Rant: Your Digital OOH Network Probably Sucks

Like most guys, I don’t get a medical check-up anywhere near as often as I am supposed to. But my long-suffering spouse just went ahead and booked me in.

So I am sitting in the waiting area this morning, watching the people not watching the Digital OOH screen in the corner of the lounge. Yet again, I’m wondering why the company bothered and why whoever runs the thing didn’t invest a few minutes reading a little of the pile of good advice out there.

I won’t get into who it was because:

1 – the branding was so small up in one corner I couldn’t see it/read it from 12 feet away (I didn’t take pic, to be polite – image at right is just a sample);

2 – when I walked up to it, it was some long, forgettable name that I have honestly already forgotten. Never heard of them, though.

Mr. Crankypants

So why did this bring out the Mr. Crankypants in me?

1 – cluttered screen design, including an analog clock somebody thought was cool

2 – the already mentioned hopelessly teeny branding

3 – stupid tickers

4 – Windows task bar overriding the bottom ticker

5 – truly awful creative

The multi-zone stuff is just what people are going to do, sometimes for no real reason other than they can. I get that. It’s a bad idea that cannot be killed.

What I don’t get is how network operators and their “creative” people can draw conclusions that 15-second spots with many visual elements and text blocks and dozens of words is the right way to go. Most of the text was far too small to even read unless you were two feet away, which was probably the creative vantage point of the motion graphics designer.

I saw ad spots for local accountants, hair salons, clinicians and restaurants that had so much information crammed on the screen, in a zone on a layout already crammed with too much crap. As an industry friend has said, “The human brain can’t process all that information at ¬†once.”

The Industry Signature

There’s nothing unique or new about this. This level of stupidity (sorry, but that’s the correct word here) is almost an industry signature, which is my point.

A decade ago it was reasonable to be making rookie mistakes, as a new medium was tested and lessons were learned. But there is no excuse in 2012 for people starting networks and not getting the basics down, not with ALL the information out there. It’s particularly frustrating when some of this stuff doesn’t require research or insight or advice. Just common sense.

You don’t need to read books or blogs, go to conferences or hire consultants when stepping back a few more feet from the test screen should be enough to tell you the layout and programming plan doesn’t work.

This sort of thing matters to everyone in this sector because mediocre or just flat stupid efforts are what people see all around them. Media planners, brand strategists, retailers and corporate communicators all go to the doctor (probably way more often than me), and they see this stuff. Then they roll their eyes. Because it’s the same goofy, ineffective approach they’ve seen in all kinds of other environments.

What truly makes me crazy are (some) software companies that have been around a long time producing layout templates and examples that actually encourage bad ideas.

Do Yourself Favor

If you risk your savings, your house, your marriage to start this kind of network, do yourself a big favor and do some reading before you start. Then go out and look at the networks already out there in different environments, and get a sense if people are watching and if they are watching, what earns and holds their interest?

Then put yourself in the viewpoint of the consumers you’ll be trying to reach with your programming. What can they see and actually read from where they will pass or dwell? How much could they absorb at a given time? How long would they watch? And the big one: what is it on there that would make the screen worth watching?

Some networks do a terrific job with crisp, uncluttered layouts and well conceived, relevant programming. But sooo much of the stuff out there just flat sucks.

This might get me some grief. Oh well. Use the comments section if you agree or oppose.

Dave Haynes

Dave Haynes

Editor/Founder at Sixteen:Nine
Dave Haynes is the founder and editor of Sixteen:Nine, an online publication that has followed the digital signage industry for more than a decade. Dave does strategic advisory consulting work for many end-users and vendors, and also writes for many of them. He's based near Toronto.
Dave Haynes


12+ year-old blog and podcast about digital signage & related tech, written by industry consultant, analyst & bullshit filter Dave Haynes.
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Dave Haynes


  • I agree. I don’t know if the people behind these networks think they’re doing us a favor because we’re a “captive audience” but they do like their multi-zone/multi-ticker layouts.

    Why would anyone advertise on these screens?

  • Wade says:

    Lesson here is, this is a tool – a marketing and communications tool. Just because you have the tool, doesn’t necessarily mean you know how to use it effectively and to it’s full potential. You may have the fastest Lear jet at your disposal, but if you don’t know how to fly the thing, or have competent experts to do it for you, it will be of no use to you. You’ll be spending your money (and ultimately wasting it) rather than investing it in a powerful communications tool.

  • Bil Trainor says:

    Dear Mr. Cranky Pants,
    Well said. Thanks for the honesty.

  • Eric Schmidt says:

    I have a dream that one day I will be in a doctor’s waiting lounge and see a queue with my patient number on it, indicating how near or far I am from seeing a care provider. Even better would be a rough time estimate based on my place in line. Is there enough time to go get a cup of coffee? Better yet – is there a well-placed (and readable) ad next to the list indicating where I might do so? Or a QR tag I can pull up on my smartphone with some engaging content I can use to kill the time? Or is my only option to touch those nasty magazines that all the sick people have handled before? So much could be done, especially in this environment – and Dave is right – it really is sad what you see out there.

  • Bil Trainor says:

    Dear Eric,
    We can do all that you’ve suggested, and much more…

  • Dave Haynes says:

    Thanks guys for the comments.

    As Eric suggests, queue management is a huge opportunity in this sector that’s almost entirely ignored. I spoke to a company actually in that business and their sales guy looked at me like I was speaking in tongues. Never mind that it is useful – it’s also sticky. People will keep looking back at that screen because they want to know when they can get the hell out of that waiting room.

  • Jim Nista says:

    Queue management you say??? I know someone working on that! Text, tweet, web form or email yourself into the queue with realtime feedback to your smartphone.

    (sorry for the shameless self promotion)

  • Ed Personius says:

    Dear Mr. Crankypants:

    You are my hero. As content producers, we totally get your message. You’re dead on about the software companies that provide templates encouraging this idiocy. But that’s what you get when you have software engineers designing a creative tool they will never use themselves. We tend to use the whole screen and develop any partitioning ourselves. As you point out, size matters, clutter kills, concept and objectives rule the display. Bad conept = Bad display. No concept/objectives = useless tv screen playing in the lobby.

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