Off-white paper a little off-base and off-putting

December 23, 2009 by Dave Haynes


I noticed a Tweet yesterday from DS Today’s Bill Yackey that was provocative enough to get me clicking through and landing on a press release from Noventri, an east coast US integrator.

I was interested because it was an “off-white paper” going against conventional wisdom and running with the headline: Don’t be duped – The truth behind digital signage.”

My first reaction was why would anyone release a white paper, that obviously took a lot of effort, just as much of the industry was punching out for the holidays. People will read a press release or two in a spare moment. But a lengthy white paper … big maybe.

The company has a history of curious marketing efforts (see the Madonna/Jump The Shark post from April) 

The paper is a lengthy dissertation, bordering on diatribe, about the state of the industry and the amount of cheerleading that vendors are doing to get clients to buy software and hardware and start running a network.

Is digital signage working? And if so, what kind of digital signage is working? Can digital signage save me money? Can digital signage make me money? Does digital signage really communicate the message better than static signage? What does the digital signage industry want you to believe? We’re going to help you get to the bottom line right now!

As you research or perhaps reevaluate your current digital signage installation, you’re probably seeing all the new bells and whistles the industry leaders are touting, including higher resolution video and more animations along with more powerful and less expensive hardware. Up until now, we’ve been doing that with our cutting edge digital signage SF-3000 line, which still has its place in the industry. Over the last ten years we’ve completed hundreds of digital signage deployments, both large and small, and have found ourselves at odds with the digital signage industry.

You may have similar feelings. You may be salivating at all those bells and whistles, but some unsettling thoughts are lurking in the back of your head. You’re not dumb! Who’s going to produce all that content? The last time you had a video commercial produced, how much did it cost you? How long did it take for it to be out of date? Who’s going to stand in front of your digital signage and watch the whole thing? Do people stand in front of all those advertising screens and actually watch the advertisement videos in your local mega-store? You don’t even need to do the research. You can see for yourself that nobody looks at those screens. And if they do, it’s only for a second. Furthermore, since most digital signage installs don’t have audio, and for good reason, will your video be good enough to get your message across in the couple of seconds the person is in front of the screen? 

I can get behind a lot of this … in principle. The cost of content can be high. Dwell times are short. Face-counting software shows people are indeed just looking for a few seconds.

BUT … they are looking. There are lots of analytics reports and field studies from reputable research firms confirming people are looking, and more to the point, they are reacting. I just posted a piece about Canadian brewer Labatt and the screen/fixtures it is putting in hundreds of stores. The program is being more than doubled because it works so well (I have seen the sales increase numbers … two words: “Holy crap!”). Sales in stores that had the screens that nobody apparently looks at were very impressively higher than in stores where nobody was looking at the screens that weren’t there.

The paper goes on to say this minimal or non-existent dwell time means producing expensive, high-production value motion graphics is a waste of time and money, and jackhammers the idea that moving audiences should only view static images.

But, if the people are moving (which is the case for the majority of digital signage deployments) or are in a rush, the message should always be STILL. Otherwise, the message gets completely lost or ignored.   

This is by no means the first time this assertion has come up, and it makes sense on most levels. However, research doesn’t back it up.

I wrote about this subject this fall, poached from a piece by Denis Gaumondie at OOH-TV:

At the OVAB Europe conference, Doris Braune (Marketing Ströer-Infoscreen) presented the results of a study by Ströer to measure the effectiveness of a moving image in comparison to a fixed image.

More precisely, Ströer wanted to measure the impact of Infoscreen, its digital signage network deployed in German public transport systems, compared to more traditional static postering.

The study was carried out by two research companies specialised in cerebral imagery – Neuro-Impact from Munich and Neuro-Insight from Australia. For each of the 84 individuals on the panel, they measured personal interest, emotional intensity, brand recall and impact for four different poster campaigns.

The participants were fitted with sensors to measure their cerebral activity, then immersed in a virtual public transport journey during which they were exposed to campaigns on Infoscreen and on static posters.

The results showed that a moving image on Infoscreen generated an increase of:

– 28% personal interest versus a fixed image;

– 36% emotional intensity versus a fixed image;

– 28% recall versus a fixed image;

– 46% brand recognition versus a fixed image. 

This was in a mass transit environment, about as harried a place as is possible.

I really like that a company gets out of the industry rut, dispenses with cheerleading, and challenges conventional wisdom. A LOT of what’s out there is not working very well, but there is a big, groaning pile of reasons that go far beyond the simplicities of dwell times and the still versus motion argument. Noventri, however, is flat out suggesting buyers are being duped – oversold on the possibilities and on their actual technology needs. 

“Unfortunately, the digital signage industry is pushing an entirely different concept”, says Andrew Hoffman, Vice President of Noventri, in the press release. “But we have to remember that the industry has to create and expand its market and it has done a great job doing so. As a result, most of what we’ve been told is bogus. Noventri is not trying to be a naysayer, but such statements as, You need all the bells and whistles for success and The usage of monetized digital signage is extremely successful are common fallacies that have now been exposed with the ‘Off’-White Paper.”

What disappoints me here (and if I am wrong I will quickly correct it) is that this whole white paper is not all that cleverly angling toward a change in direction for the company in January. This is not a paper trying to advance industry knowledge. This is a paper leading readers toward an announcement of a new product that moves them down-market to a small, low-cost and limited device that probably only plays stills, or does HD video as needed.    

As the digital signage industry pushes for more and more bells and whistles, we find ourselves in a predicament. How can we continue to push an expensive product with more bells and whistles when our experience is showing that it is completely unnecessary for most digital signage networks? We believe that you, the customer, are not dumb! We have been in business for almost thirty years by living that belief. Just because the industry tries to shove the latest
and the greatest technology down your throat, trying to make you believe that it’s what you need, doesn’t mean you have to buy it! We believe that the best way to stay in business is to respect YOU, the customer, by providing the tools that will work for your business and meet YOUR NEEDS, instead of what the industry is pushing.

ROI – is it possible? Can money be saved on digital signage power consumption? Stay tuned – we will make it easier to answer these questions in January 2010!  

I could go on and on about some of other assertions in the paper, but I think you get my drift. A company that sells a low-cost, low-maintenance, small form factor media player, coupled with a solid content management system and infrastructure, could make some noise in the market place. If Swiss-based Spinetix ever does much more than turn up at the odd trade show they could be the guys. NICE little product.    

But this whole approach of giving the industry the middle finger and accusing them of duping users, in the guise of floating a new product offer, just seems so odd, and ill-considered. If you’ve got something good coming, just tell people why it’s so good and what it will do. After all, Noventri guys, you keep telling readers of the paper they’re not dumb.

PS – Favorite passage: “You shouldn’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure out how to install your digital signage either.” NOW I understand why installs cost what they do. The hang and bang guys are moonlighting neurosurgeons.

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