Do marketers dream of electric screens?

As innovation continues in the digital out-of-home mediascape, marketers may no longer have to imagine a future where consumers are surrounded by multiple interactive calls for engagement.

Philip K. Dick’s tale Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, the basis for the movie Blade Runner, portrayed the future as a place with many screen-based communication devices for advertisers. Then came Minority Report, another flick adapted from a piece of Dick fiction that really got marketers’ attention with its digital outdoor advertising messages calling Tom Cruise’s character by his name.

Is that vision for the future annoying? Sure. Controversial? You bet. Is it where we’re headed? We’re betting you don’t need us to answer that one.

There’s no question that digital out-of-home (DOOH) is growing. PricewaterhouseCoopers reports that the out-of-home advertising market in Canada will hit $507 million by 2012, thanks largely to the power of digital networks in offering advertisers targeted, entertaining content. ZenithOptimedia Worldwide has noted that, despite a drop in overall ad spending in the U.S. and gloomy economic headlines, out-of-home continues to see annual growth in the double digits.

The Out-of-Home Marketing Association of Canada, following another healthy forecast by Nielsen’s Ad Expenditure Report, was quick to note that digital is a big reason why OOH ad revenue grew 12% from January through May over the same period in 2007.

No doubt about it, the DOOH options are diverse. There’s tactical, where you’re buying a captive audience in an elevator or on a subway platform, and mass-targeted screens such as the ones hanging over Toronto’s Dundas Square, conveniently located near every known retail establishment. And with lower production costs using digital templates for creative, the potential ROI is something you’ll be hearing more about.

So what are advertisers doing to take advantage of the rapidly expanding roster of screens across the Canadian media landscape?

As this issue hits the stands, Random House of Canada (RHC) is pondering the initial results of its first foray into DOOH with short video content. In partnership with

Toronto-based Onestop Media Group (OMG) and Art for Commuters (A4C), the book publisher launched three one-minute films, produced by artist Lesley Loksi Chan, to promote the Aug. 5 launch of Andrew Pyper’s new book, The Killing Circle. The ‘book trailers’ concept is not necessarily a new vehicle for the publisher, but DOOH is a new medium for getting the message out.

RHC VP and director of online sales and marketing Lisa Charters points out that subway platforms are a logical place to target book readers in Toronto, the author’s own city, which is also the setting for the book. The publisher is rounding out promotion for Pyper’s book using online tactics that have proven successful over the past year, such as spending on Google AdWords and Facebook Social Ads to cover online promos and a Facebook page that gets users uploading snapshots of the book’s cover to enter a contest to win signed copies. But August marked the marketer’s move into DOOH, and it’s a strategic step.

‘It has become more difficult to get any web page to stand out,’ says Charters. ‘In a cluttered online world, we’re looking for ways to connect with and target the right consumer. Out-of-home digital signage is amazing in that it’s targeted simply by the traffic patterns of people walking past the outlets. The other thing about DOOH which wasn’t true until recently is that we can update the content easily and remotely, and measure it by mobile campaigns that prompt interaction. As we’re looking to connect with the right consumer, DOOH has become an incredibly important vehicle. This is a unique test for us. We invested more than we have before, simply because we need to be able to see the return on investment.’

Onestop Media Group has blazed a trail of innovation since announcing its deal with the Toronto Transit Commission to roll out LCD screens at subway stations across the city in 2005. Along with local news, sports and weather updates targeting about a million and a half daily commuters, the screens launched with advertisers such as Shoppers Drug Mart, Pfizer, Ford, Pizza Hut and KFC running 15-second spots on a 10-minute cycle.

Telus is also leveraging the power of Onestop’s network to engage consumers in a two-month campaign for the new HTC Diamond smartphone this fall. Key messaging revolves around its capabilities for real-time information delivery, including news, sports, weather, etc. DOOH screens will pull real-time content data alongside the Telus creative. If there’s a thunderstorm outside, the phone’s screen looks like a storm, and when the sun is shining…you get the point.

‘The data the smartphone is showing you at that moment will be relevant,’ says Onestop Media Group president Michael Girgis. ‘It’s one of the more functional smart ads that we’ve done.’ The creative for that campaign is also rolling out across the DOOH network in shopping malls and food courts run by Swiss-HQ’d Neo Advertising, which added hundreds of screens last year.

Media Experts director of account planning Kareem Boulos, who works exclusively on Telus, says the platform gave the marketer flexible audience targeting and innovation that’s relevant to the consumer. ‘We’re not highlighting the fact that it’s real-time weather, but as the campaign runs, people will begin to realize that every time they look at the creative, it’s bang on,’ says Boulos.

Of course, there’s a full-blown multimedia campaign also driving launch awareness, and lots of online buys. But DOOH executions allow for real-time information for relevance in different markets.

