"The technology creates a light box effect with a battery or a small amount of electricity, so it's energy-efficient and can turn any surface, the side of a bus or subway, a tent card, even a T-shirt into a lit ad," said Doug Woodring, CEO of Submedia Asia in Hong Kong.
Electroluminescence, or EL panels, are created by sandwiching a phosphor-based layer between two conductive layers. When charged with electricity, the phosphor atoms emit light with a relatively low energy requirement. These flat lamps have a variety of applications, but consume relatively little electric power.
The effect is similar to a traditional light box that uses fluorescent tubes to illuminate a poster from either the side or rear, minus the cumbersome and costly infrastructure of a light box.
The technology remains largely unknown today, even though it dates back to 1907, and has been used commercially since the 1980s. Until recently, the powder used by advertisers generally was low-grade and the cost of creating ads using electroluminescence was high, discouraging further development.
EL panels are slowly gaining fans, however, as companies like Luminous Media have started using high-grade powder. The company has also kept costs low by manufacturing in Zhuhai, a city near Hong Kong in China's Guangdong province.
Luminous Media manufactures single skin EL posters up to 3.2 meters by 15 meters size and charges $800/ per square meter. If an advertiser uses EL only on a fraction of an ad surface, it only pays for the cost of the EL portion. The EL portions of an ad can be illuminated simultaneously or in sequence.
Because it is "zip in, plug and play," installation costs are the same as a standard poster skin, said Barry Hatcher, group CEO of Luminous Media in Zhuhai. "As one of the busiest and most impactful forms of media, advertisers are constantly looking to get the biggest bang for their buck in outdoor media. Impact is everything." Even though the technology was developed in China, only a handful of Chinese advertisers like mobile phone service provider China Unicom have used EL panels so far.
"But the concept is right for this market," said Jim Liu, managing partner, China of WPP Group's out-of-home media agency Kinetic in Shanghai. "People are starting to think about the cost of power in China as well as the environment."
Advertisers such as Diageo, General Motors Corp., Toyota Motor Corp. and Lucozade have experimented with EL technology in North America, Europe and the Middle East, however.
In Canada, for instance, Bacardi used an EL ad created by Young & Rubicam to demonstrate the rum brand's "alive with taste" tagline. The illumination sequence creates the impression of flowing liquid.
Columbia Pictures used EL last year to illuminate movie posters for Spiderman 3. The posters portrayed the superhero's red and blue costume amidst rain and lightening.
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