Living billboards

Sensors and data analysis open up new possibilities for interactivity, creativity and the management of ads in the sector of outdoor advertising

Campaign of the pharmaceutical company, Apotek, which specialises in products for quitting smoking
Campaign of the pharmaceutical company, Apotek, which specialises in products for quitting smoking

The protagonist of a billboard in Sweden coughs when a smoker walks by. It is not a scene from Minority Report, but rather a real campaign by the drug company, Apotek, which specialises in products for quitting smoking. It is an example of the use of sensors in out-of-home advertising, a trend that has revolutionised traditional publicity in public spaces. The possibilities are infinite: movement sensors that play the ad only when there are people nearby; Big Data analysis to assess impact; synchronisation of screens with the real world…


"Technology has allowed us to portray just about anything. The only limit is the imagination," says Pere Baulenas, Director de Business Development for Clear Channel Spain, during an event organised by Acció. "Traditional, classic signage, like paper posters, was monotonous and linear," he adds, "nowadays out-of-home advertising can be social, interactive, creative and smart."

Clear Channel is the leading company in the world in outdoor advertising, with a presence in 28 countries and annual profits of three billion dollars. In Barcelona, it manages advertising space on the metro and bus system, and is responsible for implementing the Bicing service. Both cases and others developed by the company are examples of the possibilities in out-of-home advertising that Pere Baulenas calls an opportunity for advertisers who want to take advantage of outdoor support.

New technology, new opportunities
The advertising sector has experienced better times since the crisis of 2008. Yet, the specialist company Zenith Media insists that global advertising spending in 2017 will go up by 4.4%, to a turnover of 592 billion dollars. Most of the investment will go to television, but outdoor advertising will continue to rise. According to Zenith, the market share for this type of publicity will go from 15.2% to 27% by 2019.

A reason for this increase could be down to technical advances. Baulenas thinks that the possibilities offered by data analysis and mobile technology are a good reason for choosing this type of advertising. It is now possible, for example, to know the gender of the person looking at a billboard, detect whether they smile or not, pollution sensors can be installed or screens connected to mobile devices. Personalised advertising is just a matter of time. Moreover, screens are increasingly larger and of ever higher quality, something that favours projecting ads.

Another added value, according to Baulenas, is the possibility of "precisely measuring the impact of a campaign." Before it was difficult to calculate how many passers-by looked at a poster, now this can be discovered thanks to sensors or audience data if an Internet campaign goes viral. "Assuming that a screen in Plaça Catalunya will work better due to its location will end up changing," says Baulenas. The impact will now be known empirically, depending on the space and the time.

Challenges and problems
To install these devices and develop interactive campaigns that take advantage of them will require companies to committ to it. And that, says the Clear Channel executive, is not always the case. "We still need to break new ground and do a lot of preaching," insists Pere Baulenas, "we come across a lot of barriers because we still like traditional advertising a lot. But it is a trend that is changing thanks to the new capacity of devices to measure audiences."

For the expert, the system of managing and selling today's advertising is another obstacle: "We have to stop selling advertising by volume, and begin to sell it by audience and time. We should not be interested in quantity as much as quality." According to Baulenas, outdoor advertising needs to be sold by analysing audiences, the space and the time of day. It is what is known as programmatic sales. Thus, for example, an ad in a shopping centre in mid-morning during the week should be cheaper than at the weekend. And all of it, moreover, should come with more creativity and a serious commitment to interactivity with the user.

Beyond these challenges, putting advertising everywhere can be problematic and controversial. Many cities fear an invasion of screens on their streets, turning them into a sort of Las Vegas. What's more, sensors or personalised advertising can generate resentment in the public and lead to debates on privacy. Baulenas is aware of this and recognises that out-of-home advertising "has a very good characteristic that can be dangerous: it is hard to avoid." That is why Baulenas argues for ads that do not bother anyone and that are not so invasive. "We do not want advertising to have a negative connotation," he insists.

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