It’s these possibilities that are making DOOH more of a priority in big marketers’ media plans. ‘WestJet and Future Shop are using it more and more,’ says Boulos. ‘With Telus, a few years ago the medium was non-existent on our media plans. Last year we started trying things out with Onestop Media Group and a ton of different networks. Some of them we loved; with others we felt the technology just wasn’t strong enough or the placements weren’t right. We cast the net very wide and learned a lot, and now we focus on where we see the best results and what gives us the most flexibility.’

Shortly after its launch three years ago, Onestop implemented nifty targeting options using its proprietary ‘smart ads’ tech, which lets national advertisers inject location-based messaging onto subway platforms. The ads change in real time, automated or live, and can be called from a database or changed by advertisers. So BMO or HMV can tell commuters exactly where the closest branch or store is, the Toronto Raptors can ensure creative is always pushing the next game and Bel Air Travel can change an offering that has been sold out, keeping the campaign fresh and relevant.

And the highly targeted DOOH players are also beefing up for the coming growth.

This summer, Toronto-HQ’d Captivate Network, known for placing ads in the elevators and lobbies of office buildings, announced partnerships with the Canadian Economic Press News, QuoteMedia, Ecovert and CP Images, opting to boost content by employing live editorial teams instead of simply delivering RSS feeds across its network.

The company is also moving to target audiences directly via computer desktops, having launched blogs that viewers can look to for movie reviews, wine info and French-language content on film and books. Want to tell office workers who’s got the cheapest air fares, gas prices or happy-hour drinks? It’s no wonder the tech has drawn a slew of advertisers, including WestJet, Ford, CIBC, Volvo, Expedia, Wrigley, Diageo, Johnson & Johnson and American Express. And Captivate expanded to include the Montreal market in February and launched day-parting options in June.

Halifax-based Volt Media also expanded last year, adding more screens to its DOOH network targeting university students in Atlantic Canada. In February, the company signed on to represent media sales for two more properties, the Halifax Metro Centre’s exterior video board and Dresden Row Market’s point of sale network. And last month Volt added another targeted option: health-related signage. The company was tapped by Toronto’s PHSN HealthMedia to represent its screens in medical centres in the Atlantic market.

PHSN HealthMedia anticipates a reach of four million in its place-based network by year-end. ‘We’re focusing on contextually relevant, value-added content,’ says president/COO Ed Voltan. ‘We’ve got people stuck in a waiting room for two hours, so we’re moving away from the 30-second spot. If you want people to engage with the screen, you’ve got to put on content that’s contextually relevant. A classic example would be a two-minute piece on how to avoid getting migraines, which happens to be sponsored by a migraine remedy provider. It’s content that’s of value. It’s not pushing you to the medication as much as it’s pushing you to a lifestyle change.’

On the flip side, when an advertiser is looking to reach the wandering masses, media partners are upping the ante of creative-meets-entertainment in order to catch the passing eye traffic.

Toronto-HQ’d Outdoor Broadcast Network (OBN) became a national network of video boards when it bought Vancouver’s Lightvision Media Network last year. Since then, OBN has been busy integrating traditional media partners into its DOOH network, synchronizing multiple video board executions to grab attention with animation and generally pushing the kind of innovation that catches attention.

In February, the Globe and Mail signed on to supply daily headlines via RSS feeds on OBN video boards to promote its B.C. edition, with 10-second spots updated immediately with breaking news (a buy arranged by Gaggi Media). Months earlier, Corus Radio’s AM730 traffic station signed a similar deal to serve up its content on those screens for a year-long campaign.Around the same time, the Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corporation started serving Toronto streets with TV creative (by MacLaren McCann) adapted and posted to video boards when lottery jackpot amounts exceeded $20 million (a buy arranged by Toronto’s MBS). It also rolled out the creative across Neo Advertising’s shopping mall screens in January. And California’s Leaping Horse Vineyards used weather triggers last year to serve up different creative in Toronto: white wine above 20 C and Merlot when the mercury dropped.

As well, Spin Master launched a six-week campaign ending this fall that promoted the Bakugan Battle Brawlers video game using OBN’s Toronto Eaton Centre Media Tower. Screens displayed multiple messages from the main character in Bakugan while simultaneously showing elements from the property’s companion series on Teletoon on a video board directly below the trivision billboard.

And who can forget the executions in Toronto’s Dundas Square for Diageo’s Johnnie Walker ‘Keep Walking’ campaign during the 2007 holiday season, when the DOOH operator arranged to bring the walking man to life on four video screens by having him walk from board to board? That took coordination with Starcom, Leo Burnett, Clear Channel Outdoor, Captive Audience Media and Titan Outdoor.

