When I was told we were going to meet up with ‘Daktronics’ in the heart of New York City, I pictured an evil underground lair with a creepy bald man centre stage stroking a cat. It turns out Daktronics is a major player in the booming world of plus-size digital screen technology. How big are they? Well, they have over 3,000 staff, a factory that makes your local Bunnings look like a cramped garden shed, and they’re responsible for building a large portion of the digital screens in Times Square. These guys are the real deal.
So how did this humble farm-boy from Brisbane’s inner west come to be standing in the Daktronics office smack-bang in the middle of Times Square, three storeys up at eye-height in billboard nirvana? For this surreal opportunity I must thank the good people at oOh! Media who launched the Million Dollar Pitch competition last October. The campaign BCM created for Walking Wounded won the big banana, so fast-track four months, and here we are in the Big Apple as part of a round-the-world trip seeing cutting edge Out Of Home media first hand. Yes I admit free Mohitos and fancy peanuts on Business Class flights have been pleasant, but there’s been a good dose of exciting learnings, inspiration and tech talk too. And I’ve been loving it!
Paul Cornwell, my boss at BCM is seen holding up one small LED panel that forms a digital billboard. Check out the view from the Daktronics office.
Through working on the Million Dollar Pitch creative ideas and this amazing adventure abroad, I’ve come to realise something quite unexpected; the media is way ahead of the creative! There, I said it. It’s true, from back home in Australia through to the radiating hearts of Piccadilly Circus and Times Square, I’ve seen some truly awesome technology in place, and few brands taking much advantage of the opportunities now possible. There are many reasons for this as far as I can see:
Generally speaking, better creative executions cost more money. The arrival of new technologies like gesture control, tap transactions, eye-recognition, near field technologies and more, are all well and good if someone is prepared to pay to use them. Similarly, the incredible array of new sizes and formats available in Out Of Home are also excellent, but to do them justice demands bespoke creative executions. Not just re-sizing or making tweaks, but sitting down and looking at what’s possible for maximum impact, then paying for it. The way I see it, if the end game is bang-for-buck, extra conceptual and production dollars must be spent to make these mediums work harder. I know media dollars vs creative dollars is an age old argument, but in the case of this Out Of Home digital revolution, the pie really does need to be cut differently.
2. Car crashes
Standing in the heart of Times Square the first thing I noticed was that the number of digital screens has surely quadrupled since I was there a decade ago. The screens are also now far bigger and brighter, and there’s more animation and movement. In fact it’s quite astounding how many of the digital boards are running full moving vision as content. As I understand, Times Square is an exception for allowing this content on roadsides, but I saw the same thing in London’s busy Piccadilly Circus last week. Countless moving images popping up to abduct passing drivers’ eyes from the road. Back home we can’t do that, and probably with good reason! Still, there are plenty of outdoor and indoor sites available in pedestrian areas, airports and shopping centres in Australia that still seem to be very static, despite the fact many panels now offer movement.
Perhaps the abruptness of New York has rubbed off on me a bit, but I think some agencies and brands are simply slack at taking creative opportunities in Out Of Home. It’s too easy to just pinch artwork from a standard billboard and whack it up on a digital billboard. It’s too easy to grab a TV ad and stick it on a giant screen. It’s too easy to pretend that close enough is good enough and miss great opportunities to make truly fantastic work. As an industry we can, and should, do better.
There’s one more big reason I think advertisers fall short with their Out Of Home advertising content, and it’s not from penny-pinching, safety concerns or the result of laziness. It’s because I simply don’t think enough agencies and advertisers KNOW what is now possible. Once you see what is on the menu, not only in the LED-soaked madness of New York City, but back home in Australia too, it’s hard to imagine ever responding to an Out Of Home brief the same way. The technology these channels now offer is full of potential.
So that’s my fairly quick take on the digital Out Of Home scene I’ve recently been immersed in like never before. Have I inadvertently become a brainwashed salesman for both oOh! Media and Daktronics? Quite possibly. There are more than a few late night hours on this trip that I cannot account for! But let me say this. The possibilities really are incredible and exciting for Out Of Home advertising, and they’re only getting bigger and better from here. Now, time for another Mohito and some of those tasty little peanuts. Waiter!
Nick Ikonomou is a Senior Creative at BCM