In the last twenty years, the way we live our lives has changed dramatically. The Internet has altered the way we shop, communicate and socialize, and with smartphones such as the legendary iPhone, digital technology now lets us access Facebook, email and the rest of the Internet no matter where we are.
Digital technology has changed other aspects of our lives too. Flat-screen TVs and TiVo boxes have replaced the bulky VCR and CRT TV, while netbooks and tablet computers such as the iPad have shrunk and stylized our PCs making our homes and offices look modern and more fitting for the twenty-first century. But the digital revolution has modernized other areas too, altering the very aesthetics of main streets, shopping malls, and even the highway.
No matter where you live, whether in New York, LA, or in small-town America, you must have noticed how out of home advertising has changed. Those posters and billboards that sell us everything from hamburgers and mobile phones to new cars and Fred Olsen cruises have become more dynamic, more noticeable, more digital.
Posters and billboards used to be dull and dreary, rarely getting our attention. Now, if you happen to be strolling through a shopping mall, waiting in departures at an airport or even filling up with gas, chances are a flat screen display will be flashing images and adverts trying to sell you something. This new method of out of home advertising, known as digital signage in advertising industry circles, is big business, worth $3.5 billion in the US alone, and the market is expected to grow exponentially, meaning more and more display screens will be selling, promoting and flashing branding messages at us when we are out and about.
Many of these screens aren’t just playing TV style adverts either. Some are utilizing touch screen technology, QR codes and even facial recognition technology, bringing the world of science fiction films such as the Minority Report right into our shopping malls. The potential for this new digital advertising is huge. Retailers can store and share our buying habits so when we pass a digital signage display, advertisers can tailor content based on our retail history, personalizing it, aiming it directly at us. Farfetched? Not really, facial recognition systems that do just that gave already been trialed in that technology melting pot of Japan. And with technologies such as glasses free 3D in development, we may find adverts literally jumping out at us, as we shop, catch flights or wait in line at the pharmacy.
Of course, this brings up questions of privacy and data confidentiality, but with the growth of social media, in which our browsing details are constantly being sold as a normal commodity, there may be no stopping advertisers from gaining access to our buying habits. And who can blame them. Since the rise of the Internet, advertising has become an increasingly fragmented industry. With sales of newspapers and magazines on the decline, and web advertising not being as effective as advertisers had once hoped, using digital technology to gain our attention when we are out of the home may be more effective than traditional methods of marketing and promotion.
Even in our cars, we can’t get away from this digital revolution in outside advertising. Giant LCD and plasma screens have started to replace the traditional billboards along the highways of the United States. And while this has caused some consternation, with opponents suggesting they pose a distraction to drivers, the same qualms aren’t felt in Europe and Japan, where giant screens are regularly seen alongside some of the busiest and fastest highways leading into cities such as London, Tokyo, and Berlin.
Image: Even iconic advertising spots such as Times Square has gone digital:
One thing that is definitely changing, however, is the look of the locations where these screens are installed. Vibrant, HD technology provides a modern, state-of-the-art aesthetic, lighting up the landscape and providing more dynamic and vibrant cities and towns compared to the ripped and faded posters and billboards that have traditionally tried to get our attention in these areas. Even famous outdoor advertising spots such as Times Square in New York are replacing the neon and bulb lighting that once illuminated the night, with more modern digital displays and LED video walls, that enable moving images and provide a more modern backdrop to the famous Manhattan intersection.