WestJet, an innovator in Canada’s DOOH landscape, executed a similar ‘fly-around’ using video boards at Dundas Square. The campaign was launched last fall to promote the company’s new route to the Dominican Republic as well as a contest at winwithwestjet.com that promised to send winners to the destination. That deal, also with OBN in the lead, was arranged along with Media Experts, Taxi Calgary and three other video board companies: Clear Channel Outdoor, Penex Media and Titan Outdoor.

‘WestJet is really leveraging the technology,’ says OBN president Peter Irwin. ‘They have ads running continually, but depending on the location, they might have different destinations and pricing points. They also have the flexibility to adapt their pricing based on competitive information or low capacity. We get a call from them and reduce a price in one part of the country on certain flights. The client is truly leveraging the capabilities of a digital out-of-home network.’

The next innovation, although details are sparse at press time, may involve something for the gamer in all of us. ‘It’s a fully interactive concept that would enable someone to play a game on the screen at Dundas Square using a cellphone,’ says Irwin. ‘This will be the first of its kind.’

And then there are relative newcomers to the Canadian DOOH landscape, such as Adcentricity, which set up shop in Toronto this year and now has about 30 different networks to sell 16 different categories – from retail and convenience stores to medical and pharmacy screens. Since last September, Adcentricity has launched 53,000 retail screens in Canada, blanketing ‘everything that doesn’t get rained on’ with digital screens, says president, Rob Gorrie.

Elaborating on the ‘media is the new creative’ mantra, Gorrie says, ‘How you hyper-localize and hyper-target it, and integrate media into your next idea – that’s how agencies can really deliver for clients.’

When the Liberal Party ran a campaign with Adcentricity, it was important to keep the media plan fluid, so that when the polls indicated the party would not win in specific ridings, Adcentricity could begin more aggressive communications in those areas.

And then there are DOOH’s user-generated content success stories. This fall, Adcentricity co-founder and VP marketing Jeff Atley says a tourism destination client will take UGC submitted online and run it in tandem with a DOOH campaign with Adcentricity. ‘It’s going to be very cool to see user-generated content featured in a different medium, dynamically,’ he adds. Another client, from across the border, was in negotiations with the company at press time to promote a new TV series with some customized aspects to the plan.

‘They are going to be streaming custom content into each of our venues,’ says Atley, ‘and there’s a voting system with mobile that allows people to, based on the vote count, change the content that shows up in the venue.’ That campaign may target about 5,000 locations in the U.S. and 1,000 to 2,000 in Canada. ‘The show is launching in both markets at the same time, but I don’t know whether they have decided to invest in both countries on the advertising side,’ says Atley.

Last year, Onestop made moves to harness the power of UGC in its network’s programming. In the spring, it partnered with Contact, Toronto’s annual photography festival, to entertain commuters with ‘Transit Stories.’ About 60 to 90 community-generated pics were shown across the network six times per hour in 30-second blocks.

A repeat initiative, which will grow this year, sprouted from a partnership with Art for Commuters (A4C) and the creation of the Toronto Urban Film Festival (TUFF): Cinema by Citizens Celebrating the City, a ‘hybrid programming opportunity’ marrying the idea of advertising in public places with participation by consumers.

The initiative showcases one-minute silent films during the hype of the Toronto International Film Festival. Viewers on subway platforms are encouraged to vote for their faves by text message or online at TorontoUrbanFilmFestival.com.

The first annual TUFF attracted multiple partners, including Showcase as the primary sponsor. Bel Air Travel gave away a trip, Sony gave away a camera and the Drake Hotel hosted the awards ceremony and dinner for the winners.

Netting between 250 and 300 submissions, the contest this year will include celebrity judging by Mark McKinney (Kids in the Hall, SNL). Title sponsor Heineken is also adding to the art factor. ‘The spots they’re running are film genre-ish – incredible visuals for this medium,’ says Onestop’s Girgis, who describes the new DOOH initiatives as being ‘a little bit different. We have a million and a half people that we need to entertain, so we need to do things like this.’

DOOH by the numbers

The Canadian Out-of-Home Digital Association (CODA), which launched a year ago with a renewed mission to standardize metrics, made some major additions to its membership list last month. Now there are 27 working together to standardize the numbers in a way that will bring credibility, and more clients, to the industry.

Onestop’s Girgis, who is spearheading the metrics issue on CODA’s board, says the standardization is set to roll out this fall.

‘We’re releasing a first-level consolidation effort,’ he says. ‘Common metrics are being displayed on all of our rate cards. On the site for CODA, you’ll find each out-of-home network and operator’s information in the same format and the same structure. Everyone’s showing weekly impressions; everyone’s showing weekly costs; everyone’s displaying the average wheel length; everyone’s telling the same story with the same data points.’

There is still a need to address the question of impressions versus reach. Reach multiplied by frequency equals impressions. Impressions is a duplicated number. Reach is unduplicated. Phase one of CODA’s standardization efforts, say some, don’t address this disconnect. Phase two will. Stay tuned.