The Hottest Out-of-Home Technologies

Ad Age's Abbey Klaassen Tells You How Once-Static Outdoor Is Now Truly Interactive

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Outdoor is getting more inventive every day, thanks to technologies that allow the once static billboards to be truly interactive. With more cellphones now equipped with Bluetooth, consumers can request more information or download music, while "digital ink" lets marketers change their messages and video screens respond to a touch.
Digital ink lets marketers alter messages throughout the day.
Digital ink lets marketers alter messages throughout the day.

Bluetooth
It was a big trend-to-watch last year, and it's bigger this year. While only about 14% of phones were equipped a year ago, that number is about 30%, said Saul Kato, CEO at Qwikker (formerly Wideray), a San Francisco company that has mostly launched Bluetooth campaigns in the U.K. but is beginning to market the technology in the U.S. In fact, 50% of new phones sold in the U.S. are Bluetooth-enabled. An advertiser can attach a Bluetooth transmitter -- usually no larger than a hockey puck -- to an ad, which then instructs users they can access the content by turning on their phones' Bluetooth function.

The new model, Mr. Kato said, is to push a mobile channel -- a set of rich content packaged into what is essentially a small, cached website so a phone doesn't have to stay connected to the Bluetooth transmitter to navigate the site. In the U.K., Quikker delivered a mobile World Cup channel for Yahoo through transmitters on ads in pubs. A similar deal with Red Bull delivered the Red Bull Air Race channel.
Around 50% of new cellphones in the U.S. are equipped with Bluetooth technology, which gives users the ability to download content from signs and billboards they pass.
Around 50% of new cellphones in the U.S. are equipped with Bluetooth technology, which gives users the ability to download content from signs and billboards they pass.

Another company, Kameleon Mobile Technologies, is working with CBS Outdoor. And JC Decaux is using its own Bluetooth technology.

It doesn't cost the end user anything to download content via Bluetooth. And Mr. Kato said the mobile carriers like it because "we're helping the mobile industry get people onto a diet of content."

Digital Ink
Call it next-generation paper. While some major out-of-home players are starting to aggressively deploy LED and LCD screens, the most promising technology for broadly deploying dynamic outdoor advertising is digital ink.

How's this for a chemistry lesson? The technology for the "ink" is based on helix-shape molecules, which if stretched to a certain length reflect on color. Stretch them further and they reflect a different color. And so on. And unlike LCD and LED, digital ink looks bright in broad daylight.
An interactive bus shelter from JC Decaux lets passersby choose which version of a movie trailer they want to watch.
An interactive bus shelter from JC Decaux lets passersby choose which version of a movie trailer they want to watch.

The technology costs significantly less than both LED and LCD to deploy and should increase the number of boards that support dynamic advertising, which allows marketers to change messages throughout the day and buy in dayparts (think McDonald's advertising breakfast sandwiches in the morning; Johnnie Walker advertising around happy hour). It will also eliminate printing costs.

Magink has been developing the product for six years and has been doing some trials abroad, most recently with Clear Channel Outdoor in the U.K. Ran Poliakin, founder-chief marketing officer, said to expect to see it in the U.S. as early as next year.

Interactive Video Screens
In May at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, Accenture launched a rather "Minority Report"-ish interactive video screen, which let travelers use their hands to manipulate content, including weather, news and Tiger Woods' greatest putts, on a 10-by-7-foot touch screen. A month later, it unveiled a similar screen at New York's Kennedy Airport. Right now the technology isn't being sold, but Accenture has been in discussions with several companies about commercializing it.
Accenture has set up video screens in airports that allow travelers to manipulate and scrol through content with their hands.
Accenture has set up video screens in airports that allow travelers to manipulate and scrol through content with their hands.

JC Decaux, meanwhile, is hoping to import from Europe video-embedded bus shelters that have a button users can push to choose which movie clip to watch.

Interactive video screens often are activated by text messaging. LocaModa allows people to use their mobile phones as a remote controls to call up content on an internet-connected video screen. Real-estate firms, for example, have begun using it to let passers-by browse their listings on flat-panel TVs.

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Kate MacArthur contributed to this report.
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