Bad digital signage projects hurt us all

September 17, 2010 by Dave Haynes

I have watched the rapid ascension of Amscreen in the UK with a weird blend of admiration and frustration.

With deep pockets, high profile through the UK version of The Apprentice and lots of friends in high places, the company started by UK business titan Lord Alan Sugar has managed to proliferate a thoroughly utilitarian DOOH product around the British Isles.

Sugar has decades of electronics manufacturing behind him, and knew how to crank out low cost combo screens and players that could quickly get popped in place  anywhere, further controlling costs. In small retail, parked at cash, the units look sorta kinda OK. They won’t win any industrial design contests, but the overall cost of getting them in and running them probably makes each location financially viable more quickly.

But Amscreen’s product, as it now sits, belongs in small retail.

The other day Amscreen CEO Simon Sugar, son of Lord Sugar, posted a photo on Twitter of the installation his firm has sparked up at Gatwick Airport.

Amscreen in WHSmith store in the airside International Departure Lounge at Gatwick North:

My immediate thought was, “Who the <bad word> thought THAT was a good idea???”

It is a BIG footprint, high profile bookstore in a very busy airport, with little screens stuck up nice and high where precious few people will ever see them. In a big cavernous retail space like that, those screens are utterly lost and pointless.

And you’re thinking, “Yup. Agreed. But so what? If they want to blow their money and the retailer is oblivious, why get worked up?”

Well … because it IS high profile. This is the sort of ill-considered, poorly-executed stuff countless people have been advocating against for years and years. It’s exactly the kind of showcase installation the DOOH and retail DOOH sectors don’t need. Particularly when Amscreen is positioned as the market leaders and therefore is supposed to know what it is doing.

Retail execs passing through Gatwick would probably not even notice these screens because of the “strategy” used, but if they somehow did, they’d either get the unfortunate impression that this is how digital is done in retail (and shrug) or conclude the WH Smith people had lost their collective minds.

Agency and brand people who are barraged by DOOH network sales people, telling great tales of this powerful new medium, would stray on this and conclude, quite fairly, the sector still badly needs to get its act together.

“Why,” they’d quite reasonably wonder, “would they invest media dollars in THAT???”

There are five or so lightboxes on the wall just beyond the Amcreen panels. Replaced with panels for more money, but not a whole lot more, the venue would have the beginnings of a digital network with some impact. A network that  might actually catch shopper eyes  and move some Smirnoff and Chanel No. 5.

When a digital display network goes into a venue, it should never be about where to put the standard kit of parts. It’s about developing objectives and a strategy, and THEN finding the appropriate technology that will actually deliver on those objectives. A self-described “low cost, high volume” product designed to be seen at near eye-level from a few feet away is NOT what belongs in a large retail environment with long sightline and endless visual distractions. Somebody should have made the logical decision that the little Amscreens were not going to work, in any way, in that big shop.

This sort of thing – because of its profile – hampers a lot of good work done in retail and public spaces by smart people in the UK. It would have to make a lot of people who know how to do it right positively crazy.

DailyDOOH’s take:

The store is part of a broader network, and as this video shows, the little screens in smaller shops look more in context and therefore noticeable.

On the positive side, Amscreen is doing other work that does help advance the industry. Along with its sales arm Digicom, it has published (and therefore shared, something not enough companies do) some results of shopper behavior research focused on screens in c-stores.   TIP – click on the graphics and they blow up to a size that won’r cause eye strain.

Leave a comment