Stephanie Gutnik, marketing and business development manager ?at digital signage software company
Integrating large-format printed and digital signage is a battle that won’t bode well for the defeated. It’s accepted that the out-of-home (OOH) industry is moving away from its longstanding static medium status to a channel that acts as a point of fusion for the latest trends in advertising and consumer engagement. Such a transition beckons advertising dollars from other media: OOH advertising revenue in the UK reached an unprecedented £990 million in 2013 and secured a 5.5% share of all UK ad revenue. What’s more, digital out-of-home revenue made up almost a quarter of the OOH total, with £214 million in 2013 compared to £11 million ten years earlier. (Outdoor Media Centre)
Such tremendous growth for the out-of-home sector should be viewed positively by static and digital sign providers in a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ kind of way. Yet instead, the turf war continues whereby fears of a digital invasion are supported with threats of industry cannibalisation.
Consumers are more willing than ever to share personal information with brands in exchange for custom content and benefits, and mobile is the currency of this transaction. And of course static signage can contain mobile calls to action, digital incorporates and instantly responds to NFC, beacons and geofencing - capabilities that allow for real time engagement and retargeting.
These advertising benefits are experienced by the likes of Eye Airports, the UK’s largest airport advertising company that reaches over 100 million passengers annually through 46, 55 and 70in LCD screens, videowalls and large-format LEDs.
“For Eye Airports the opportunity to engage our audiences with interactive and rewarding content on our digital screens has led to some of our most popular and acclaimed advertising campaigns. Specific interaction provides data that allows us to make the next campaign even better and this, coupled with our Neuro Insight research, has already proved that digital screens are more engaging,” says Sarah Parkes, managing director at Eye Airports.
“As we look to the future, the location, quality, quantity and capability of our digital screens will be the priority. However for the foreseeable future we will continue to use printed material at other suitable sites within our airport environments, as this mix offers our advertisers a number of advantages.”
Eye Airports is just one example of the many media networks shifting their portfolios to include a higher ratio of digital to static signs, not just in the UK but throughout North America and Australia. This move clearly pits one type of sign against the other, explaining not only the lack of integration but the hostility developed toward digital as printed signs are increasingly swapped for new screens.
Forget cross-channel advertising. The act of multi-screening coordinates campaigns across two or more screen platforms - including TV, Internet, smartphone and digital signage - is expected to grow from 20% to 50% of media spend in the next three years (ANA, Nielsen). So with static fading out of sight, where do wide-format printers fit in?
Not so fast. The argument goes that while digital is undeniably growing, there will still be a significant role for high-quality, backlit printed panels in the foreseeable future. Referring to airports once again, digital ad revenue in London Heathrow Airport accounts for around 22% of JCDecaux UK’s footprint in the space. This is greater than the UK’s OOH industry average, about 14-16%, yet a number that might come as a surprise to digital enthusiasts who view the world in screens. Despite the even higher ratio of digital to static in newly renovated Terminal 2, non-digital is still a majority.
“Airports are unique when compared to other transit categories, as advertisers will buy one iconic and high-profile panel guaranteeing 100% visibility for an entire year,” explains Steve Cox, marketing director at JCDecaux Airport UK. “In general, smaller-format digital screens will run shorter-term campaigns and longer-term buys use conventional signage. That being said, Terminal 2 has more large-format LEDs than the others.”
Planes aside, when it comes to OOH among trains, automobiles and other verticals, it’s hard to find well-executed examples of campaigns using a digital display integrated within a conventional sign. It’s even difficult to spot campaigns optimising the print and digital locations in a given network – the two are viewed by many as different, yet one and the same.
It can be argued that Europe faces even bigger OOH challenges than the US in terms of print and digital integration and, more importantly, growth. Available space for billboards and large-format signs is limited and premium. Jeremy Male, CEO at CBS Outdoor Americas, refers to this variation from America’s expansive landscape by comparing Amsterdam to Atlanta. To avoid overcrowding and visual pollution, certain governments riddle the OOH market with regulations that the industry must respect or alleviate in unison.
A printegration celebration
As a printer you may never even consider the addition of digital displays to your portfolio; nobody’s forcing you to. Yet perhaps somebody should.
Traditional print events are globally creating and expanding dedicated digital signage sections of the show floor, such as ISA Sign Expo in the US, Fespa’s European Sign Expo and SGI Dubai. This is not happening in a bubble - consumer exposure to digital out-of-home is expected to rise at an 8.6% CAGR to an average of 20 minutes per week by 2017, whereas static billboards will decline at a 1.6% CAGR to 44 minutes weekly (PQ Media, ‘Consumer Exposure to Digital Out-of-Home Media Worldwide 2014’). The expected growth in digital signage fuels higher spending on digital inventory and brings a 14.2 % CAGR in operator revenues in the stated period.
With endless stats like these, why battle against a digital invasion? Why not call a truce? For those who are too proud to “say uncle”, a white flag is unnecessary. Those working in the recently realised realm of digital out-of-home could benefit from printers’ many years of expertise in the OOH industry. Printers, on the other hand, have a lot to learn and a promising amount of revenue to gain by collaborating with the digital signage space.
Partnerships between the two will herein be referred to as ‘printegration’, and represents a mutually beneficial future of static and digital signs, a synergy possible and attainable worldwide.
Digital signage vendors might not understand the logistics behind ink drying time and printers may not care about RS232. These differences are negligible compared to the result of sharing strengths. Audiovisual integrators can take care of digital signage components they have come to know so well, leaving printers to continue perfecting their domain of designing effective creative.
Through printegration, digital signage gurus will work with printers to prevent the creative used for a static sign from ever appearing on a digital counterpart. Such a faux pas, and many others, can be avoided by joining forces. Bigger hurdles, such as defeating unfair legislation and growing the OOH share of all media can only be tackled by print and digital signage providers keen to make love, not war; to commence a printegration celebration.
The 21st century’s digital natives expect a seamless integration between static and digital messages, regardless of the media serving them. And the prospect of campaigns using print and digital should be exciting not only to consumers and advertisers, but suppliers too.