The Outernet Is Coming

Screens, screens everywhere- and not a moment to think! Just when the space for billboards seemed to be exhausted, small-screen technology has opened up a whole new vista of marketing terrain.

Got a car? You can be pitched at the pump. Hold season tickets to your favorite sports team? Get ready for seatback commercials. Use an ATM or work out at a gym? Well, you get the message-and you’ll be getting a lot more of them, a lot more often, if some cutting-edge marketers have their way. Stores, restaurants, restroom stalls, anywhere a screen will fit, a screen may soon be installed.

The “outernet” is coming, and it adds up to a significant, if unproven, opportunity for local and national advertisers alike. Every day, according to Nielsen//NetRatings, 83.8 million Americans go online. An impressive number, but a pittance compared to the 300 million transactions that occur at point-of-sale locations such as ballpark beer stands and grocery checkout counters. And these are places where advertisers can reach an audience far wider than the computer-literate population available in Net-connected homes and office. Potentially, almost everyone can be targeted by location, time of day, or industry segment.

Variously referred to as “alternative outdoor,” “interactive kiosks,” and “public-access terminals,” this new sector of the digital economy accounted for only 8.3 percent of the $5.2 billion spent on outdoor advertising in 2000. So far, the outernet exists mostly in the imagination of its champions, with ad campaigns on most such venues in the planning or testing phase. But it may not be a category that marketers can afford to ignore for long. Marissa Gluck, senior analyst for Jupiter Media Metrix, counsels retail manufacturers to investigate these platforms now, rather than run the risk of being left behind. Finance, electronics, media, and consumer packaged goods companies are also a “nice target match” for the outernet, Gluck adds.

Of course, slapping up electronic billboards in every conceivable spot is not always good business. Noah Manduke, West Coast managing director for Siegelgale, spent 12 years with Ogilvy before joining the marketing and branding consultants. He sees the push for such alternative media as indicative of an ever-louder screaming contest among brands vying for mind-share, a “massive overcommercialization of the world,” he calls it.

For the moment, few in the advertising community seem to be concerned. However, kiosks and other emerging platforms are likely to appear at doctors’ offices, bus stops, and pay phones; on vending machines and in taxicabs-just about anywhere people wait or travel. Advertisers may find that these screens-and the increasing variety of user-friendly applications they permit-share a common denominator not yet found on the PC. They’re more or less, um, idiot-proof.

Keying in on kiosks

Web-enabled kiosks are “walled-garden” systems with proprietary content. Think of the product-promoting terminals already found in consumer electronics stores, or the public-access terminals that allow limited surfing of the Internet in airports, among other places. According to Cahners In-Stat Group, advertising sales for Internet kiosks aimed primarily at business travelers will be worth $1.2 billion by 2004, up from just $848,000 in 2000.

Most kiosks are located in open areas of shopping malls or airports, where thousands of transient browsers use them in short bursts to obtain information or conduct transactions. They can be custom-designed to almost any shape, reinforced to withstand the outdoors (or customer abuse), and fitted with peripherals such as digital cameras, thermal printers, pressure mats, and proximity detectors. Netpulse Communications, a San Francisco-based company, will even attach an interactive kiosk to a piece of gym equipment (see “Let’s Get Physical,” May 2000 issue).

While it’s relatively easy to find kiosks boosting sales at Circuit City Stores, Barnes & Noble, or Gap, it may be more significant that Procter & Gamble, the world’s largest consumer packaged goods company, has begun using them. Recently, P&G installed two kiosks in Ohio malls as part of the company’s “Innovation Location” program, which seeks to expose young consumers to new P&G products. The kiosks were used to promote goods that were still being test-marketed or weren’t slated for launch for 6 to 12 months. Sales were not the point; instead, P&G was hoping to build buzz, get consumer feedback, and develop brand loyalty.

Pump it up

A San Jose, Calif.-based company, Ten Square, practically owns the gas-pump interactive market, which, along with ATMs and payment terminals, accounts for 100 billion transactions a year in the United States. The company’s Elapsed Time Management technology was designed to allow consumer interaction without increasing transaction time. Instead of watching the numbers spin on the gas pump while fueling up (typically about two minutes, according to Ten Square’s research) or staring at the “Please Wait” screen at the ATM, consumers can watch flash animation promotions or select a coupon to print out.

Ten Square also expects people to use its network to order food, buy movie tickets, get real-time traffic information and maps, and enter contests and loyalty programs. These possibilities, some still in the trial phase, are value-added propositions for local merchants, and also for such big players as BP Amoco Capital and Chevron Technology Ventures-key investors in Ten Square. Coca-Cola and Val-Pak, among other major advertisers, have signed on as Ten Square partners.

