The Explosive Growth of Alternative Advertising

Gone are the days of just seeing advertisements on TV, in magazines or newspapers, on static billboards and even generic banner ads on the Web. Out-of-home video networks, digital signage and alternative online advertising methods are all currently experiencing enormous growth.

Video networks are popping up everywhere, especially in New York City. If you go into a bodega, an ice cream store, or even a Philly cheesesteak restaurant, chances are you'll see a plasma screen hanging on their wall displaying a combination of ads, customized local content and national news headlines. These video networks link dozens or even hundreds of plasma screens back to a single command center where content can be pushed out to a single screen or the entire network instantly. This flexibility enables advertisers to target a specific demographic while updating their content on the fly.

On a larger scale, Wal-Mart recently announced that it is in the process of updating its in-store TV network. The new Wal-Mart Smart Network will be rolled out to 300 stores just in time for the holiday season. Wal-Mart plans to have 27,000 screens installed throughout its 3,000+ stores by 2010. Once the rollout is complete, advertisers (restricted to those with products sold in Wal-Mart) will be able to target their message by store, by screen, by date and time and even change their messages throughout the campaign.

Just about everywhere you go you'll see screens that are a part of a larger video network. Video network operators are putting up screens where people tend to spend a lot of time waiting around - the waiting room of your doctor's office, the gate area in an airport or even outside the pumps at your local gas station. These locations are perfect for advertisers as the medium is unavoidable and, in most cases, people are looking to be entertained.

Another medium popping up everywhere are large digital billboards. No longer are they limited to major concentrated tourist spots like Times Square and the Las Vegas Strip. They are also showing up adjacent to the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza and on Highway 101 in the Bay area, in downtown Los Angeles, off I-355 in Chicago and in Playhouse Square in Cleveland.

The location of the sign often dictates the type of content that could and should be displayed. In California, and a number of other states around the country, the Department of Transportation prohibits the use of video on signs adjacent to highways; not to mention a 30-second video wouldn't make much sense when cars are flying by at 60 miles per hour.
Alternatively, signs in areas with a lot of pedestrian traffic, such as Times Square and the Las Vegas Strip, are conducive for 30 and 60-second video clips.

In a study released earlier this year by SeeSaw Networks, conducted by OTX, when asked about which advertising medium catches their attention, digital signage ranked #1 ahead of traditional static billboards, magazine, TV, Internet, newspaper, radio and mobile phone. Study participants also ranked digital signage content as the most unique and interesting compared to all other types of advertising. Based on the success of digital signage, be prepared to see a huge influx of new digital signs around your town.

There is also a shift occurring within online advertising. We all know about banner ads and Google text ads, and now things are getting even more customized. If you have a Gmail account, chances are you've probably been spooked by the ads that show up tied to keywords in the e-mail you are reading. Another up-and-coming Web advertising technique is In-Text Messaging. This is where specific keywords are hyperlinked in an article. Clicking the link, and sometimes even just hovering over the link, can pop up a video related to that keyword which is designed to play on the spot (without leaving the page). It's an excellent way to unobtrusively get your content in front of more eyeballs.

Next time you are surfing the Web, grabbing a cheesesteak or filling your car with gas, take a second and look around. Do you notice the ads or are they blending in with other news content?  In the end, the best type of advertisements are those that don't seem like ads.

With the advent and proliferation of these new types of media, a strictly PR or advertising approach does not produce the same kind of results they once did. PR, marketing and advertising should be planned and launched together as part of an integrated campaign. Out-of-home, digital signage and alternative Web advertising are all important parts of a successfully integrated campaign.

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