Impressions Of Digital Signage In Big City South Africa

Back home in Canada after more than three weeks working with a large client in South Africa. I’d never been, but will definitely go back.

Reason 1: Terrific people.

Reason 2: Amazing sights and experiences, within minutes of a mega-city like Johannesburg.

Reason 3: Unrest and uncertainty has beat the crap out of the currency, which is not so good if you live there but terrific if you are just visiting. There was never any unease over picking up the tab for dinner because it was never going to be all that much, once converted to dollars. I think the most dropped on a bottle of wine in a restaurant was $45, which is about what it costs in a liquor store here.

Reason 4: I didn’t get to Cape Town, as planned. Was told endlessly that city was a don’t miss (and I did).

Reason 5: Biltong. … OK, I am kidding on that one, but everyone in Joburg seemed to love gnawing away on bags and bowls of cured, hung meat strips. An acquired taste I failed to acquire. I did much better with pinotage and Windhoek Draught.

Long ago, I realized North America was not the centre of the universe when it came to digital signage. But it was still intriguing to see just how pervasive it was in mainstream retail in a country as distant and full of contrasts as South Africa. I was in a couple of major shopping malls, a lot, because they were safe after dark (Joburg DOES have some serious crime and safety issues), and that’s where you could quickly find a cross-section of restaurant options (all serving steak … they like their red meat there).

vodacomjb
Vodacom mobile retail shop.

Those malls didn’t look much different at all from malls anywhere else I’ve been, and most retailers are using in-store digital to some degree. A local TV news report suggested there was a nice mall or two located even in the low income township districts.

S. Africa has a highly competitive mobile sector and all of the direct carriers, dealers and resellers all used digital. I saw at least a couple of retailers using the same idea of digital fact tags that Montreal’s MicroSigns pioneered, minus the back-end system integration. They were pretty in some respects, but still more than I tend to see in the US or Canada.

I also saw the same ills I see here – blue screens and Windows error and license activation messages all over the place. Ad screens in malls, airports and rail stations seemed to have more out than working. It was a bit like one of the local guys said about South Africa: How there was a lot of interesting stuff going on, but it didn’t always … quite … work.

The best thing I saw was a very impressive and BIG $$$ video wall in a mall branch of the banker ABSA. Global Access, based in Joburg, powers that.

There were several sightings that surprised me. Good looking outdoor, narrow-seam video walls and small pixel-pitch LED boards at gas stations. Repeat, gas stations. I don’t know how those things cranked an ROI, but then again I saw Coca-Cola ads on one of them.

The very weird part is you could drive past these sorts of things, and go around a corner and see no end of people scratching out a living cutting hair or fixing mufflers (the euphemism was informal businesses) on the side of a road. There are few intersections where you won’t have someone at your window trying to sell you something, and even beggars crazily crouching between the lanes of high speed roads.

Definitely a city and country of huge contrasts. But worth a visit.

No travel for a couple of weeks (yay), so the more normal pace of posting should resume. Next trip: InfoComm in mid-June.