Scott Slinker, Ten Square’s CEO, says the outernet makes it possible for companies to have truly one-to-one relationships with their customers-if they’re willing to take the plunge. “Competition is so fierce now,” he explains, “that if [companies are] not listening to exactly what you’re saying, they’re going to be out of business. That’s why interactive is so important. This is the holy grail that advertisers and brands, and operators like BP and Chevron have wanted for years…. It’s a tremendous opportunity to help these store operators in an area where they have the most profit margin, get even more.”

Watch your (seat)back

Seatback-based terminals offer one great marketing advantage: a captive audience for the length of the flight, drive, or event. Madison Square Garden and the Boston FleetCenter are two of the first facilities to install “SmartSeats” made by New York-based ChoiceSeat. Fans can use the touch-screen commands to get instant replays from up to eight different camera angles; to look up real-time and historical statistics; to get team and venue information; to keep up with scores around the league; and to order team merchandise, food, and tickets with their credit cards. Advertisers can reach the fans through banners, a microsite, sponsorship, or direct marketing-all the usual methods.

Up until now, seatback terminals have been deployed mainly in the first-class section of the plane or the skybox part of the stadium. But proponents see the outernet as a branding tool of wide utility. Last fall, convenience-store customers in several suburban New York counties saw ads for Hillary Clinton’s opponent Rick Lazio on over-the-register monitors. Such “electronic billboards,” which rely on an assortment of screen technologies, are generally fed by satellite. Their advantage over traditional billboards, of course, is that they can display images, video loops, and animation in real time, and allow instant updates from a remote location. “Advercasting” is what RBuzz, a Toronto, Canada-based digital signage company, calls it.

Digital billboards come in a wide range of sizes. Minneapolis-based Next Generation Network has 15- to 42-inch flat-screen monitors in some 7,000 grocery stores, convenience stores, fast-food outlets, newsstands, and train stations. Captivate Network, based in Westford, Mass., specializes in serving up ads on small screens where people really are held captive-the elevator.

Giant industry, baby steps

In the point-of-sale world, “the mode of content delivery is almost meaningless,” says Gluck, referring to the cable versus copper versus wireless Internet debate. “It’s all about venue and platform.”

Beyond Interactive, a leading marketing and ad agency, is one of the few companies running tests on all the new platforms. Beyond has done trials with ATMs and kiosks for several clients, including Oracle. The field is new, says Vic Vasan, Beyond’s director of research and development. “Both vendors and publishers,” he cautions, “still have a lot to learn about selling interactive media, maximizing real estate, performance data, and ad-serving issues.” Be wary of strictly ad-supported platforms, Vasan advises, noting that such business models proved insufficient to support PC-based Websites and may not perform any better here.

Pricing arrangements, too, can be all over the board. Intellicom International, a Des Moines, Iowa-based advertising company, generally charges a monthly fee based on usage or traffic count. The company sells interactive coupons for $0.02 to $2.50 per coupon printed. Kiosk banners can go for as little as $25 per month-or as much as ten times that amount. A full kiosk sponsorship might cost anywhere from $150 to $3,500 per month. Some outernet marketers also foresee the possibility of charging by the number of customer registrations or downloaded coupons. Bottom line is, we’re talking about uncharted territory. But the rush is on.

5 Rules for the Road

Points to consider when deploying point-of-sale campaigns • Define your goals, but consider it an experiment. Is your campaign designed to brand or to generate leads? Know what metrics you’re looking for, but remember that you’re in uncharted territory.

  1. What’s the context?

    A media buy can usually be targeted according to the venue (retail location, restaurant, airport, street corner, bar or nightclub, and so forth). Consider the context of the environment to ensure that your media plan supports your brand strategy. Tiffany’s, for example, might advertise on a first-class seatback, but won’t be advertising on gas pumps anytime soon.

  2. Time spent.

    ATMs and gas pumps, however necessary they are in life, do not allow much time for interaction and should generally be considered as branding or quick information vehicles, unless a printed coupon is available. Seatback-based kiosks, because they are placed directly in front of the user throughout the duration of an event or flight, can house more robust interactive applications.

  3. Get access to your data.

    Some networks are compatible with third-party ad-serving technologies such as DoubleClick’s Dart or AdForce’s EveryWhere. But, many “emerging media” publishers will prefer to rely on their own proprietary system. In these cases, insist on the kind of data analysis and optimization you’ve come to expect in more traditional Web-based campaigns.

  4. There are no standards.

    It isn’t a 468 x 60 world anymore; there are no “standard” ad units on these new platforms. Emerging media publishers break up their real estate in a variety of ways, so exact ad types, dimensions, and formats may differ greatly from network to network. Keep production costs in mind when planning a campaign.

Posted by on June 24, 2001