper editor I have too many times been in slow news day planning meetings that ended up with reporters being sent out to find people who were upset with something or other, often people who weren’t terribly well informed on the issue of the day or who had all of 10 seconds to develop an opinion.

Now the New York Times has smarter people than the papers I worked for — they hired me, so they were obviously damaged souls — but they nonetheless sent out a reporter and did a piece that really reaches to drum up a fuss.

Saturday’s edition has a story headlined “Billboards that look back” – which starts with a set-up of how the out of home industry is experimenting with biometric face-tracking technology that can count and even demographically segment faces.

Over Memorial Day weekend, a Quividi camera was installed on a billboard on Eighth Avenue near Columbus Circle in Manhattan that was playing a trailer for “The Andromeda Strain,” a mini-series on the cable channel A&E.

“I didn’t see that at all, to be honest,” said Sam Cocks, a 26-year-old lawyer, when the camera was pointed out to him by a reporter. “That’s disturbing. I would say it’s arguably an invasion of one’s privacy.”

Organized privacy groups agree, though so far the practice of monitoring billboards is too new and minimal to have drawn much opposition. But the placement of surreptitious cameras in public places has been a flashpoint in London, where cameras are used to look for terrorists, as well as in Lower Manhattan, where there is a similar initiative.

Although surveillance cameras have become commonplace in banks, stores and office buildings, their presence takes on a different meaning when they are meant to sell products rather than fight crime. So while the billboard technology may solve a problem for advertisers, it may also stumble over issues of public acceptance.

“I guess one would expect that if you go into a closed store, it’s very likely you’d be under surveillance, but out here on the street?” Mr. Cocks asked. At the least, he said, there should be a sign alerting people to the camera and its purpose.


OK, so first of all companies like Quividi, TruMedia, CognoVision and Video Mining don’t capture faces and record them. The software just uses little cameras to count faces that engage with a screen and then try to sort out demographics like age and gender, and eventually very general ethnicity. The images are not stored and the guys who run these companies uniformly say they don’t want to do that.

The surveillance cameras in public areas are completely different animals and the linkage between the two is at best tenuous.

The story floats the idea that a government could push a court order to force a switch to start storing recorded faces, but that’s a lot more than flicking a switch. It’s re-engineering the products, adding MUCH more bandwidth, and probably changing the gear at each location to actually pull that off.

This versus using surveillance gear already in place in many or most retail and public environments.

If people are going to get jumpy about the privacy issue of a little gadget sorting out if you are looking at a screen or not, and vaguely capturing your demographics, then I guess they have troubled lives. How do they react when there are people in stores with clipboards counting people and watching what they do?

There are also other widely used devices that can be used to track where you go and what you do. They’re called credit cards and cell phones, to name just a couple.