China Perspective: Pixelating the streets - the new digital outdoor

15 Oct 2012|Nic Bulois

I was recently approached with questions regarding the digitisation of out of home advertising. Luckily, I was on my way out to lead an ethno immersion for our local download of the Global Qual Essentials training. We spent several hours going through the heart of Shanghai, which allowed me to get fresh insights and ideas into the shifting OOH landscape.

Let’s start with some numbers nabbed from Marketing Interactive to give added weight to what follows: the digital OOH market in China topped revenues of US$1.84 BILLION in 2011, a 30% increase from the previous year and almost double that of the US.

Digital OOH is becoming ubiquitous in China’s tier 1 cities. Any out of home journey through Shanghai will be accompanied by numerous screens. You’re exposed to digital ad content in lobbies as you wait for elevators, then again once you enter the elevator. They’re installed in the headset of taxi seats, in subway stations, and in subway cars. 

Digital OOH has become standard. And it’s no surprise.
As idle time during the out of home experience – commuting, lunch breaks, casual strolls, etc. – is spent engaged with smartphones and tablets, it’s increasingly difficult for advertisers to catch the public’s attention. It’s only natural, then, that this channel moves to digital. Fight fire with fire. Going digital not only makes content more interactive, it’s simply more relevant for China’s digital generation who consume the world in Pixels rather than Ink.

However, just being digital isn’t enough. Successful digital OOH should be informative, evocative, and/or interactive. Therein lies the problem with much of the staggering US$1.84 billion that’s spent in China’s digital OOH. Most Chinese brands use digital screens the same way as posters.

The good news is that digital OOH is evolving quickly. Looking at Shanghai’s Digital OOH scene, we see two shifts. 

First is the integration of print and digital, proof of a mutually beneficial relationship between the two formats. This trend is most prevalent in the Shanghai Metro system – host to some 6-7 million commuters a day. These Shanghai Metro commuters now walk past large-scale installations that combine evocative print images combined with dynamic digital displays.

This breaks down the previous restraints of a rectangular screen and that of a static image. Combined, the two create a far more immersive experience. Looking at Casio’s G Shock, they leverage print and sculpture to emphasize the product, but digital becomes a mean to showcase an alternative lifestyle through videos of its sponsored extreme athletes.

Besides G Shock, brands like Samsung, Sony, L’Oreal, and local skincare brand MG are leveraging this powerful combo.

A second shift is the move towards interactive Digital OOH. The most common example is Touchmedia’s Q Screen. A growing number of Shanghai’s taxis now feature these screens that display TVC content as well as branded gamified content for passengers.

Location Based Services (LBS)
LBS are taking this interactivity to another level. Whereas Location Based Services is becoming an outdated buzzword in western markets, it’s just heating-up in China.

LBS have been around in China for several years, but are only recently becoming popular thanks to the growing number of Chinese Post 90s now owning smartphones. China’s first truly digital generation, the Post 90s haven’t known what it’s like to grow up without internet, apps, and smart devices. Their technology adoption rates are incredibly high, and they’re increasingly gravitating towards LBS. 

The most popular of these LBS is Jiepang, a Chinese equivalent to Foursquare. Brands have been tapping into Jiepang the last couple years, but only recently are these efforts echoing beyond the small community of early LBS adopters. Starbucks is at the forefront of this LBS movement by tapping into a key desire: discounts.  By incentivizing customers with discounts, Starbucks has become the most popular check-in location.

The most poignant question the reporter asked me was, “is digital internet advertising taking away from OOH?”

Digital advertising is not taking away from OOH. Rather, it enriches. It empowers brands to turn their OOH into a gateway to online content. We live in an increasingly digitalized world. It’s in now in our DNA. With each generation, there’s less and less distinction between the actual and virtual world. Furthermore, with technologies like augmented reality and Microsoft’s NUads in the very near consumer future, this distinction will be further eradicated. Brands need to adopt this outlook.

Digital, Print, In-Home, Out of Home, etc. are all converging. The importance is therefore to have a clear, united message across all channels that leverage the advantages of individual channels, whether it be the interactivity and gamification of digital, or the tactility of print.

Originally written as a contribution to Campaign Asia’s article “Digital Goes Outdoors”, September 2012

Pics by Cecilie Østergren 

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