In Uruguay, a Red Light Means Stop -- and Read the Ad

The Latest Ad Medium for a Captive Audience

By Published on .

My old friend Dick Criswell has been spending time in Uruguay the past few months. Dick and his late partner, Joe Novas, ran a multi-office South American ad agency, Novas/Criswell, which they later sold to Leo Burnett.
New medium: It's a real traffic-stopper.
New medium: It's a real traffic-stopper.

Dick has always been an astute observer of our life and times. For instance, here's a snippet from one of his dispatches: "The other morning, quite early, I took the bus to the market where I buy fresh-caught fish a couple of times a week.

"The bus has two employees; one collects the fares, and the other is the driver. The driver won't talk to you as he has to concentrate completely on driving and scaring away pedestrians. The fare collector, who might be either a man or woman, takes your fare and answers any questions.

"About halfway to the market, the bus stopped in the middle of the block, and the fare collector got off. The crowded bus waited for her return along with a number of angry drivers behind the bus who expressed their frustration with a chorus of horn-honking. In a couple of minutes, the fare collector returned with two plastic cups of coffee and two croissant sandwiches that she and the driver would consume as we continued on. Such is life in Uruguay."

In his other travels around town, Dick has come across a new advertising medium (if you can believe there could possibly be room for such a thing). Here's how he describes it: You drive up to a busy intersection in Montevideo (or the resort Punta del Este) and the traffic light turns red. Hanging next to the traffic light is a rectangular screen about 3.5 feet by 2 feet that immediately starts flashing a sequence of images and messages in a very intense red against a black background. The messages move sideways like the signs do on Times Square.

Since the traffic-light system is a test, the images and messages are all transit- or public-service related. You might see a seatbelt being buckled followed by a message reading "Buckle up! It's the law" or a hand pouring a bottle into a profile of a head, followed by a revolver and the message, "Drink and drive is suicide."

The message lasts as long as the light is red. When the light turns green the screen goes to black, Dick reports. All of this is controlled by computer, and the images and messages can be changed at any or all of the 20 locations where the traffic-light ad medium is being tested. They can also be scheduled to deliver different messages at different times to coincide with traffic flow.

The company involved in the test is Telemaforo Comunicacion ( Executives have conducted what they say are positive studies on effectiveness and recall, and the company is about to test the idea in Buenos Aires with a partner there. These guys must think they're on to something, because Dick says they've already got patents or patents pending in most major markets in the world.
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