The Blurring Lines Of Digital Signage

December 18, 2011 by Dave Haynes

A press release that moved the other day got me thinking about the ongoing question about what one might logically call digital signage, and what’s really something else.

When I first saw an image for VendScreen, I assumed what I was looking at was the digitally-faced front of the whole vending machine. In fact, it’s like a big-ish smartphone attached at one corner.

The release by the Portland, Oregon-based start-up talks about how a newly hired executive has been working on digital signage for the past year, so it made sense that he got involved with this company. The value proposition is that this screen-based gadget is the product selection interface for consumers when they’re standing there deciding on a Snickers or a bag of Cheetos.

The screen looks like a phone and even uses the Android mobile OS. VendScreen personalizes the vending experience while utilizing the intuitive ‘Touch & Swipe’ user interface already familiar to millions of people using smartphones and other touch screen devices every day, so our users gain rich information and interactive services without the hassle of a new learning curve.

VendScreen wirelessly delivers nutrition data and advertising to displays mounted on vending machines while collecting real-time, point-of-sale information for analytics tracking. We give users the ability to review nutrition information prior to purchase while providing operators a seamless and automatic system to comply with the new calorie disclosure law. We offer advertisers uncluttered access to a two-way connection with consumers in a manner previously not possible – at the vending machine at the very moment of the purchase decision!

Interesting stuff. I like the analytics and cashless payment parts of this, and definitely the final step in the path to purchase thing.

The ad module would theoretically allow brands to target ads to these machines, given that they are networked. However, it’s pretty reasonable to wonder whether such a small screen really qualifies as a genuine Digital OOH advertising platform and would get much action from agencies that work with snacks, confectionary and beverage brands. The product image on the screen will be smaller, in most cases, than the product staring at them through the machine’s glass window.

It’s much more of a one to one thing, which suggests brands might not book “campaigns” but would through different business units pay distribution companies a little extra to have their products be featured. Or the machine operators might work a below the line deal that gives up that media space for extra product.

This all circles back to the question about what is reasonably tagged as a digital signage product, and what in this case looks, functions and smells more like Point Of Sale. In the same way, is something that could take national advertising campaigns because  it is networked a real Digital OOH ad vehicle?

It’s not something to toss and turn about, and its entirely fair to suggest the lines digital signage and POS are getting blurrier all the time. But an industry that is endlessly trying to define itself is also endlessly challenged by new products that aren’t easily defined and categorized.

What do you think? Is this a digital sign or something else?

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