I delivered a keynote talk at a conference in Las Vegas recently. The conference was focused on digital employee communications, and was connected to a much larger event, the Digital Signage Expo (DSE). After the internal communication conference wrapped up, I spent some time walking the Expo floor.
Wandering among the booths from big companies I’ve heard of and small ones that were new to me, I was reminded of just how prevalent digital signage has become and how little it gets mentioned in summaries of digital communication platforms. The menu at the Popeyes Chicken near me is digital. The images move, attracting the eye, while making changes (new menu items and pricing changes, for instance) can be done once and distributed across the network. No need to print and ship hundreds or thousands of new menus.
Digital signage is catching on in malls. Digital billboards greet drivers approaching the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge.
Digital signage isn’t new. I remember visiting the offices of Southern California Gas Company in the early 1990s, where communication staff produced the content for signs using PowerPoint. Employees could spend a minute or two catching up on important messages in common areas where the screens were located, or at their desks via their PCs. Today, it’s not unusual to attend a conference where digital signs stream tweets containing the conference hashtag. In fact, when I checked into my hotel in Las Vegas, the massive digital sign behind the front desk displayed a constantly updated waterfall of tweets from guests featuring hashtags the hotel had introduced, focusing on events at their property.
Advances in a number of technologies are making digital signage even more compelling. About five years ago, I saw a fascinating example of a billboard in The Netherlands, that was designed to address a growing problem: Thugs would attack ambulance drivers and paramedics while passersby stood and watched, taking no action.
The billboard told just such a story, and with a camera pointed from the billboard to the street, it put those looking at the video into the scene. They were the ones standing around doing nothing. After the action ended, the billboard implored citizens to call for help should they ever encounter the situation in real life.
In another example, a video presented at the Expo showed how far the marriage of location-based marketing and digital signage has come. Women’s Aid—a campaign to end domestic violence—is conveying the message that “If you can see it, you can change it.”
The group’s billboard features the face of a battered woman. It’s not a static image; she blinks. Nothing else about the billboard changes as long as nobody looks at it. A camera notices when one person looks at the sign, which causes the bruises to start healing. The more people who notice, the faster the woman’s face returns to normal. A filmstrip at the bottom of the sign features those who are looking at it, which in turn encourages more people to stop and look.
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