Are Consumers Blind to Place-Based Digital Signage?

11th Screen | The Interactive Out-of-Home Blog

The more I reflect on my time at DSE last week, the more rich I feel it was. And the funny thing about it is, I didn’t spend my time racing around seeing everything under the sun. I focused on a couple of activities and spent the rest of the time meeting & talking to people. There are some incredible minds in the digital signage industry. That much is for sure.

One of the richer times I had and that I wrote about last week was my dinner with Dave and Pat from Preset. It was really an interesting discussion – I was able to hear from them more than surface thoughts on important concepts that this industry wrestles with. In a lot of ways, it was kinda like a master class for me. You ever have those times when you find yourself in a situation where you’re like, holy crap, there’s some serious knowledge here? Well, that was me then.

One of the things we talked about was this idea of screen blindness. It’s an idea that I’ve thought about for awhile now. The question is – is the average consumer blind to outdoor screens? (And I’m not talking about Times Square or the strip in Vegas. I’m talking about standard outdoor screens like in elevators or in lobbies or at the gas station.) They’re everywhere now, so when someone encounters a screen, how much do they pay attention to it? Or better yet, how much do they even notice it?

I would say (and I did that night) that the answer is a) yes, generally consumers are blind to the screens, b) they don’t pay much attention to them and better yet c) they notice them less and less.

The reason? Mainly content and lack of interaction. Over time.

I think these digital screens have been around long enough with bad content that the average consumer perceives them as delivering little value. There are, of course, exceptions to this statement, but overall, most of these screens seem to be filled with advertisements, boring/useless content loops and/or some sort of broadcast news. They’re push-only devices delivering content that is completely un-engaging, un-inspiring, and most of all, something any one of us could experience on our own personal mobile devices.

And it’s been this way for years. Literally.

So, why pay attention to them?

I think this is a serious question that everyone who is trying to reach and engage consumers outside of the home, through these digital screens, must answer.

I don’t think the answer is because it reaches them at the right place and the right time. That, to me, is a given, and sure there’s value in that – reaching someone when they’re closer to the point of sale. Giving them a pertinent message while they’re in a waiting in a doctor’s office. But I think people been reached in the right place at the right time in so many un-effective ways, over time, that they see less and less value with these screens and are becoming blind to them.

Next time you’re in the presence with someone, outside of the home, in the vicinity of a digital screen, watch them. Do they watch what’s on the screen? If so, are they watching because they’re engaged? Or are they watching because it’s a distraction and something to pass the time?

Place-based digital signs, in order to be truly effective and valued, cannot be viewed as simply good at distracting people.

They have to do more. They have to deliver good, relevant content and more and more, in order to re-see them, to associate them with value, they have to engage consumers in some way.

So, that’s what I think. What do YOU think? Would love to hear your thoughts!

7 thoughts on “Are Consumers Blind to Place-Based Digital Signage?

  1. Dave Haynes

    Was great to sit and chat in Vegas, Mike.

    Thanks for the kind words and trust me, we always learn a ton from you, as well, when we chat.

    I totally agree about much of the place-based media networks out there. The quality of the execution is steadily improving, so that the ways things like news and weather and tickers and so on are done looks better. But, with some exceptions, making that sort of thing the core of a network’s programming strategy is a highly-flawed notion.

    There is now an increasing roar about using social and mobile to drive messages to screens, but I am thoroughly unconvinced that’s actually any better.

    As a creative friend told me once, “You have to earn your viewers.”

    News headlines won’t do it, and tweets and LBS check-ins probably won’t do it either unless they are – and I really hate this contrived web 2.0 term – curated. Ugh.

    So what’s the answer? Give viewers content that’s sticky, meaningful and valuable, in the context of what they’re doing and where they are.

    I really, really don’t need news headlines when I am lining up for a smoothie somewhere. But given I am, for a change, deciding to eat/drink something good for me, I am in a health-wise frame of mind.

