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OoH, Look at the Opportunity

In February 2008, newspaper and broadcasting giant Tribune Co. cut its staff by 2 percent amid sharp declines in advertising sales?a chronic problem throughout the newspaper industry over the past few quarters.

“Our mission is to put together standards and metrics that make it easier for advertisers and advertising agencies to evaluate, plan, and buy all of these different networks,” Alecia says. “Those don't exist today. Different companies are using different measurements to come to their audience numbers. What the advertisers and agencies want is a comparable set of data.”

In the meantime, some large signage networks have turned to third parties to compile the data just for them. In 2004 and 2005, PRN hired Nielsen to measure Wal-Mart Television Network. Nielsen reported 49,024 gross impressions per store, a 9 percent increase in overall viewership over 2004. The growth was even higher among some demographics, such as Wal-Mart's core demographic of females, whose viewership increased 24 percent.

There's also ample research into the effectiveness of digital signage in general, regardless of its network One example is MediaWeek's comparison between digital signage and traditional media.

“It shows that digital signage ads catch attention 63 percent of the time compared to billboards at 58 percent, magazines at 57 percent, TV at 47 percent, Internet at 40 percent, and radio at 37 percent,” says Dan Woodward, a senior product manager at Walnut, Calif.–based ViewSonic. “It also listed digital signage as the most interesting and unique; only TV was rated more entertaining. I think this shows the entry of a new media into the traditional advertising market.”

But as impressive and useful as such data are, they only provide advertisers and media buyers with part of the picture. For example, media professionals also want information about other signage networks, and they want it compiled using an industry-standard methodology that allows them to make apples-to-apples comparisons between those networks.

“For the agencies and advertisers to evaluate that efficiently, there has to be a common ground for how those numbers are calculated,” Alecia says. “That's really important for our industry.”

As the OVAB creates the framework, it's soliciting input from the companies that eventually will use it. “We've developed an agency advisory board,” Alecia says. “That makes sure that they're happy with the way we're going.”


Until OoH has an established, widely used measurement system, there are a few other ways to help advertisers measure effectiveness. A technique that's common in Europe and starting to show up in North America is the use of wireless “short codes”— five- or six-digit codes that are included with digital ads. Passers-by can use their cell phones to send a text message to the code and receive a message with more information about the advertised product or an electronic coupon. The number of incoming messages gives the advertiser a rough idea of how many people have seen it.

Another technique is to add a camera or other sensor to the display in order to count the number of people who are within eyeshot of the ad. Depending on the sophistication of that sensor, it also may be possible to weed out the number of people who actually viewed the ad versus those just passing by.

That ability often is referred to as “eye gaze” technology, and it can be used to identify not only whether a person looks at the display, but also for how long. The latter can be particularly valuable for advertisers because, for example, it's feedback about whether people find the ad compelling.

“Those are better than the Nielsen numbers—a lot better,” says DecisionPoint's Collins.

One thing is clear: More numbers are key to OoH's continued growth.

“Money follows where the eyeballs go,” says OVAB's Alecia. “If you can quantify where those eyeballs are going, the dollars will follow.”

Tim Kridel is a freelance writer based in Columbia, Mo. He can be reached at

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