The Great Digital Outdoors

MINI USA motor on eBillboardFollowing on from the Great Wireless Outdoors that we are seeing battled out here in UK, lets take a side-shift and look at what that means to us from an advertising perspective.

An article today has been looking at moving beyond the illuminated billboards at the side of the road, even beyond the bright advertising lights of Piccadilly Circus, to a new smart range of electronic Billboards, of which ‘by the end of 2007 there will be about 1,000 digital billboards in operation throughout the U.S.’

Visa and Ford digitize the great outdoors (note: over several pages)

To further quote Darrin Friskney, director of WatchFire Outdoor, ‘Digital displays advertising goods and services that can rotate frequently, so messages can be fresh and regularly updated for targeted customers.’

Yes I agree, ‘targeting’ is of the essence here, for in the similar vein to Minority Reports’ talking billboard scene, it was more then interesting to note the image they use happens to be of the RFID-enabled Mini advert that ran in January this year in certain US locations. The concept was if you were a Mini driver in the US, you were sent a special key-fob in the post. As you drove your car around certain cities, the billlboards would literally talk to ‘you’, personally. In case you missed that, check the ‘science faction’ here:

I will expound my concerns over RFID, of whch there are numerous, at a later date. Let’s focus on the commercial implications from an advertising perspective.

London Underground eBoardsWhen you consider 10MM people in London now have RFID-enabled Oystercards, and now Visa is pushing wireless payment with their One-Pulse card alongside Oyster. When you consider Tottenham Court Road and others are starting to get Digital Boards running alongside the escalators – as you stand there as a captive audience, is it really that unfeasable to consider adverts changing to each person identified by their unique Oystercard as they go up and down the escalators? Connecting you via reading that RFID chip – a chip surrounded by an aerial – would in turn signal an ad server via the internet to respond with an appropriate advert, and potentially sequence them by the same speed of movement as the escalator as you travel past each screen.

Ah, but you say, “touch in and touch out” – isn’t that what the voiceover cries continually? Don’t be duped – Oystercards can be read a lot further away then the weak 2″ receivers they installed on the station gates… the ones used in the mini experiment had a range of 500 feet!! That’s more then enough to pick you out the opposite side of the street and change a billboard.

But what if you were in motion on foot, or let’s say in a car?

A taxi driver asked me yesterday if I had noticed a new strange camera installation hanging over the A4 as I travelled to a meeting in West London. I need to check this out, but I have a feeling they are RFID readers, I know they are coming. The idea has already been passed by the DVLA to chip each car number plate as a way of electronic vehicle licensing, an Oystercard for your car, if you like… and with 500′ capable readers around the place, it will be hello readers, goodbye cameras – and goodbye license, as there will be no place to speed up and slow down to EVER cross the speed limit again.

Microchipped number plates join fight against vehicle crime

But hey, at least I will be able to serve a personal message to you on the digital billboards as you drive around town, like ‘Motor on, Jim! (For today anyway – because from tomorrow you will be riding your bike)’

By |2016-10-12T20:46:16+00:00October 9th, 2007|Advertising Technology, RFID (Radio Frequency ID)|3 Comments

About the Author:

I am a Digital Transformation Strategist and focussed on global evangelism; helping position clients at the forefront of emerging media and the next generation of consumer engagement. I'm passionate about how storytelling and creative technology can be used to deliver focussed messages – irrespective of the consumer viewing device – and then drive favourable outcomes for brands, whilst addressing concerns over user profiling.


  1. […] fact when you consider digital billboards, as I pass one at arms-length on the escalator in an underground station, I am hardly having a 100 […]

  2. Aerial Advertising May 25, 2008 at 16:32

    Great post , this new Digital displays advertising look excellent , also its messages can be fresh and regularly updated for targeted customers , this fact will make it more effective.

  3. […] most behavioural targeting techniques: delivering it to any device is something being worked on, personalising it to the driver is something […]

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