    This isn’t quantum physics. It’s just common sense.

  2. mediamorphosis

    Totally agree. I am from Spain and i am digital marketing @POS startup here.
    I would dare to say that in Spain Digital Signage did not take off at all for one simle reason: it does not deliver what it promises. People never were engaged with DS content, there was no any proof of audience, the circuits were so fragmented…
    We do it another way – we place the INTERACTIVE screens for VERY SHORT TIME (1 week -2 months) for MONOBRAND promotional campaigns.
    This WORKS really good. Having augmented Reality application (game or some fun) helps to attract attention, prizes provided by brand force people t leave personal data… Everybody´s happy.
    OK, just to wrap up: DS needs to be creative and useful, deliver measurable results to be accepted. Do not think you are the smartest fish in the pool and we´ll cheat the others by putting stupid TV connected to Internet.

  3. Mike Cearley Post author

    Yes, it’s all about content, right? Good, meaningful content. That can take many different forms. I just think networks/content providers will have to work extra hard, in today’s world, to actually change the value-perception of consumers. Can definitely be done. There’s a lot of opportunities. But it’s critical to begin now.

  4. Joshua De La Mata

    Mike, great points here, and in the comments too!

    Yes, “screen blindness” is a condition; and network operators need to pick things up fast. If the industry is really passing the tipping point, now is the time to act.
    At the very least, network operators need to be sure that news/content formats do not go stale. There are plenty of things one can do to refresh the look, feel and delivery of content.

    The worst thing to hear from a prospective client is that they went to see a few locations and people are not looking at the screens. This was even the case in the very beginning, going back to Next Generation Network (e*Billboards) days. -And to think ten years ago, a screen by a checkout counter, especially a flat panel screen should have been, (and was in my opinion) a very cool novelty.

  5. Robert Loeb

    Great comments. I did not attend the meeting in Vegaas but our VP of Technology did, as did our President.

    Thought I would share some of our experience in the healthcare DOOH market.

    In healthcare, mostly within hospitals, errors abound, patients are actually dying, we know consumers don’t manage their health effectively, doctors aren’t always well informed, and much of it has to do with poor, or, a lack of effective communications. DOOH can be an important part of the cure, but only if it is done well.

    We have learned that the rigorous process of gaining senior leadership buy in, strategic planning, solid implementation, and sustainable health related content, is a proven formula for creating value for the viewers, no matter who they may be, consumers, doctors, employees, even care givers. Each stakeholder within a hospital deserves to be interviewed, an integral part of the process, on the front end, to determine their specific communications objectives/requirements.

    Also, If the content is not fresh. relevant, clinically accuirate, visually compelling, and easy to undersatdn, CNN ends up getting all the glory as the default for all of those who have not prepared for the good news and bad, in launcing digital signage in a hospital. R

  6. Mike Cearley Post author

    Robert – love the research-driven approach to creating any solution. We try to practice that as much as we can here. The problem is always time and money. Often, clients are less concerned about that upfront research – which uncovers the why’s and how’s – and more concerned about the actual solution. It’s backwards, but it’s reality. Because they’re under pressure to get something out as quickly as possible. Couple that with a new, “emerging” platform like digital signage and you have a couple of HUGE barriers to work your way through. I find that baby steps – in research and insights – are a great way to accomplish the end goal while still providing an ongoing service to clients. Although it might be slightly different in actually acquiring new clients, there is always the balance between understanding the audience (and stakeholders), their behaviors and habits and producing enough work to show measurable results.

  7. Mike Cearley Post author

    Joshua – thanks for the comments. It’s a seemingly complex formula, although once you peel everything back, I don’t think it’s complex at all. To get people to stop and pay attention, you need a certain kind of content. Then, to get them engaged, you need another. One-content-fits-all does not work, yet more and more, that’s the expectation that consumers have when they see digital signs. It requires a team of people – from creatives to technologists to strategists – to make any campaign successful, especially those on a platform like place-based digital signage.

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